Can reason truly measure what it means to be human?

ERGIN YAMAN
Published 14.04.2017 22:02

Materialism's obsession with reason as the only source of true information and the denial of all other human elements, such as emotions, morals, beliefs or the soul, led it to having its own dogmas and taboo

With roots that date back to the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment, modernism is largely characterized by rationalism and individualism. Accepting rationality as the main source of legitimacy and authority, many critics, including Gandhi, argue that a modernist mentality ignores spirituality and limits reason. The idea that only what is researched, scientifically discovered or seen and proven can be accepted as fact is considered to be the modernist mind's own dogma. Emerging as a reaction to the church's corruption and abuses in the Middle Ages, modernist thought has been fed with scientific discoveries in technology, industry, media and other progressive fields. As a result, the more man has achieved the more Greek philosopher Protagoras's statement "man is the measure of all things" gains relevancy. In return, this has further cemented the theory that reason is the only source of legitimacy and authority.

But has modernist thought simply followed the steps of the European church, which didn't accept the significance of reason in the Middle Ages, didn't tolerate people's free will or anything that wasn't deemed "Godly"? Has the modernist mind's obsession with reason as the only source of true information and the denial of all other human elements, such as emotions, morals, beliefs or the soul, led it to have its own dogmas and taboos?

TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COINAccording to many scholars, reason is not the only source needed to gain knowledge. Gandhi is one of them. Contrary to modern rationalists, Gandhi believed innate traits, such as intuition, love and forgiveness, were also sources of knowledge. Molecular biologist and evolutionary geneticist Francisco J. Ayala at the University of California also holds similar views. He explained: "I contend that both – scientists denying religion and believers rejecting science – are wrong. Science and religious beliefs need not be in contradiction. If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters."

He continues: "The scope of science is the world of nature: The reality that is observed, directly or indirectly, by our senses. Science advances explanations about the natural world, explanations that are accepted or rejected by observation and experiment. Outside the world of nature, however, science has no authority, no statements to make, no business whatsoever taking one position or another. Science has nothing decisive to say about values, whether economic, aesthetic or moral; nothing to say about the meaning of life or its purpose."

Reflecting on what Ayala is discussing in real life, could it be claimed that science or reason is not used as a basis to determine the legitimacy of values and beliefs?

On the other hand, how has the absolute focus on materialistic progress impacted humans' lives and nature? According to Gandhi, the search for profit and progress with no regard for wider moral, cultural and other consequences has led to a continuous neglect of the soul and other components that defines man's humanity. With there being no consciousness about morals and values, there is a relentless competition from individual levels to international levels that only produces violence, oppression, exploitation and domination. The macro reflection of this in real life has unfortunately been the exploitation of countries, which has been justified recently using various arguments, such as intervening to protect human rights and freedoms. On the other hand, the individual level of this is characterized by modern civilization's ever-increasing emphasis on self-achievement, which encourages egocentric man's relentless struggle for a constant increase in possessions, wealth, status and pleasures regardless of the legitimacy of how these are achieved. This has brought about a complete set of individualistic values, as discussed by German sociologist Ulrich Beck, with greater individualism people's actions are influenced more by egocentric calculations rather than by a sense of commitment, obligation or responsibility toward others.

However, the damage of this relentless pursuit for materialistic progress and wealth does not seem to end here. From Nancy Fraser's ideologies underpinning modernity/modernism are serving as a tool for advancing material progress. Let's listen to Nancy Fraser's remarks:

"As a feminist, I've always assumed that by fighting to emancipate women I was building a better world – more egalitarian, just and free. But lately I've begun to worry that ideals pioneered by feminists are serving quite different ends. I worry, specifically, that our critique of sexism is now supplying the justification for new forms of inequality and exploitation.

In a cruel twist of fate, I fear that the movement for women's liberation has become entangled in a dangerous liaison with neoliberal efforts to build a free-market society. That would explain how it came to pass that feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview are increasingly expressed in individualist terms. Where feminists once criticized a society that promoted careerism, they now advise women to "lean in". A movement that once prioritized social solidarity now celebrates female entrepreneurs. A perspective that once valorized "care" and interdependence now encourages individual advancement and meritocracy."

These were Nancy Fraser's beginning remarks in her article titled "How Feminism Became Capitalism's Handmaiden - and How to Reclaim It," which was published in 2013 in the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. In a way, Gandhi's argument about the neglect of the soul by modern civilization, and its impacts on individuals and society, gains more meaning in light of this revelation. If the soul hadn't been neglected and morals hadn't been generated, probably it would not have been possible for women's dignity or rights to be seen as a tool by an elite capitalist group to reach certain materialistic goals.

BAUMAN'S CRITICS ON SOCIETYThe neglect of the soul, the disappearance of morals and values that kept families and societies together is leading to disappearance of society and institutionalization of every sphere of life. Emeritus Professor Zygmunt Bauman's article titled "The Absence of Society" elaborates on this in detail. According to Bauman, today's "social ills" are a result of the absence of society, in other words, the disappearance of the values that defines human beings' identity as humans. He further states that the driving force of conduct is no longer the realistic desire to "keep up with Joneses," but the infuriatingly nebulous idea of catching up with supermodels, premier league footballers and top-10 singers.

The list of social problems and ills is increasing every passing day with the very fast evolvement of technology, the e-world and social media, which are areas that are not governed by morals, principles or values. Societies are struggling to develop immediate strategies to confront the risks associated with these advancements.

While every advancement adds to man's temporary pleasure, it is also leading to greater individualism, degeneration of human identity and the destruction of nature, since advancements are not embellished with the moral values that would normally minimize the harm of any advancement to humanity.

As put by the late Bosnian leader Aliya, for humanity's own sake there is a need to remind us that we have higher obligations. We have to be unselfish and humane. Again, we have to be able to "sacrifice" that that represents the appearance of a principle that is contrary to the principle of interest that is zoological and that continues to heavily define relationships from individual levels to international levels in today's world.

*Analyst at Strategic Thinking Institute, Ankara

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