The 1955 Russell-Einstein Manifesto on nuclear weapons concludes with the following words: “Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.” This was written 15 years before the first declarations in 1970 warning of our unsustainable environmental trajectory, and we are now 50 years further down the track, still trying to maintain business as usual and ignoring one of Einstein’s other famous remarks that problems cannot be solved within the framework that created them.
Key to these discussions is our definition of the human. At one of our occasional lunches in London, Sir James Watt (1914-2009) once said that the essential question is: what is a human being? For mechanistic transhumanists, we are biochemical computers in need of enhancement and upgrade, while transpersonal psychology affirms a depth dimension and a transcendent essence that can be directly experienced. As machines, we are subject to manipulation and control, as is already happening in commercial terms with sophisticated algorithms developing online profiles for commercial gain. Then there is the moral and ethical sense of humanity, which is what Albert Schweitzer is referring to when he says that it is our task to “become more finely and deeply human.”
UK readers will know about the recent death of the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, who received the Templeton Prize in 2016. In his acceptance speech he said the following: “You can’t outsource conscience. You can’t delegate moral responsibility away. When you do, you raise expectations that cannot be met. And when, inevitably, they are not met, society becomes freighted with disappointment, anger, fear, resentment and blame. People start to take refuge in magical thinking, which today takes one of four forms: the far right, the far left, religious extremism and aggressive secularism. The far right seeks a return to a golden past that never was. The far left seeks a utopian future that will never be. Religious extremists believe you can bring salvation by terror. Aggressive secularists believe that if you get rid of religion there will be peace. These are all fantasies, and pursuing them will endanger the very foundations of freedom.”
He warned that “if we continue to forget that a free society is a moral achievement that depends on habits of responsibility and restraint, then what will come next…will be neither liberal nor democratic, and it will certainly not be free.” His proposal was to “restate the moral and spiritual dimensions in the language of the twenty-first century….in ways that are uniting rather than divisive.” This is our challenge, to affirm our common humanity in terms of love and freedom, co-creating in the process an ethic of care, compassion, partnership, integrity and responsibility to future generations.