Towards the New Millennium

by Dr Michael Ellis

 
 

It is postulated that the change in thought and technology in France, America and England in the late 18th century is paralleled in the change in contemporary modes of behaviour and ways of looking at the self. The philosophy articulated at that time was by the philosophers of the enlightenment an also of romanticism. In this nuclear age we are threatened with nuclear war, over-population, ecological imbalance with irreversible destruction of living and technological resources.The contemporary philosophical and technological changes are on a global basis as is the current conflict which reflects a war of man against himself. This can lead to either complete annihilation of man or a reappraisal of himself through a holistic approach to himself and his planet based on internationalism.

Introduction

It is postulated that the change in thought and technology in France, America and England in the late 18th century is paralleled in the change in contemporary modes of behaviour and ways of looking at the self. The philosophy articulated at that time was by the philosophers of the enlightenment an also of romanticism.

In this nuclear age we are threatened with nuclear war, over-population, ecological imbalance with irreversible destruction of living and technological resources.

The contemporary philosophical and technological changes are on a global basis as is the current conflict which reflects a war of man against himself. This can lead to either complete annihilation of man or a reappraisal of himself through a holistic approach to himself and his planet based on internationalism.

Article

"What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
and the dry stone no sound of water".

This excerpt is from T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land"[1] and to my mind symbolises a vacuum in the hearts of man and a plea for some kind of enlightenment or rebirth. This poem was written at the end of World War I and was published in 1922, so it does express a certain feeling of futility about the future of man.
To look at this poem is historical perspective and to view the present international scene of hijacks, famine, homelessness and the threat of nuclear war, poses the question : What can be done to alleviate the human predicaments when sudden changes in history and the flow of events created crises corresponding to those of today?


The Atlanto-Democratic Revolution

As a past example, I should like to consider the Atlanto-democratic revolution that was postulated to have occurred in the late eighteenth century. The theory was formulated by two historians, Jacques Godechot and R.R. Palmer[2]. Revolutionary reactions leading to democratic changes occurred in France, North America and England during this period. Godechot says that these changes were the result of a transformation of the social structure, a population explosion, an unfavourable state in an economic cycle, philosophic enlightenment and political factors. A major point is whether or not it was revolution that actually led to democracy, and I will discuss this later.

At that time, a fervour of revolutionary democratic philosophy was prevalent, and people believed that changes were occurring in society.
As to the causes stated, it is indeed true that France was in an extremely unfavourable economic position, and that the storming of the Bastille occurred when the price of wheat grain was at its highest.

As to political causes, the revolutions in Franc and America can be seen as partly engendered by over-centralisation and by tightening up processes, in France by the monarchy and in America by England. But in addition to economic and political factors there was the birth of new ideas with a common denominator which led to a change in the way humanity viewed itself.
The birth of the new thinking, called "The Enlightenment", was associated with the industrial revolution.

The schools of philosophy or the philosophies of the Enlightenment were those of John Locke and Charles de Secondat Montesquieu, Francoise Voltaire, and John Jacques Rousseau. Targets of these philosophers were arbitrariness of government, lack of toleration, privileges of the noblemen, the authority of the Church and superstition fostered by the Church.

Montesquieu saw three principal power in the State : legislative, executive and judicial. In the ideal situation he considered the laws would be made, interpreted and carried out independently by three separate bodies. Voltaire attacked the intolerance of the old French regime. Himself a deist, he hated the superstition sustained by the Church, and his ideal government was an absolute but enlightened monarch.

Rousseau's philosophy was a rebelliousness towards the established modes of thought, with an emphasis on the individual and on originality of action rather than on following a definite set of rules. He stressed movement and change, as against the static and unchanging character of the established order. He was a subjective philosopher who preached a return to simplicity and withdrawal from the world; his ideal society was a community which was sovereign and where if there was disagreement the general will was pre-emptive.


Wordswoth & the Romantic Poets

These concepts formed an ideological basis for modern democracy which was probably the unifying theme, coupled with the growth of technology, underlying the Atlanto-democratic revolution. The new ideas were accompanied by a revolution in European poetry: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley and others were making poetry out of their own moods. This was called "Romanticism".
These poets had a sense of humanity and wished to express themselves from their deepest feelings.

Gradual disillusionment with the French Revolution and its bloodbath led Wordsworth initially to follow Godwin, whose ideas were expressed in 1793 in "Political Justice"[3]. Godwin was proposing that reason, and reason above all else, could improve man's lot and contribute towards democracy. He thought that man was capable of perfecting himself, but that the most important external influence on man were not material but moral, among which those from government and education were the most crucial. However, Wordsworth reacted against this philosophy of rationalism, and in the book of "The Prelude"[4] titled "Rejection of Reason", written in 1804, his metaphors indicate that he realised retrospectively that his methods had been wrong, and that he had violated sacred things.

The great crisis of Wordsworth's life was his redefinition of the work "nature". As a young man he saw nature as a law that governed the conduct of the Universe, and as the perfect rational state of which man was capable. However, settling with his wife in Dorset in 1795, he was able to see that only way he could express himself was, not through rationalism, but through romanticism. Here, deep in the heart of Dorset, he became a man of great visionary power, articulating a philosophy of nature and proposing a moral solution to problems of humankind, the contemporary revolution, and the impact of industrialisation. He was representing the artist, in conjunction with William Blake and D.H. Lawrence [who later revolted against the dehumanizing aspects of technology, the domination of man by the machine].

In the third book of "The Preludes", Wordsworth describes how he came to respect man, as not distinct from the rest of creation but as a part of nature. Nature, he believed, was essentially good. It influenced the responsive individual in a moral direction. The naturally responsive person was generally somebody who had been relatively untouched or unfettered by society, like a child or a peasant or an idiot. he concentrated particularly on the dignity of the human being.


The Contemporary Revolution

Does this revolutionary change and review of the self, as expressed in the eighteenth century revolution, have any bearing on contemporary modes of behaviour and ways of looking at oneself? I believe that at present the world is reaching a crisis and a change. In the eighteenth century the Atlanto-democratic and the industrial revolutions occurred at the same time. Now, two hundred years later, there is change with several similar components. The economic developments this time, however, are on a global basis. Much of the new technology enhances communication between nations. The war with which we are threatened expresses the ultimate revolution. It reflects a war of man against himself which will lead to complete annihilation or the rebirth of the human spirit.

The economic changes at the global level involve a division between the developed nations and the third world, illustrated by poverty, inequity, illiteracy, poor health, deprivation, and inequality of wealth between nations. Although nations aim to advance their own interests and may assert nationalistic tendencies, the fact is that all people are now members of an international community. The problem we face finally is the confrontation between the machine and the power generated by it and the person. The machine is the metaphor for economic rationalism, technology, and the rise of atificial intellegence rendering people redundant in work.

It is therefore to be expected that in the present crisis, like the phoenix arising from its ashes, there should be a growth of awareness reaching out for a new expression of understanding and communication. This can only be spiritual, coming from human emotions, and as Wordsworth said, "expresses his deepest instincts".

Erikson, in "Childhood and Society"[5], says, for the sake of its emotional health, a democracy cannot afford to let matters develop to a point where intelligent youth, proud in its independence and burning with initiative must leave matters of legislation, law and international affairs; not to speak of war and peace, to insiders and bosses. American youth can gain the full measure of its identity and its vitality only by being aware of autocratic trends in this and in any other lands as the young repeatedly emerge from changing history. Bosses are the economic autocrats of big businesses who run themselves and run the people and the world as machinery". Erikson says that the American adolescent is free and easy, the product of an easygoing democratic family, but is pursued by the autocrats of the large corporations. Thus the executive dictates the course of history, while youth, not realising the tremendous power and initiative they have within them, become victims of society rather than changing it for the better.

I think that this problems experienced by American youth reflects modern society with its excessive emphasis on commercial return, economic growth, wealth and material success. The autocrats of today are no longer monarchs but those who control the economic and financial worlds.

From these historical perspective, I think that people should take a closer look at their relationships with organisations of all types to which they belong. Can we free ourselves from the insidious spectre of the organisation and the clone it produces which may stifle freedom and individuality and prevent us from expressing our true creative sense and urges? Do we understand the inextricable relationship between ourselves and all life on this planet? Do we realise the catastrophe that can afflict us on this planet, whether it be ecological, technological or nuclear? Are we truly internationally minded?


The Significance of the Individual

Jung in "The Undiscovered Self"[6], stated that the structure and physiology of the brain poses no explanation of the psyche. The psyche has a peculiar nature which cannot be reduced to anything else. Consciousness is a precondition of being human. Thus the psyche is endowed with a dignity which philosophically gives it a position equal to physical being. If consciousness must be granted this status for human existence, then the individual, who is the only source of consciousness, must be allowed a corresponding significance in society. Institutions of religion and ideology permit individuality only in so far as the individual does not oppose their dogmas, otherwise he is condemned as heretical, arrogant or eccentric.

Similarly, the modern state with its industrial-military complex in the hands of a comparatively few people has a tendency to dictate the course of society and suppress any full expression of individuality amongst the masses of the population. The dangerous habit of our age is to think only of large numbers, mass organisations and mega deaths.

Technology has marched forward conquering virtually everything in its path, and has succeeded in capturing and exploiting virtually every ecological niche on the planet. Humanity finds itself at the crossroads of its history.


Role of the Physician

In the structure of the scientific medicine, disease is considered to be a disorder of a system or organ. Disease of a particular system or organ is often looked at in isolation from the rest of the person. Even in psychiatry, mental illness is considered to be a cerebral disorder rather than a disease of the whole person - it has been a characteristic of western medicine since Vasaleus and Harvey, to view disease in a reductive and analytic way.

The East, however, has a great tradition of holistic medicine stemming from an understanding of man's harmony with nature. The Chinese book of medicine, "The Yellow Emperor's Handbook", goes back thousands of years and is based on an understanding that life energy or life force circulates from the body and then out into the cosmos. Although this information may be unacceptable to modern physicians, the basic concepts of human life being innately related to the seasons, lifestyle and environment, is surely very apt to today's society. I believe a new medical ethos is growing. We have now to be concerned with the health of humankind as a whole. No longer can we be content just to treat diseases; we also have to attempt to understand the nature of the human being and to heal the biosphere and respect and sustain this intricate matrix of life.

The need for health - the integrity of body and mind in our patients - requires us to contribute to abolishing all forms of war, and to dealing constructively with the threat of world overpopulation and with ecological imbalance. The developing countries of the world still need the basic essentials of sanitation, drinking water and appropriate technology to enable them to survive, while in the next twenty years the world population will continue to rise to reach 8-10 billion.

We have also to be concerned with the ecological pollution by modern technologies, the imbalance in wealth between the developed and developing countries, the unchecked growth of population, the threat of nuclear war, and the drive to dominate and control the environment rather than to be in harmony with it.

---------------------------------------------------------------

References

1] Eliot, T.S., 'Collected Poems' 1909-1962, Faber & Faber Ltd '74.
First published in 1936 in London as 'Collected Poems' 1909-1935.s
2] Godechot J. 'France &L the Atlantic Revolution of the 18th Century1770-1799'
The Free Press, New York 1965.
3] Godwin W 'Enquiry Concerning Political Justice' Editor, Carter K. Publishers -
Oxford University Press.
4] Wordsworth W 'The Preludes' Toutledge Press, Editor - Yarker, London 1969.
5] Erikson Eric H 'Childhood & Society' Penguin Books LTD 1965, first published in
USA in 1950.
6] Jung, C.G. 'The Undiscovered Self'. Translated from German by Hull R.F.C. first
published in England by Routledge & Keegan Paul Ltd., London in 1958.

---------------------------------------------------------------
Dr Michael Ellis

Dr Michael Ellis is a medical doctor, futurist, and peace worker, living in Melbourne.

Dr Ellis is Founder of The Medical Renaissance Group. The aim of The Medical Renaissance Group is to create a new kind of medicine which integrates mind, body and spirit, society and the environment.

He is also Founder of the Centre for Change which aims to create an openness of dialogue for men and women of goodwill, in order that we can find a way out of the current global crisis. It also aims to contribute to the creation of a planetary peace culture, which affirms our deepest respect for all life which makes up the biosphere.

Dr Ellis has higher qualifications in general medicine, paediatrics and nutritional medicine.

He has a special interest in mind-body medicine and in optimizing the physical, mental and emotional health of the individual. He is a Research Fellow at the Graduate School of Integrative Medicine, Swinburne University, where he is particularly interested in brain longevity and the prevention of dementia.

---------------------------------------------------------------