In my last 2 posts, On Purpose and Life as Purpose, I looked at the concept of purpose abstractly. These weren’t written for their own sake, but rather as groundwork to raise the question of human purpose.
By human purpose, I mean what we might collectively strive towards as a species. That is, since humanity can be seen as a process of becoming, what do we want to become, what kind of world might we wish ourselves to create.
Can humanity have collective purpose? If so, should it, or should purpose be just a matter of individual purposes?
Humans are creatures of collective purpose. Human being has always been a group effort. Individual existence has always depended on participating in a community of other humans. Clearly, much of current human activity is devoted to the purposes of larger groups, from the scale of local softball leagues to that of corporations, nation states and religions.
The question of whether humanity can have collective purpose becomes whether human group purpose can be extended all the way out to embrace all of humanity. In doing so it would encompass all of the smaller human groupings within itself.
Looking at the contentious state of the world today might make this seem pretty dubious. But if you went back 10,000 years, to the time of the first villages, could anyone have imagined humans identifying themselves as members of such enormous assemblages as China or India.
The idea of human purpose is connected to the idea of human identity. Therefore, human purpose will emerge inasmuch as humanity comes to see itself as humanity, as it comes to realize its intrinsic commonality.
A deeper issue might be whether human purpose is worth considering. It might be thought that what really matters are the individual human purposes, our individual pursuits of life, liberty and happiness.
Much of Western society (and to somewhat lesser degrees the global technical civilization that’s spun out of it) is based upon the primacy of the individual. Human society is seen to be a contractual process self-organiziing the activities of autonomous agents.
I have to say that I celebrate the marvel of human individuality. And it’s clear that the advancing of the human knowledge project serves to create increasing levels of individual human uniqueness.
But while there is much that is good and true in the Western concept of individuality, I think that the unfolding of humanity is revealing its deficiencies. It seems human becoming is increasingly a state of interconnectedness.
The human knowledge project, which is the foundation of the modern world, is a single entity. There is just one physics, one chemistry, one mathematics, one biology. The technology enabled by this is one common human technology, although access to its benefits has yet to become common to all.
With this collective human intelligence being a main driving force of human unfolding, our pooled human knowledge becomes increasingly embedded within individual lives and consciousnesses across the planet. Humans are coming to share one common set of data, one common core of understanding. And the planetary wiring of information and communication intensifies the integration of human social mind.
This infrastructure for information flow enables the globalization of economic transactions. My life is constructed through artifacts that might be fabricated in China, based upon technologies invented in Germany, mediated through software programmed in India, all based on scientific understanding developed across the globe.
So, humans become interconnected not only in knowledge and mind, but also in action. As our thoughts and acts become linked, so do our fates. Our individual beings are an involvement in a shared human destiny.
Human purpose, then, emerges from the envisioning ourselves as a collective humanity, in awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependence. As humanity increasingly becomes a a coalescing flow of being, an interwoven movement through time, we develop a common understanding and an understanding of ourselves in common. From this can sprout a shared human willing, with an acceptance of human self-responsibility of all for each and of each for all.
- Life as Purpose
- The State of the Human – Part 1: The Bright Side