36. Promoting the new Story for Mankind

 

We have to face three main questions. To summarize:

The first question is why we do need such a new Story. As we tried to point out above, our free market society needs such a new base for shaping human identity and morality, one that can replace the waning old religious creation stories.

The second main question is what, if indeed we do need such a new Story, should be its content. We think that content should focus on a new, coherent, multidisciplinary sciences-based vision of human history since our emergence from ape-hood: the history we tried to outline in the first part of this book. We need not repeat that here.

The third main question is of course: given (1) we see the need for such a Story, and (2) we manage to assemble a meaningful and inspiring content for our new common Story, then (3) how should we proceed to spread it around the world, without forcing it onto people as the old religious institutions tended to do? How can we make sure that gradually, maybe slowly but nevertheless surely, it is accepted and embraced by socially responsible leaders as our new shared source of inspiration, identity, morality and social responsibility?

In our vision, developing, reconstructing and corroborating the material for this content needs to be formally established and permanently coordinated as a joint effort by all the leading universities and research institutes worldwide. Ideally, such an effort ought to be organized under auspices of, and initiated by UNESCO.

In fact, the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Rights already hinted at the root of our new common Story, albeit in general terms. Its Preambule begins with: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the worldThe Dutch philosopher Bernard Delfgaauw (1993) interpreted this text as: every person’s humanity requires recognizing and protecting his inherent dignity. This dignity is an essential aspect of our human identity. In the scientific, religious and political context of 1948 it was not yet possible to work out more exactly what might be the basis for this human dignity and identity. But in the meantime, this may have become a little less difficult. Why?

Since then, the scientific situation has improved greatly: increased prosperity led to better funding which intensified valuable field research in disciplines such as archeology, paleoanthropology and ethology. Tremendous technical advances in research instruments and methods brought results within reach that were unthinkable a few generations ago. Thus, our factual knowledge about human history increased considerably and continues to increase rapidly.

As for the religious situation, there were major changes since 1948 as well: in their defensive struggle with rising consumer individualism and freely accessible TV and internet information, religious institutions have begun to lose (or loosen) their formerly suffocating grip on people’s minds. Thinking became more free in various parts of the world and will inevitably continue to do so because the multiplying daily-life consequences of spreading free market opportunities are, quite simply and obviously, irreversible. Veiled Muslim women are desiring (and buying) French designer bags today. Even the most radical American TV evangelists or the fiercest Iranian ayatollahs are all, in the long run, fighting a lost battle.

Only the political situation may be more problematic now than it was in 1948. Perhaps our assessment should be that just like individual consumers have become more independent and self-conscious, in some ways countries, cultures and political movements have become more independent and self-conscious as well – especially outside the Western part of the world. For example, since 1948 most colonies have become politically independent countries and thus more active in demonstrating their own identity. In 1990 Muslim countries such as Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia launched their own alternative Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, based on the Shariah. An openly secular UNESCO project could certainly expect heavy and well-organized political opposition from the Muslim world. Maybe such an official UNESCO project would, for the time being, be feasible in an ideal world only.

This does not mean we should give up on the idea. It does mean however, that the propagation of a new, non-religious, both scientifically founded and morally inspiring Story of Mankind should be planned carefully. This propagation should be effectuated by a series of small tactical steps, avoiding the counterproductive error of trying to do too much at once. The latter would only generate religious and conservative resistance that otherwise may be addressed more easily.

Of course we are not so naïve as to believe that religious-political resistance from various parts of the world will be avoidable – on the contrary, we expect such resistance to be very strong, fierce and emotional. Such strong reactions might actually be a good thing, as indignation and protests from conservative religious backgrounds may help to further public discussion and thus increase publicity and public awareness of the matter.

So let us try now to outline a hypothetical – indicative, nothing more – scenario in the tangible form of a possible ten-year time line. We hope, if you will allow us a little joke, that you will not confuse this proposal with something in the order of the infamous Ten Year Plans in Stalin’s Soviet Russia: of course we mean something entirely different here. And of course we are aware that even the best planning will always need to be changed because of the harsh and unforeseeable reality.

Year one: This very booklet is intended as the first little step. We hope it may help convince some thinkers of the desirability and feasibility of a New Story project, inciting them to write some articles, reviews or reactions pleading for a more coordinated effort to further discuss it. This may draw a substantial number of other thinkers into a public discussion.

Year two: We hope this discussion might evolve into a kind of action group, informal at first – for example in the form of an internet forum – but gradually taking shape as a more organized group, with some kind of presidium and formal membership. The first concrete goal of this society could be to organize a congress or convention, where the society would decide on its own structure, name, goal and action plan.

Note: for the next years we assume that the actual course of events would follow from such a society’s democratically agreed decisions. But in order to concretize a potential scenario, we will just fill in those next years in a hypothetical way here.

Year three: *** At this point the authors of this booklet disagree about the character of the humanosophic project, being a plea for a new basic story for mankind. The disagreement is not ideological, it emanates from a different scientific attitude. Dr. Henk Van Setten is a scientist (historian) and Frans Couwenbergh is a portraitist, be it with academic background. We agree that the free market society and its democracy, as well as the people who lost their old basic story and the youngsters who grew up without such a common narrative, need a new basic story. We agree that this new story for mankind has to be scientifically based. We disagree in the character: is it a beliefs project in the first place or is it a scientific project?

In my view it is a beliefs project. The project has to bring a new belief: in the power of mankind, the human power of consulting each other, the power of democracy. The base of this belief is the story of how we have become humans from apes: the story we told in the foregoing chapters. From the very beginning the basic stories – creation stories – were mythic. They did their unifying work without any science. Still today, in many societies the monotheistic and other basic stories function without any science. In the Western societies, the monotheistic basic story loosens it’s unifying potential, not because its unscientific content but because monotheism is collectivistic: an oddness that is incompatible with the ruling free market economy that needs free consumers.

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The new story for mankind will, in my view, derive its power on its completeness, it’s explaining , its answers on the Big Questions. Being as scientific based as possible is helpful, but not essential. Essential is it’s being there. Not as a Book, but as a never ending project. The new basic story is meant for the young people such as on the photo as well as for their addressees: both live without something: a basic story.

The project as I see it is: a broadly respected institution such as the UNESCO presents the project and appoints a small group of science writers to manage the project. The team emits a body narrative. The whole scientific world is invited to comment this body narrative. In three years the team has to process the comments as well as possible in the ‘preliminary-definitive’ Grand Story. In the next three years the new comments have to be processed in the second ‘preliminary-definitive’ Grand Story, and so it will be a never ending project, growing along with the science.

For co-author Henk van Setten, my approach is too amateurish. For him it has to become a scientific undertaking in the first place. Not the work of science writers and philosophers but of scientists. It has to result in a 500 pages volume, perfectly underpinned and provided with footnotes. Only after this standard is accomplished, the new basic Story can start functioning as a kind of scientifically based and universally acceptable Bible.

For me, the scientific component is less important than the psychological component. Mankind never in his history needed scientific underpinning of the center of its linguistical world: the creation story of it. Even the patriarchic Adam-and-Eve-story functioned two millennia without any scientific underpinning. In a free market world, wherein sciences are available, a new common origin story has to be scientifically underpinned, but it is not its most important aspect. To accomplish the new story for mankind as a scientific project, aiming a standard work, could take a hopeless quantum of years because of the different insights and viewpoints. When it comes to a standard work in the end, it will only add a volume in one’s book case, such as the magnificent The human past, edited by Chris Scarre (Thames and Hudson, 2005, 781 pages) [1], € 42,50.
And the effect of all this scientific labor? In my view this approach misses the democratic impact and involvement, it misses the agitation, the commotion, the turmoil, that awakens the attention of the people worldwide. The pure scientific approach also misses the never-ending-character.

But I surmise that our dispute will equally occupy the intended convention. So let us await the conclusion of the majority.

Based on the social and academic weight of the action group and its individual representatives – we hope of course to enlist influential members from different scientific and cultural backgrounds – the convention might outline the general scope, components, goals and priorities of an international multidisciplinary research project aiming at filling the most acute gaps in our knowledge and compiling a broad “story of mankind” based on all kinds of scientific contributions. In other words, building a more or less complete overview of how humans came to exist: like what we tried to outline in the first chapters of this booklet, only much better detailed, better referenced, conforming to high academic standards.


[1] “the most authoritative introduction to social, cultural, and economic developments in human prehistory. Using a regional and chronological framework, this groundbreaking book highlights the enormous diversity of human experience and the ways in which archaeologists are able to learn about it.”

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