Can we live in a disconnected world?
There is only one world
According to some thinkers, modernity not only began with the discovery of America, it ended there. The end point is assumed to be 1969, when the USA landed on the moon for the first time in a manned space shuttle. This historic point in time heralded a new age for mankind.
In my opinion, there are good reasons to believe that modernity has already come to an end. There are many indications that today we are in a transition phase in which one thing is being said goodbye and something else is being born in pain. As if something old was decomposing, dissolving and exhausting itself, while something new, still indefinite, began to rise from the rubble.
Throughout history there have always been phases of a fundamental change in values. Such as the Hellenistic period, when the Middle Ages gradually began to emerge from the ruins of classical antiquity. Or the Renaissance, which paved the way for modernity. Characteristics of such transition phases are the merging of different cultures and a diverse coexistence of different intellectual and spiritual world approaches. In such times, all the usual value systems collapse, and cultures distant in time or space are rediscovered - things are more likely to be quoted, imitated and reinforced than expressed and integrated with certainty. New meaningfulness gradually emerges from the encounter and merging of many different elements.
Today we refer to this state of the human mind and culture as postmodern. For me, this state of affairs is symbolized by the image of a Bedouin riding a camel, wearing jeans under his traditional clothes, holding a transistor radio in his hand and promoting Coca-Cola. With this I don't make fun of our time, nor do I shed intellectual tears over the commercial expansion of the West that is destroying other cultures. Rather, this image seems to me to be an expression of our multicultural era, a signal that a cultural amalgamation is taking place, that a birth process is in progress, that we are in a phase in which one age is being replaced by the next and everything is possible. Everything is possible precisely because our culture has no uniform style, no unifying spirit, no aesthetic of its own.
This is closely related to the crisis - or rather: transformation - of the natural sciences on which modern world perception is based. The dizzying development of these natural sciences with their unshakable belief in an objective reality and their total dependence on generally applicable and rationally explainable laws has produced modern technical civilization. This is the first civilization in the history of mankind to span the entire globe, which firmly binds all human societies together and exposes them to a common global fate.
At the same time, the potential of the relationship to the world that has emerged and shaped by modern natural sciences has been exhausted. It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a strange void in this connection. It does not connect to the innermost core of reality and natural human experience. Today it is more a source of disintegration and doubt than of integration and meaning. Ultimately, it creates a schizophrenic state that completely alienates the observing person from himself as a living being. The classical modern natural sciences describe only the surface of things, only one dimension of reality. And the more dogmatic the natural sciences represented this as the only existing dimension, as the essence of reality, the more misleading they became. Although today we have infinitely more knowledge about the universe than our ancestors, it seems as if they knew something crucial that we are missing today. The same applies to the relationship between man and nature. The more detailed our organs and their functions, internal structures and biochemical reactions are described, the less we seem to be able to grasp the spirit, purpose and meaning of what we experience as our unique selves.
What can our survival be based on?
So today we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation: On the one hand, we enjoy the achievements of modern civilization, which simplify our physical existence on this earth so much in important areas. And yet we no longer know exactly what to do with ourselves and what to align ourselves with. Our reality of life is chaotic, disconnected and confusing. There seems to be no integrating forces, no common sense, no deep understanding of the phenomena we experience in the world. Although experts can explain any detail in the objectified world to us, we understand our own life less and less. In short: we live in the postmodern era, in which everything is possible and practically everything is uncertain.
This has social and political consequences. The one planetary civilization to which we all belong confronts us with global challenges. We stand helplessly in front of these, because in our civilization only the surface of our everyday reality has been globalized. However, our inner selves continue to live on. The fewer answers the era of rational knowledge provides to the basic questions of human existence, the more people seem to cling to the anachronistic certainties of tribalistic structures - behind the back of rationality, so to speak. Individual cultures, which have been increasingly blended into a uniform pulp by the civilization of the present, therefore recognize with new urgency their own internal autonomy and also the internal conflicts of other cultures. Cultural conflicts are increasing and are more dangerous than ever. At the end of the era of rationalism we are heading for disaster. With the same ultra-modern weapons, often supplied by the same arms dealers, and with television cameras in the wake, followers of different clan lords go to war with one another. During the day we work with statistics; in the evenings we question horoscopes and we get the horror of vampire films. The gap between rationality and spirituality, between outside and inside, between objectivity and subjectivity, between technology and morality, between the general and the unique is growing ever deeper.
Politicians rightly wonder what the key to the survival of a civilization that is global on the one hand and multicultural civilization on the other, how generally recognized structures to ensure peaceful coexistence can be established and on which principles they can be based.
The particular urgency of these questions was made particularly evident by two of the most important political events of the second half of the 20th century: the collapse of the colonial powers and the collapse of communism. The artificially created world order of yore has collapsed, and to this day no new order has emerged. The most important task of our time is to build a networked global civilization that enables different cultures, people, ethnic groups and religions to coexist. This is all the more urgent as humanity is threatened by other one-dimensional developments and increasing challenges to our civilization.
Many believe that this task can be solved technically, i.e. by building new organizational, political and diplomatic instruments. Certainly, it is necessary to develop organizational structures appropriate to the current multicultural age; but such efforts are doomed to failure if they do not arise from something deeper, from generally shared values.
That too is well known. And when looking for the most natural inspiration for building a new world order, we usually look to an area that is traditionally considered the foundation of modern justice and an achievement of the modern age: I speak of respect for the uniqueness of the human individual, for his or her freedoms and inalienable rights, in short: from the basic ideas of modern democracy.
The connection to the big picture
What I am about to say may sound provocative: I am increasingly convinced that even these ideas are not enough and that our search must go further and deeper. The solutions that spring from these ideas are, so to speak, modern solutions that have emerged in the climate of the Enlightenment and from a point of view of man and his relationship to the world that has been typical of the transatlantic area over the past two centuries. Today we are in a completely different position and are confronted with completely different challenges, to which the classic solutions of modernity alone no longer provide satisfactory answers. After all, the principle of inalienable human rights with which man has been endowed by a creator has already arisen from the typically modern view that man, as the crown of creation and as ruler of the world, is able to do so, nature and the world to fathom. This modern anthropocentrism inevitably meant that the Creator, who had endowed man with inalienable rights, gradually disappeared from the world. It was so far beyond the sphere of influence of modern science that it could increasingly be pushed into the realm of private fantasy, which had no connection with public obligations. The existence of an authority above man began to simply stand in the way of human endeavor.
The idea of human rights must of course be an integral part of any meaningful world order. And yet I think that such a world order must be anchored elsewhere and in a different way than has been the case up to now. If this order is to be more than a political slogan ridiculed by half of world society, it cannot be formulated in the language of a late era, and it cannot be a mere head of foam on the ebbing waters of faith that is in a otherwise purely scientific relationship to the world is increasingly drying up.
Paradoxically, inspiration for a revival of the lost connection to the world can be drawn from natural science - a new natural science whose concepts are post-modern in the best sense of the word and which in a sense allow them to transcend their own limits. I give two examples:
The first is the anthropic principle. Its authors and proponents point out that out of the innumerable potentially possible courses that its evolution could have taken, the universe followed the course that made life possible. This is not yet proof that it was the purpose of the universe from the beginning to be able to perceive itself through our eyes one day. But how can this fact be explained in other ways?
Man is an integral part of the cosmos
With the anthropic principle we are approaching an idea that is perhaps as old as humanity itself: that we are not just an accidental anomaly, not just the capricious whim of a tiny particle floating in the infinite depths of the universe. Instead, we are mysteriously connected to the whole universe, indeed we are mirrored by it, just as the universe is reflected in us. Until recently it may have seemed to us as if we were mold spores on a celestial body screwing through space among countless other, mold-free celestial bodies. The classical natural sciences could provide an explanation for this scenario. However, as soon as the feeling arises that we are connected on a deep level with the whole universe, the natural sciences reach their limits. Because these natural sciences are based on the search for universally valid laws, they cannot deal with individual cases and uniqueness. The universe is a unique phenomenon that tells a unique story, and so far we humans have also been a unique phenomenon in that story. However, we place unique phenomena and stories in the domain of poetry, not that of the natural sciences. By formulating the anthropic principle, science has placed itself at the interface between mathematical formula and storytelling, between science and myth. In a roundabout way, natural science has paradoxically got back to people and enables them to renew their lost connection in a completely different way - by bringing people back into the cosmos.
The second example is the Gaia hypothesis. This combines various evidence that a tightly woven network of interaction between the organic and inorganic parts of the earth's surface forms a single networked system - a kind of mega-organism, the living planet »Gaia«, named after the goddess of ancient Greece who created the Presumably embodied in all religions existing archetype of the earth mother. According to the Gaia Hypothesis, we are all part of a larger whole. Our fate therefore does not primarily depend on what we do for ourselves, but above all on what we do for Gaia as a system as a whole. If we jeopardize its continued existence, it will destroy us in the interests of a higher value - life itself.
Why are the anthropic principle and the Gaia hypothesis such inspiring concepts? One reason for this is that both of them remind us in modern language of something that we have suspected for a long time, but have moved to the realm of long-forgotten myths, and which perhaps has always slumbered in us in an archetypal form. I mean the awareness that we are at home in the earth and the universe, the awareness that we are neither here alone nor for ourselves, but that we are an integral part of mysterious beings of a higher order, whose laws we do not oppose should sin. This forgotten awareness is part of all religious traditions. Each culture conveys it in different ways. This awareness forms the basis of a person's self-understanding, their place in the world and ultimately the world as such.
A modern philosopher, Martin Heidegger, once said: "Only a god can save us."
The only real hope that we humans today can build on is a renewal of the certainty that we are rooted in the earth and at the same time in the cosmos. This awareness gives us the ability to transcend ourselves. Politicians can repeat a thousand times at international forums that the basis of the new world order must be a general observance of human rights, but that remains completely meaningless if this imperative is not out of respect for the miracle of existence, for the miracle of the universe, for the miracle of nature and feeds before the miracle of our own existence. Only someone who submits to the authority of the creative order of the universe and who values his right to participate in this order can ultimately also really respect himself, his neighbors and thus also their rights.
The logical consequence of this is that in today's multicultural world, the only really reliable path to peaceful coexistence and creative cooperation must begin at the roots of all cultures, with a quality that is infinitely deeper anchored in people's hearts and minds than all political opinions, beliefs, antiphathies or sympathies. It must be based on self-transcendence. Transcendence, understood as a handout that includes not only those people who are close to us, but also strangers, the entire human community, all living beings, nature as a whole and the entire universe; Transcendence as a deep and joyful need to live in harmony with what we are not, what we cannot understand, what appears to us to be far away in space and time, but with which we are nonetheless connected in a mysterious way because we are form a common world together with all of this; Transcendence as the only true alternative to extinction. •
Václav Havel gave his speech in English on the occasion of the award of the Philadelphia Medal of Liberty on July 4, 1994. Translated and slightly abridged by Matthias Fersterer. We would like to thank the "Dagmar a Václav Havel Foundation VIZE 97" for the kind permission to reprint.
Václav Havel (1936–2011) was a playwright, dissident and statesman. He was born into a free-spirited family in Prague. Since the age of 20, Havel wrote plays and worked as a stage technician in Prague theaters.In the 1960s he became known for his plays that were critical of the regime and in the tradition of absurd theater. Havel took over the chairmanship of the "Club of Independent Writers" and developed into the spokesman for the non-communist intellectuals. After the violent suppression of the Prague Spring, he was banned from publication and performance. His work was then published by the German Rowohlt publishing house. As one of the main initiators of the opposition "Charter 77" he was arrested several times. The volumes "Letters to Olga" - his wife - as well as "Remote interrogation" and "Please be brief" come from the five years in prison. He played a leading role in the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and was elected President of Czechoslovakia that same year. After the peaceful separation of the two parts of the country, he became President of the Czech Republic in 1993. Havel was an honorary member of the Club of Rome and received numerous literary and political awards.
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