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PERIAGOGUE: WE ARE EACH RESPONSIBLE FOR THE GOOD OF THE WHOLE

The pursuit of wisdom then cannot be simply legislated and bureaucratically enforced. Instead, at the centre of such a revolution in political culture and consciousness must be the moral, intellectual and spiritual regeneration of the individual – what Plato called periagogue – a "turning around of the soul" toward a love of truth, beauty and the good. The turning around of the soul toward the quest inverts the current Liberal assumption that self-interest – and private profit – should be the main driver of every economic calculation and replaces it with a consideration of the whole. When individuals try to balance self-interest with a consideration of the bigger picture, they discover, as Socrates did, that deep self-interest actually includes concerns for the good as a whole.

Thomas Jefferson, as we saw in Chapter 15, recognized that as our understanding changed, so our institutions needed to follow. This is our political challenge today, to clarify a reliable method for understanding the human condition and its possibilities for improvement, so we can rethink government and economics. The recovery of the truth quest proceeds as it has always done on two levels, following the simple ancient wisdom of the alchemists: "as above so below, as within so without". In the process of weaving together our personal and collective stories, guided by the Big Story of an evolving universe and a concern with the common good, we make a surprising discovery: we find ourselves already on a path with heart, engaged with the practice of a new ethics and politics.

RECOVERING THE BIG STORY

As modern scientific cosmology has shown, the universe is not so much a place within which events happen as an event in itself, and humanity is part of that event, which continues to unfold as human awareness expands. We are only beginning to grasp what it means to emerge from a growing universe. Full realization, for Herman, involves rethinking everything. But for the most part we continue to revere institutions constructed on 18th-century assumptions of a clockwork "box" universe – an empty place within which things happen according to universal mechanical laws. Our political culture confidently marches forward, treating mystery as a problem to be solved or rather dismissed as woolly-mindedness, a distraction from the serious business of business. But Einstein knew otherwise, and put it clearly: "Mystery is the most beautiful thing we can experience. It is the source of all true art and science."

As we grow up, society trains us to ignore the distractions of the beauty of existence and to focus on what is practical and useful. But the memories of childhood remain to be awakened at quiet and unexpected moments, surprising us with a fresh experience of the world. At these times we are reminded that our consciousness, our very capacity to know the world, is a product of some larger, unknowable order that we can come to know through loving attention to the natural world. Nevertheless the ultimate origin of the primeval fireball of the universe will always remain the most profound mystery – the ever-receding horizon of our knowing. The heart of the problem of our contemporary civilization, then, is that we have forgotten the primal experience of the natural world of creation as a sacred miracle. We don't recognize this truth, nor do we appreciate its importance for ordering human life, and so we fail to create our institutions accordingly. We can extend Einstein's insight by saying "Mystery should also be the source of all true politics".

 
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