While philosophers such as Karl Marx imagined to reform the world through bloody class fights as to arrive at a new social structure, both Rousseau and Kant recognized that a renewed and better world could only come from a different and morally superior humankind, able to revert the state of submission of a vast majority of unprivileged men and women to a small elite. This exploration has been maintained since the beginning of civilization, thousands of years ago, and is to this date sustained by rigid social structures, political systems and religious doctrines. But how could (and can) this powerful and privileged minority keep the largest portion of the world’s population suffering in poverty and disgrace for so long?
The major religious traditions of the past were all founded on the concept of heteronomy (research this word!), as if god acted through punishments and rewards, and the principle of the degradation of souls – with obvious differences from religion to religion. For instance, Adam and Eve were reprehended for eating the forbidden fruit and punished with expulsion from heaven, conception with pain, mortality, etc.; transferring the original sin to all of their offspring. According to this tradition, to escape eternal condemnation, it is required to blindly surrender to god’s will. Those laws called divine are all external to the individual. In this conception, the greatest human virtue are obedience, loyalty and meekness; values that are conditionally maintained for fear of sin and condemnation. In many Eastern reincarnationist doctrines, the mythology is different, but the intrinsic values are mostly the same. In their narratives of traditional religious texts, the soul is originally good when conceived by god, but contaminates itself through multiple failures and errors made over a physical life. Such failures render the soul deserving of punishment through successive reincarnations as a plant, an animal, an insect, etc. depending on the severity of the crime.
But it wasn’t only the religious traditions that propagated the heteronomous moral. The materialist theories emerging on the 19th century abandoned mysticism and superstitions to some degree, but maintained the concept of heteronomy by keeping men submissive to the external laws of society – more precisely, the law of the survival of the fittest (also known as the might is right) determined by biologic and circumstantial differences. According to Auguste Comte, for example, the great masses of workers and all women didn’t have adequate brain development and were therefore organically prevented, by nature, to make adequate use of their intellectual faculties. They should therefore surrender to the command and dominance of the minority of men privileged with a better nervous system able to make them scientists, leaders, commanders, etc. Those sickly fantasies of the positivism of Comte were well accepted on his time and still persist in our present society even if disguised in other more modern and politically correct formats.
But what are the ideas that could revolutionize the world and build a better society? The Swiss philosopher and psychologist Jean Piaget can give us a clue. Piaget, studying the moral judgment of children, established an association between – heteronomous morality, coercion and submission – and – autonomous morality, cooperation and mutual respect. According to Piaget, it is possible to apply to society this natural psychological process observed in children, fostering, generation after generation, a natural (although complex) change from coercion to solidarity; from a heteronomous morality to an autonomous morality. As he indicated, in conformist societies, where the population is vastly explored, coercion determine submission and passivity. Where freedom is embraced and promoted, fraternal attitude arises and the individual assume responsibility for the well-being of the collectivity (and vice-versa).
Now, if well understood, isn’t the autonomous morality the cornerstone of the original teachings of Jesus (before being manipulated and misrepresented over the centuries)? If you pay attention, words such as “you are gods”, “you can do all I can do and much more”, “I didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword” and “my kingdom is not of this world” doesn’t quite fit the merciful Jesus the churches sell you today. Indeed, if studying his words, as well as those of other morally distinguished men, it is possible to observe their moral autonomy, the presence of compassion but also a sense of unbreakable justice. Perhaps this is the last teaching the master of the Galilee left us before dying – do not surrender your will, your reason and your morals to others. Socrates was arrested and murdered for being loyal to his moral values. Giordano Bruno was burned for not surrendering to the church’s authority. Countless examples of those luminaries that changed our world for better indicate the clear presence of an autonomous morality and freedom of thought. To bring a contemporary example (and I hope you agree with me), wasn’t Edward Snowden acting from a moral autonomous perspective when getting involved in the NSA spying scandal?
Freedom of thought, acting morally according to the values of one’s own consciousness (even in detriment of self interests and independent of conventional rules and religions); this is the sign of the awakened man ready to build the society of the future. When we have enough of them, we will have a new world as the external projection of their moral and spiritual values. A sustainable future society invariably require individuals capable of mutual collaboration, founded from the autonomous fraternity they feel for each other. So, it is not through scientific development, economic growth, politics or wars that we will build a new society. It is through our own inner reform, arriving at a true and innate understanding of the law of love, preached by way too many and practiced by way too few, that we will be able to find peace and happiness. As noted Allan Kardec on his Posthumous Works, “The social matter doesn’t have, therefore, as a starting point the form of this or that institution; it is completely related to the moral betterment of individuals and their collectivities. There is where one can find the beginnings, the true key to the happiness of humankind. Because then, men will no longer conceive mutually harming each other. It is not enough to cover corruption with varnish, it is indispensable for it to be extinguished” (free translation).
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