I’m half-way through Edgar Morin’s Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future, and if I stop and blog about every fascinating paragraph, I’ll never finish the book. Unless he totally tanks it in the second half and, for argument’s sake, starts writing about moldy cabbage and hopscotch, this will probably rank as the best book on education I’ve read yet. It also fits nicely with my barely-burgeoning project of creating a Humanities of Global Consciousness. See this post at Evolutionary Landscapes.
Here are the seven complex lessons Morin believes should be covered in an education for the future: Detecting error and illusion, Principles of pertinent knowledge, Teaching the Human Condition, Earth identity, Confronting uncertainites, Understanding each other, and Ethics for the human genre.
For now, I will focus on Chapter 4, “Earth Identity,” in which Morin argues that humanity first entered the “plantery era” around the time of Columbus’s voyage in 1492, not an entirely abitrary date from Morin’s perspective:
At the end of the European 15th century, Ming dynasty China and Mongol India were the most important civilizations on the Globe. Islam in Asia and Africa was the most widspread religion on earth. The Ottoman empire can out of Asia, spread across western Europe, annihilated Byzantium, threatned Vienna, became a great power in Europe. The Inca and Aztec empire reigned in the Americas; the splendors, monuments, and flourishing populations of Cuzco and Tenochtitlan outdid Madrid, Lisbon, Paris and London, modest capitals of emerging Western European nations.
And yet, in 1492, these small, young nations set out to conquer the Globe, and their adventures of war and death brought the five continents into communication and opened the planetry era, for better and for worse.
The big picture here is something like a microcosm of the expansion and contraction of the universe. Humanity likely began in one geographical location, spread across the globe and developed disparate and diverse cultures, and is now beginning to come back together and form something like a global culture (though this is certainly a ways off). Morin says this much better:
Human history began with a planetary diaspora across all the continents and in modern times entered the planetary era of communication between fragments of the human diaspora.
I appreciate how Morin does not paint these transformations as ideal or utopian, acknowledging that conflict is inevitable. William Irwin Thompson has made a similar point in “Nine Theses for a Gaia Politique,” suggesting that World War 2 was less an overt conflict between opposing sides, and more of catastrophic transition that ended with more unity between the central players, not less:
The Second World War in Europe and the Pacific expressed chaos and destruction through maximum social organization; indeed, this extraordinary transnational organization expressed the cultural transition from a civilization organized around literate rationality to a planetary noetic ecosystem in which stress, terrorism, and catastrophes were unconsciously sustained to maintain the historically novel levels of world integration.
Obviously millions died in order for this complicated and horrible first dance to occur. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to find four nations in a more secure relationship than the U.S., Japan, Germany, and England. (Russia is a bit of an exception here.) And Thompson would argue that the influx of Japanese Zen into America was a cultural exchange brought on by the war. The idea is that communication between cultures, even in the form of warfare, can still result in a positive move toward global culture and planetary thinking.
Morin’s quote above, concerning “the planetary era of communication between fragments of the human diaspora,” speaks directly to my interest in a Global Humanities. First, I think of Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” his collage-like incorporation of languages, cultures, and religions, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins” he writes in one of the last lines of the poem, and early Modernist attempts to create a cross-cultural poetics (Pound’s Chinese translations). These poets knew, early in the 20th century, that the world was simulataneously shrinking and expanding.
But this is just the beginning attempt of Western poets looking back across the ruins of their colonialism, wondering what was left, alive or dead, in the wake of their ships. Magellan made it all the way around the world, spoils and spices were had, slaves acquired, but, did they wonder, what was going through the minds of those people? Did they love? Who were their gods? What did they think about as they gazed at the stars?
And now that central elements of Western culture seem to be driving us toward the brink of destruction, as we violently crash against the insides of our skulls, is it time to consider the planet’s perspective in all of this? If we are indeed in a planetary era, what are the poems, songs, and stories that represent this era? This might make a worthy reading list for a course on the Humanities of Global Consciousness. Better yet, it might re-orient us at a crucial time in the existence of our race.