The Future of Mankind by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., was professor of geology at the Catholic Institute in Paris, director of the National Geologic Survey of China, and director of the National Research Center of France. He died in New York City in 1955. Published by Harper & Row, New York and Evanston, 1959. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 3: The Grand Option
I. On the Threshold of Human Socialization
Just as astronomy, by the comparative study of heavenly bodies, has been able to detect the existence and determine the phases of a life-history of the stars, so the science of biology, by the comparative study of living forms, has been able to determine the successive stages through which animal and vegetable groups pass in the course of their evolution. No naturalist doubts any longer that different species appear, grow, age and die.
In this sense it is evident that Mankind of its nature behaves like a species, and is therefore subject as a whole, as in the case of the individual, to a definite cycle of development. To every thinking man this poses a problem of obvious importance for the ordering and orientation of our collective life. What is the precise point reached at this moment by the human race in the ineluctable curve of growth which is described by every zoological species in the course of its existence? In other words, what phase of its ‘phyletic’ development may we consider Mankind to have attained at the present time, in comparison with the other branches surrounding us on the tree of life?
This overwhelmingly important question is one to which I think we can find a reply provided we take into account a phenomenon familiar to all biologists, but of which the significance in terms of ‘phase’ or ‘stage’ has not been sufficiently recognized or made use of: I mean that of association or, better still, social organization. No sooner is it constituted by the grouping together of elementary particles, than the living element, whatever its degree of internal complexity, begins to reproduce itself. But the process does not end there. When it exists in sufficient numbers the separate element tends to link up with others of its kind so as to form with them a more or less differentiated organic whole. In this fashion the higher plants and the metazoa evolved out of isolated cells, the corals out of fixed or drifting polyps, the termitary out of free neuroptera and the ant-hill and the bee-colony out of independent hymenoptera. A similar impulse of group formation seems to have become operative along each zoological branch, but at very different ages of the earth; so far as we are able to judge, the phenomenon has occurred in each case at a predetermined age of the species under review. In the case of the oldest groups the mechanism of their formation can only be conjectured; but with more recent groupings the stages of the process may still be discerned in their present natural state. We know of unattached bees and wasps, and of others forming small and loosely ordered communities; and by way of a varying series of intermediate states we arrive at the bee-colony, which is almost as organically centered on its queen as is the termitary. In short, everything happens as though, in the course of its phyletic existence, every living form achieved (with more or less success) what may be called a period, or even a point, of socialization.
This being so, let us look at the human species and see if we can fit it into the scheme. Because we ate a part of it, because the rhythm of its growth is infinitely slow in comparison with our own, and because its grandeur overwhelms us, Mankind, in its total evolution, escapes our intuitive grasp. But may we not see reflected in the life around us things that we cannot see directly in ourselves? Let us study ourselves in the mirror of other living forms. What do we see?
Prehistory teaches us that in the beginning Man must have lived in small, autonomous groups; after which links were established, first between families and then between tribes. These associations became more elaborate as time went on. In the phase of the ‘neolithic revolution’ they hardened and became fixed on a territorial basis. For thousands of years this principle remained essentially unchanged; it was the land, despite all social readjustments, which remained the symbol and the safeguard of individual liberty in its earliest form. But now a further transformation is taking place; it has been going on irresistibly for a century under our eyes. In the totalitarian political systems, of which time will correct the excesses but will also, no doubt, accentuate the underlying tendencies or intuitions, the citizen finds his centre of gravity gradually transferred to, or at least aligned with, that of the national or ethnic group to which he belongs. This is not a return to primitive and undifferentiated cultural forms, but the emergence of a defined social system in which a purposeful organisation orders the masses and tends to impose a specialized function on each individual. We can find many ways of accounting in part for this development, which is so important a characteristic of the modern world -- the automatic complication of economic relations, the compression within the limits of the earth’s surface of a living mass in process of continual expansion, and a great deal besides. External pressures of this sort undoubtedly play a part in what is happening. But taken as a whole and in its essentials the phenomenon can only be interpreted as a basic transformation, that is to say a change of major dimensions in the human state, of which comparative biology suggests the cause. The immense social disturbances which today so trouble the world appear to signify that Mankind in its turn has reached the stage, common to every species, when it must of biological necessity undergo the coordination of its elements. In our time Mankind seems to be approaching its critical point of social organization.
But Man is not an insect. Nothing is more pathetic than the total and blind devotion of an ant to its ant-hill; and to us nothing could be more deplorable. The ant toils without respite until it dies of exhaustion in a state of complete self-detachment whose absolute nature and ‘faceless’ purpose are precisely what we find repugnant. Are we too to sink irresistibly, victims of an inevitable process of organic determinism, into a state in which our individual personality is wholly destroyed? The thing is inconceivable. Birth and death and the reproductive function, these are common to both men and animals. But Man, because he is capable of reflection and of planning his own actions, does not blindly respond to these laws like an animal: he assimilates and transforms them, investing them with a meaning and an intelligible moral value. Our species, let us accept it, is entering its phase of socialization; we cannot continue to exist without undergoing the transformation which in one way or another will forge our multiplicity into a whole. But how are we to encounter the ordeal? In what spirit and what form are we to approach this metamorphosis so that in us it may be hominized?
This, as I see it, is the problem of values, deeper than any technical question of terrestrial organisation, which we must all face today if we are to confront in full awareness our destiny as living beings, that is to say, our responsibilities towards ‘evolution’. A whirlpool is beginning to appear ahead of us, in the stream which carries us along. We can already feel the first ripples and there can be no doubt that the whirlpool is far stronger than we. But, being men, we have the power of judgement to aid our navigation. I shall seek, in this paper, to pass under review the various possible courses of action open, at this critical moment, to those at the helm -- that is to say, to each of us.
Finally to decide which is the best course to follow, that is the grand option.
2. The Possible Paths
A priori (by ‘dichotomic’ analysis of the various outlets theoretically offered to our freedom of action) as well as a posteriori (by classification of the various human attitudes in fact observable around us), three alternatives, together forming a logically connected sequence, seem to express and exhaust all the possibilities open to our assessment and choice as we contemplate the future of Mankind: a) pessimism or optimism; b) the optimism of withdrawal or the optimism of evolution; c) evolution in terms of the many or of the unit.
Before we comment upon them, let us look separately at these alternatives so that we may understand their value and their relation to one another.
a Pessimism or Optimism? ‘Is the state of Being good or evil? That is to say, is it better to Be than not to Be?’ Despite its abstract, metaphysical form, this is essentially a practical question representing the fundamental dilemma upon which every man is compelled to pronounce, implicitly or explicitly, by the very fact of having been born. Without having willed it, without knowing why, we find ourselves engaged in a world which seems to be laboriously raising itself to a state of ever greater organic complexity. This universal stream on which we are borne expresses in material terms, within the field of our experience, the preference of Nature for Being over non-Being, for life over non-life -- Being and Life manifesting and evaluating themselves through the growth of consciousness. But can this instinctive choice on the part of Nature withstand the critical activity of Thought? This question could remain at the back of our minds so long as the human task did not appear to extend beyond the need of assuring as agreeable or tolerable an existence as possible for each of the individual elements of Mankind. But it comes to the forefront, it thrusts itself urgently upon us, directly Life shows signs, as it does today, of requiring us, by very virtue of its movement towards a state of higher Being, to sacrifice our individuality. There can be no doubt that the burden of continuing the World weighs more and more heavily on the shoulders of Mankind. How immense it has already become, this ever-growing task of enabling the world to live and progress! We are like the ant that slaves itself to death that its fellow-slaves may live! Is not each of us therefore a dupe, a Sisyphus? For centuries a whole order of men served another, privileged order without asking whether this state of inequality was really beyond remedy; until in the end they rebelled. Is there not reason for Man, become aware of the direction in which Life is taking him, to rebel at last; to go on strike against a blind course of evolution which may not, in any event, betoken any real progress? ‘Time, space, becoming, Me, images of the Void. Nothing is born of anything else, and nothing is necessary to the existence of any other thing,’ so wrote a contemporary philosopher (A. Consentino). It is inevitable, as the collective effort required of men costs more and more, that the dilemma, already present to clear-sighted minds, should eventually disclose itself to the mass. Is the Universe utterly pointless, or are we to accept that it has a meaning, a future, a purpose? On this fundamental question Mankind is already virtually divided into the two camps of those who deny that there is any significance or value in the state of Being, and therefore no Progress; and those, on the other hand, who believe in the possibility and the rewards of a higher state of consciousness.
For the first only one attitude is possible: a refusal to go further; desertion which is equivalent to turning back. For these no further problem arises, since they are lodged in incoherence and disintegration. We may leave them there. But those in the other camp are confronted by the call of duty and the problems of a further advance. Let us follow them towards the logical end of their position.
b Optimism of Withdrawal or Optimism of Evolution. To have decided in favor of the value of Being; to have accepted that the world has a meaning and is taking us somewhere; does not necessarily imply that we must follow its apparent course further, or a fortiori to the end. Walking through a town we often have to make a sharp turn to right or left in order to reach our destination. Centuries ago the wise men of India were struck by the enslaving and inescapable character of the environment in which human activities are conducted. The greater our efforts to know and possess and organize the world, they observed, the more do we strengthen the material trammels that imprison us and increase the universal multiplicity from which we must free ourselves if we are to attain the blessed unity. They concluded, therefore, that there was no conceivable way of approach to the state of higher Being except by breaking the bonds that confine us. We must persuade ourselves of the non-existence of all surrounding phenomena, destroy the Grand Illusion by asceticism or by mysticism, create night and silence within ourselves; then, at the opposite extreme of appearance, we shall penetrate to what can only be defined as a total negation -- the ineffable Reality. Such is the thinking of Oriental wisdom; and there is still an appreciable number of Christians who think on similar lines, although far less radically (since their God comprises all the determinisms in which Nirvana is lacking). Seeing that a state of total socialization awaits the human species, they ask, can we fail to recognize the eastern concept of Karma in this monstrous form? What we call civilization is weaving its web around us with a terrifying rapidity. Let us cut the threads while there is yet time. Pursuing all the paths of detachment and contemplation, not from disdain but from excessive esteem for the state of Being, let us break away from the evolutionary determinism, break the spell, withdraw.
Thus at the outset there is a cleavage in the ‘optimist’ branch of Mankind. On the one hand there are those who see our true progress only in terms of a break, as speedy as possible, with the world: as though the spirit could not exist, or at least could not henceforth fulfill itself, except in separation from matter. And there are those on the other side, the believers in some ultimate value in the tangible evolution of things. For these latter (the true optimists), the tasks and difficulties of the present day by no means signify that we have come to an impasse in our evolution. Their faith in the Universe is stronger than any temptation to withdraw. The worst of courses, in their view, would be to retreat from the whirlpool, or alter course in order to avoid it. The way out (since this certainly exists!) can only be the way through -- forward beyond the rapids. It is in intelligent alliance with the rising tides of matter that we shall draw nearer to the Spirit.
Withdrawal, or evolution proceeding ever further? This is the second choice that human thought encounters in its search for a solution to the problem of action.
At this new point of bifurcation two attitudes are defined -- two ‘mentalities’ disclose themselves and separate. We may leave the believers in withdrawal to go their way along a road which vanishes from our sight. Let us follow the others, those who are faithful to Earth, in their effort to steer the human vessel onward through the tempests of the future. This second group may at first sight appear to be homogeneous; but in fact it is not yet wholly one in mind or spirit. A final cleavage is necessary to separate absolutely, in a pure state, the conflicting spiritual tendencies which are confusedly intermingled in the present world, at the heart of human freedom.
c Plurality or Unity? As we have shown, the sub-division of what one may call ‘the human spiritual categories’ begins logically with faith in the state of Being, and proceeds to faith m the further progress of the material world around us -- that is to say, in the most fundamental terms, faith in the spiritual value of matter. But psychologically this dichotomic process, whereby at each point of choice something like a new spiritual species breaks away, is influenced throughout by a final orientation which qualifies or obscurely dictates each of the earlier choices: ‘In what direction and in what form are we to look for this new state of being which we expect to be born of our future development? Is the Universe, of its nature, scattering itself in sparks; or on the contrary is it tending to concentrate m a single centre of light?’ Plurality or Unity? Two possibilities determining two basic attitudes, more radical than any difference of race, nationality or even formal religion; and between them runs the true line of the spiritual division of the Earth. Pluralism or (using the word in its purely etymological sense) monism? This is the ultimate choice, by way of which Mankind must finally be divided, knowing its own mind.
In the view of the ‘pluralist’ the world is moving in the direction of dispersal and therefore of the growing autonomy of its separate elements. For each individual the business, the duty and the interest of life consist in achieving, in opposition to others, his own utmost uniqueness and personal freedom; so that perfection, beatitude, supreme greatness belong not to the whole but to the least part. By this "dispersive" view the socialization of the human mass becomes a retrograde step and a state of monstrous servitude -- unless we can discern in it the birth of a new ‘shoot’ destined eventually to bring forth stronger individualities than our own. Only with this reservation, and within these limits, is the phenomenon to be tolerated. Collectivization in itself, no matter what form it may take, can only be a provisional state and one of relative unimportance. Evolution culminates, by the progressive isolation of its fibers, in each separate individual and even in each moment of the individual’s life. Essentially, as the ‘pluralist’ sees it, the Universe spreads like a fan: it is divergent in structure.
But to the ‘monist’ the precise opposite is the case: nothing exists or finally matters except the Whole. For the elements of the world to become absorbed within themselves by separation from others, by isolation, is a fundamental error. The individual, if he is to fulfil and preserve himself, must strive to break down every kind of barrier that prevents separate beings from uniting. His is the exaltation, not of egotistical autonomy but of communion with all others! Seen in this light the modern totalitarian regimes, whatever their initial defects, are neither heresies nor biological regressions: they are in line with the essential trend of ‘cosmic’ movement. Pluralism, far from being the ultimate end of evolution, is merely a first outspreading whose gradual shrinkage displays the true curve of Nature’s proceedings. Essentially the Universe is narrowing to a centre, like the successive layers of a cone: it is convergent in structure.
So the question can finally be posed: fulfillment of the world by divergence, or fulfillment of the same world by convergence? It seems that the final answer must lie in one or other of these two directions, in the sense that anything else that has to be decided can only be of lesser importance. Our analysis of the different courses open to Man on the threshold of the socialization of his species comes to an end at this last fork in the road. We have encountered three successive pairs of alternatives offering four possibilities: to cease to act, by some form of suicide; to withdraw through a mystique of separation; to fulfil ourselves individually by egoistically segregating ourselves from the mass; or to plunge resolutely into the stream of the whole in order to become part of it.
Faced by this apparent indeterminacy of Life in ourselves, what are we to do? Shall we try to ignore the problem and continue to live on impulse and haphazard, without deciding anything? This we cannot do. The beasts of the field may trust blindly to instinct, without thereby diminishing or betraying themselves, because they have not yet seen. But for us, because our eyes have been opened, even though we seek hurriedly to close them, the question will continue to burn in the darkest corner of our thought. We cannot recapture the animal security of instinct. Because, in becoming men, we have acquired the power of looking to the future and assessing the value of things, we cannot do nothing, since our very refusal to decide is a decision in itself.
We cannot stand still. Four separate roads lie open to us, one back and three forward.
Which are we to choose?
3. The Choice of the Road
a In search of a criterion. The classification we have established is more than a flight of fancy. The four roads are not a fiction. They exist in reality and all of us know people embarked upon one or other of them. There are both pessimists and optimists around us; and among the latter there are ‘Buddhists’, ‘pluralists’ and ‘monists’.
Confronted by this diversity and division of human attitudes in face of a world to be abandoned or pursued, we are apt to shrug our shoulders and say, ‘It’s all a matter of temperament.’ This amounts to saying that, in every sphere, faith or the lack of faith means no more and is no more controllable than a tendency of the spirit towards sadness or joy, music or geometry. A comfortable explanation, since it renders discussion unnecessary; but an inadequate one, since it purports to settle, by invoking the subjective side of our nature, a problem that is essentially objective, namely that of attributing a particular structure to the world in which we find ourselves. For let us face it: to each of the four choices we have outlined there must necessarily correspond a Universe of an especial kind -- disorderly or ordered, exhausted or still young, divergent or convergent. And of these four kinds of Universe only one can exist at a time -- only one is true. We are no more free to follow our impulses blindly in the ordering of our lives than is the captain of a ship heading for a prescribed harbor. Accordingly we need some criterion of values to enable us to make our choice. But immersed in the Universe as we are, we have no means of getting outside it, even momentarily, to see if it is going anywhere, and if so where. We have no periscope; we are navigating in the depths. Is there nothing within the world to enable us to judge whether we inside it are moving in the right direction, that is to say, in the same direction as it is moving itself?
Yes, there is a clear indication, and it is the one of which we have already spoken: the growth, within and around us, of a greater awareness. More than a century ago the physicists observed that, in the world as we know it, the fraction of unusable energy (entropy) is constantly increasing; and they found in this a mathematical expression of the irreversibility of the cosmos. This absolute of physics has thus far not only resisted all attempts at ‘relativization’, but, if I am not mistaken, it tends to find its counterpart in a current moving in the opposite sense, positive and constructive, which is revealed by the study of the earth’s biological past: the ascent of the Universe towards zones of increasing improbability and personality. Entropy and life; backward and forward: two complementary expressions of the arrow of time. For the purposes of human action, entropy (a mass-effect rather than a law of the unit) is without meaning. Life, on the other hand, if it is understood to be the growing interiorization of cosmic matter, offers to our freedom of choice a precise line of direction. Confronted by the phenomenon of ‘socialization’ in which Mankind is irresistibly involved, do we seek to know how to act that we may better conform to the secret processes of the world of which we are a part? Then of the alternatives that are offered we must choose the one which seems best able to develop and preserve in us the highest degree of consciousness. If we turn out to have been wrong in this, then the Universe has no less gone astray.
b Reduction of the alternatives. To have accepted, on the strength of historical evidence, that the world reveals through its past its progress towards the Spirit, is to recognize equally that we need no longer choose between being and non-being. Indeed, how can we choose when we are already enrolled? The choice was made long before we were born; or more exactly, it was of the choice itself that we were born, inasmuch as the choice is implied in the progress of the Universe, that from the first has followed a pre-ordained course. An underlying doubt as to the primacy of consciousness over unconsciousness might at a pinch be conceivable in a mind emerging suddenly from nothing; but it seems contradictory in an evolved being whose origins attest to this primacy. In their extreme form pessimism and agnosticism are condemned by the very fact of our existence. Therefore we need not hesitate in rejecting them. This disposes of the first alternative.
The second alternative seems to pose a more delicate problem. ‘Withdrawal -- or evolution proceeding ever further?’ In which direction does a higher state of consciousness await us? Here, at first sight, the answer is less clear. There is nothing contradictory in itself in the idea of human ecstasy sundered from material things. Indeed, as we shall see, this fits in very well with the final demands of a world of evolutionary structure. But with one proviso: that the world in question shall have reached a stage of development so advanced that its ‘soul’ can be detached without losing any of its completeness, as something wholly formed. But have we any reason to suppose that human consciousness today has achieved so high a degree of richness and perfection that it can derive nothing more from the sap of the earth? Again we may turn to history for an answer. Let us suppose, for example, that the strivings and the progress of civilization had come to an end at the time of Buddha, or in the first centuries of the Christian era. Can we believe that nothing essential, of vision and action and love, would have been lost to the Spirit of Earth? Clearly we cannot. And this simple observation alone suffices to guide our decision. So long as a fruit continues to grow and ripen we refrain from picking it. In the same way, so long as the world around us continues, even in suffering and disorder, to yield a harvest of problems, ideas and new forces, it is a sign that we must continue to press forward in the conquest of matter. Any immediate withdrawal from a world of which the burden grows heavier every day is denied to us, because it would certainly be premature. So much for the second alternative.
And so, since we are bound to press on, we find ourselves faced by the third alternative. What course are we to adopt in order that our personal efforts may most effectively contribute to the terrestrial consciousness which we must strive to heighten and extend? Is it to be a jealously guarded fostering of our own individuality, achieved in increasing isolation; or in the association and giving of ourselves to the collective whole of Mankind? Are we to reject or accept human socialization, elect for a divergent or a convergent world? Where is the truth? Which is the right way?
It appears to me that at this last fork in the road the modern problem of Action displays itself in its most essential and acute form. If there is any characteristic clearly observable in the progress of Nature towards higher consciousness, it is that this is achieved by increasing differentiation, which in itself causes ever stronger individualities to emerge. But it would seem that individualization leads to opposition and separation. In logic, therefore, we are led to suppose that every man must fight to break away from any influence that threatens to dominate and restrict him. And does not this separatist tendency exactly correspond to one of the deepest instincts of our being? But what is the voice that speaks to us in the exaltation of separateness and self-enclosure? Is it a challenge or a seduction?
It is undeniable that, viewed in a certain light, a Universe of divergent or pluralistic structure seems to be capable of giving rise to localized paroxysms of consciousness. The man who thinks to gamble the whole world for the sake of his own existence, and to gamble his own existence for the sake of the moment, is bound to live every minute with extraordinary intensity. But if we look at it we can see that this brilliance, besides being pitifully limited in scope, is radically destructive of the spirit in which it springs to light. For one thing, though it may enable the individual to achieve the heights of momentary ecstasy, it robs him in return of the ineffable joys of union and conscious loss of self in that which is greater than self: the element burns up all its future in a flying spark. And again, since the impulse must logically spread from one to another through all the elements, it becomes a process of general volatilization infecting Mankind as a whole. To adopt the hypothesis of a final divergence of Life is, in fact, to introduce biologically into the thinking part of the world an immediate principle of disintegration and death. It is to re-establish, at the very antipodes of Consciousness (become no more than a fleeting reality!), the primacy and preponderant stability of Matter. It is to deny, even more gravely than by an ill-timed act of withdrawal, the historic impulses of Life.
So there is no way out, if we wish to safeguard the preeminence of the spirit, except by taking the one road that remains to us, which leads to the preservation and further advance of consciousness -- the road of unification. A convergent world, whatever sacrifice of freedom it may seem to demand of us, is the only one which can preserve the dignity and the aspirations of the living being. Therefore it must be true. If we are to avoid total anarchy, the source and the sign of universal death, we can do no other than plunge resolutely forward, even though something in us perish, into the melting-pot of socialization.
Though something in us perish?
But where is it written that he who loses his soul shall save it?
4. The properties of Union
It is at this point that we must rid ourselves of a prejudice which is deeply embedded in our thought, namely the habit of mind which causes us to contrast unity with plurality, the element with the whole and the individual with the collective, as though these were diametrically opposed ideas. We constantly argue as though in each case the terms varied inversely, a gain on the one side being ipso facto the other side’s loss; and this in turn leads to the widespread idea that any destiny on ‘monist’ lines would exact the sacrifice and bring about the destruction of all personal values in the Universe.
The origin of this prejudice, which is largely imaginary, can no doubt be traced to the disagreeable sense of loss and constraint which the individual experiences when he finds himself involved in a group or lost in a crowd. It is certainly the case that any agglomeration tends to stifle and neutralize the elements which compose it; but why should we look for a model of collectivity in what is no more than an aggregate, a ‘heap’? Alongside these massive inorganic groupings in which the elements intermingle and drown, or more exactly at the opposite pole to them, Nature shows herself to be full of associations brought about and organically ordered by a precisely opposite law. In the case of associations of this kind (the only true and natural associations) the coming together of the separate elements does nothing to eliminate their differences. On the contrary, it exalts them. In every practical sphere true union (that is to say, synthesis) does not confound; it differentiates. This is what it is essential for us to understand at the moment of encountering the Grand Option.
Evidence of the fact that union differentiates is to be seen all round us -- in the bodies of all higher forms of life, in which the cells become almost infinitely complicated according to the variety of tasks they have to perform; in animal associations, where the individual ‘polymerises’ itself, one might say, according to the function it is called upon to fulfil; in human societies, where the growth of specialization becomes ever more intense; and in the field of personal relationships, where friends and lovers can only discover all that is in their minds and hearts by communicating them to one another. We may note, certainly, that in these various forms of collective life (except the last) differentiation, the fruit of union, goes hand-in-hand with mechanization, the element becoming a cog in the machine; and that this is especially what happens in the case of the termitary and the hive, of which the shadow looms so disturbingly over the collective future of Mankind. But we must take care not to bring phenomena of a different order into our argument without making the necessary adjustments. In the termitary and the hive (as in the case of the cells of our own body) the union and therefore the specialization of the elements takes place in the field of material functions -- nutrition, reproduction, defence, etc. -- which accounts for the transformation of the individual into a standardized part. But let us imagine another kind of association within which a different possibility of mutual fulfillment is offered to the individuals composing it, this time a psychic grouping corresponding to what might be called a function of personalization. Operating in such a field, the tendency of union to bring about differentiation, far from giving birth to a mere mechanism, must have the effect of increasing the variety of choice and the wealth of spontaneity. Anarchic autonomy tends to disappear, but it does so in order to achieve its consummation in the harmonized flowering of individual values.
And this is precisely what happens in the case of Mankind. By virtue of the emergence of Thought a special and novel environment has been evolved among human individuals within which they acquire the faculty of associating together, and reacting upon one another, no longer primarily for the preservation and continuance of the species but for the creation of a common consciousness. In such an environment the differentiation born of union may act upon that which is most unique and incommunicable in the individual, namely his personality. Thus socialization, whose hour seems to have sounded for Mankind, does not by any means signify the ending of the Era of the Individual upon earth, but far more its beginning. All that matters at this crucial moment is that the massing together of individualities should not take the form of a functional and enforced mechanization of human energies (the totalitarian principle), but of a ‘conspiracy’ informed with love. Love has always been carefully eliminated from realist and positivist concepts of the world; but sooner or later we shall have to acknowledge that it is the fundamental impulse of Life, or, if you prefer, the one natural medium in which the rising course of evolution can proceed. With love omitted there is truly nothing ahead of us except the forbidding prospect of standardization and enslavement -- the doom of ants and termites. It is through love and within love that we must look for the deepening of our deepest self, in the life-giving coming together of humankind. Love is the free and imaginative outpouring of the spirit over all unexplored paths. It links those who love in bonds that unite but do not confound, causing them to discover in their mutual contact an exaltation capable, incomparably more than any arrogance of solitude, of arousing in the heart of their being all that they possess of uniqueness and creative power.
We may have supposed when a moment ago we were bidding farewell to a Universe of divergence and plurality, that some part of our individual riches must be absorbed by our immersion in Life as a whole. Now we see that it is precisely through this apparent sacrifice that we may hope to attain the high peak of personality which we thought we must renounce.
Nor is this all.
Union differentiates, as I have said; the first result being that it endows a convergent Universe with the power to extend the individual fibers that compose it without their being lost in the whole. But this mechanism, in such a Universe, begets another property. If by the fundamental mechanism of union the elements of consciousness, drawing together, enhance what Is most incommunicable in themselves, it means that the principle of unification causing them to converge is in some sort a separate reality, distinct from themselves: not a ‘center of resultance’ born of their converging, but a ‘center of dominance’ effecting the synthesis of innumerable centers culminating in itself. Without this the latter would never come together at all. In other words, in a converging Universe each element achieves completeness, not directly in a separate consummation, but by Incorporation in a higher pole of consciousness in which alone it can enter into contact with all others. By a sort of inward turn towards the Other its growth culminates in an act of giving and in excentration. What does this mean except that at this final stage there reappears the mystical ‘annihilation’ advocated by those whom we called earlier (in discussing the second alternative) the partisans of Withdrawal. Everything now becomes clear. What the apostles of ecstasy foresaw was true. But they wished to escape in an arbitrary and, as we have said, premature fashion. They were right in their desire to be absorbed in the Other; but they did not see that this mystical night or death could only be the end and apotheosis of a process of growth. Can water boil under ordinary conditions before it has reached a temperature of 100 degrees? Before passing into the Beyond, the World and its elements must attain what may be called their ‘point of annihilation’. And it is precisely to this critical point that we must ultimately be brought by the effort consciously to further, within and around ourselves, the movement of universal convergence!
From which, to sum up, the following situation arises.
To elect in the depths of our being for the possibility and hope of an indefinitely increasing unification of the Universe, is not merely the only course we can pursue which conforms to the evolutionary past of the world; it is the course that embraces, in its essence, every other constructive act in which we might look for an alternative. Not only does this road offer a positive outlet for the diminished or specialized form of consciousness -- a victory dearly paid for by Life -- but consciousness as a whole must follow it, with all the accumulation of riches which, at each turning-point, we had thought to abandon. Which amounts to saying that the world is wellmade! In other words, the choice which Life requires of our considered action is a great deal less complex than at first seemed to be the case; for it is reduced to a simple choice between the first and last stages of the successive alternatives which we have been able to define: the rejection of Being, which returns us to dust, or the acceptance of Being, which leads us, by way of socialization, to faith in a Supreme Unity -- opposite directions along a single road.
But if, as history suggests, there is really a quality of the inevitable in the forward march of the Universe -- if, in truth, the world cannot turn back -- then it must mean that individual acts are bound to follow, in the majority and freely, the sole direction capable of satisfying all their aspirations towards every imaginable form of higher consciousness. Having been initially the fundamental choice of the individual, the Grand Option, that which decides in favor of a convergent Universe, is destined sooner or later to become the common choice of the mass of Mankind. Thus a particular and generalized state of consciousness is presaged for our species in the future: a ‘conspiracy’ in terms of perspective and intention.
Which brings us in conclusion to the consideration of an especial phenomenon arising directly out of this approaching unanimity -- the more or less early establishment on earth of a new atmosphere, or better, a new environment of action.
5. The True Environment of Human Action
The historians of philosophy, in their study of the development of thought through the ages, prefer to dwell upon the birth and evolution of ideas, theses, formally constructed systems. But arguable schemes of this sort do not constitute the whole, or perhaps even the most important part, of the life of the spirit. A geometrical system is made up of points, lines and diagrams, but in the deeper sense it depends on the type of space (number of dimensions, curvature) in which the system operates. According to the nature of this space properties change or are generalized, and certain transformations and movements become possible. Space in itself is something that overflows any formula; yet it is m terms of this inexpressible that a whole expressible world is interpreted and developed. But what is true and clearly apparent in the abstract field of geometry may also be found, and should be examined with no less care, in the general systematization of phenomena which we call philosophy. To philosophize is to put in order the lines of reality around us. What first emerges from any philosophy is a coherent whole of harmonized relationships. But this whole, if we look closely, is always intuitively conceived in terms of a Universe endowed with certain fixed properties which are not a thing in themselves but a general condition of knowledge. If these properties should change, the whole philosophy, without necessarily breaking down, must adapt itself and readjust the relation between its parts; like a design on a sheet of paper which undergoes modification when the paper is curved. Indeed the past history of human intelligence is full of ‘mutations’ of this kind, more or less abrupt, indicating, in addition to the shift of human ideas, an evolution of the ‘space’ in which the ideas took shape -- which is clearly very much more suggestive and profound.
Let me cite a single instance, the most recent, of this sort of transformation.
Until the sixteenth century men in general thought of space and time as though they were limited compartments in which objects were juxtaposed and interchangeable. They believed that a geometrical envelope could be traced round the totality of the stars. They talked, thinking they understood, of a first and last moment discernible in the past and the future. They argued as though every element could be arbitrarily moved, without changing the world, to any point along the axis of time. The human mind believed itself to be perfectly at home in this universe, within which it tranquilly wove its patterns of metaphysics. And then one day, influenced by a variety of internal and external causes, this attitude began to change.
Spatially our awareness of the world was extended to embrace the Infinitesimal and the Immense. Later, in temporal terms, there came the unveiling, behind us and ahead, of the abysses of Past and Future. Finally, to complete the structure we became aware of the fact that, within this indefinite extent of space-time. the position of each element was so intimately bound up with the genesis of the whole that it was impossible to alter it at random without rendering it ‘incoherent’, or without having to readjust the distribution and history of the whole around it. To accommodate this expansion of our thought the restricted field of static juxtaposition was replaced by a field of evolutionary organization which was limitless in all directions (except forward, in the direction of its pole of convergence). It became necessary to transpose our physics, biology and ethics, even our religion, into this new sphere, and this we are in process of doing. We can no more return to that sphere which we recently left than a three-dimensional object can enter a two-dimensional plane. The general and also the irreversible modification of perceptions, ideas, problems: these are two indications that the spirit has acquired an added dimension.
Let us now turn to the psychological effects of this Grand Option in virtue of which, as we have said, Mankind must elect to adopt a general perspective and habit of mind appropriate to its participation isi a Universe of convergent consciousness. What may we expect to be the inner consequences of the change? Hitherto Man as a whole has lived practically speaking without attempting any far-going analysis of the conditions proper to and ensuing from his activities. He has lived from hand to mouth in the pursuit of more or less immediate and limited aims, more by instinct than by reason. But now the atmosphere around him becomes sustaining, consistent and warm. As he awakens to a sense of ‘universal unification’ a wave of new life penetrates to the fiber and marrow of the least of his undertakings, the least of his desires. Everything glows, expands, is impregnated with an essential savior of the Absolute. Even more, everything is animated with a flow of Presence and of Love -- the spirit which, emanating from the supreme pole of personalization, fosters and nourishes the mutual affinity of individualities in process of convergence. Will it be possible for us, having savored this climate, to turn back and tolerate any other? A general and irreversible readjustment of the values of existence: again two indications (this time not in terms of vision but in the field of action) showing our accession, beyond all ideologies and systems, to a different and higher sphere, a new spiritual dimension.
It truly seems that for Man this is the greatness of the present moment. Further ideological clashes and moral dissentions lie in wait for us as we go forward; and also further unions and further triumphs. But the succeeding acts of the drama must take place on another level; they must occur in a new world into which, at this moment, we are being born: a world in which each thinking unit upon earth will only act (if he agrees to act) in the consciousness, become natural and instinctive to all, of furthering a work of total personalization.
When it has passed beyond what we called at the beginning its ‘critical point of socialization’ the mass of Mankind, let this be my conclusion, will penetrate for the first time into the environment which is biologically requisite for the wholeness of its task.
Paris, 3 March, 1939. Cahiers du Monde Nouveau, 1945.