Reimagining the Common Good: The Common Good as One, Part 1

Photo by Ivan Pozniak from Pexel

The third aspect to note about the common good as it manifests in the Integral structure of consciousness is that it is, well, good. It is not just virtuous, righteous, dutiful, or morally correct, but palpably satisfying, like a home-cooked meal or a warm hearth on a cold winter night. It brings an immediate sense of coherence and well-being, of being part of a harmonious flow. Even when a decision is costly or not in one’s favor, one can still sense the goodness in the coherence itself. In a fractured universe, coherence is a very big deal.

Those of you who have waded through my Eye of the Heart book will have some intimation of what I am speaking about here. What we experience here in ‘World 48” (the familiar world of our mind and senses) as “qualities” or “virtues,” are at a more subtle level cosmic substances—in a word, nutrients—needed for the building up of our collective planetary body. They pack an actual energetic punch, directly perceptible in the environment into which they are introduced. Where they are lacking, the result is always a form of malnutrition, experienced not only as personal spiritual malaise, but as a planetary “dullness” or failure-to-thrive.

As so often the case, our bridge between the conceptual worlds turns out to be our old friend, Jesuit mystic and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard was already well onto this insight way back in the 1920s. Although he knew little or nothing about the teachings of Western esotericism, he was already clearly seeing from a scientific perspective that what Christian dogma calls “the theological virtues” (faith, hope, and love) are actually streams of radial energy changing outcomes in the physical world. In his The Divine Milieu he insists that faith is “operative,” meaning for him that it actually acts in this world, changing not only the outcome of a situation but the actual physical structure of the material it acts on. As he sees it:

“Under the influence of faith, the universe is capable, without outwardly changing its characteristics, of “becoming more supple, more fully animate.” (p. 111.)

And he’s not just talking about our attitude toward the world becoming more supple and animate; something in the physical composition of the world actually subtly shifts. The agent of change here is not merely an awakened heart acting upon the world, but FAITH itself acting upon the world through a direct energetic impact upon the molecular elements of which the world is composed.

What light does Teilhard’s insight have to shed on the common good as we are increasingly invited to reimagine this signature “mental structure” concept in an Integral modus operandi? First of all, like faith, hope, and love, the common good now also becomes operative. It acts. It is no longer the Q.E.D in an abstract moral algebra, but a dynamic integrative presence which helps maintain the whole system in right alignment. It cannot be imposed top-down, from without; it must arise responsively, from within. In a system governed by autopoiesis (as we explored in my last post) it is probably most akin to that sensation that arises from deep within you when know you are well (as opposed to “unwell.”) It emerges out of the dynamic feedback between whole and part and is always fundamentally related to the self-regulation of the entire system. It does not have winners and losers as its endpoint, only wellness or unwellness.

If you transpose this observation into a Law of Three configuration— drawing here once again on Adrian Bejan’s striking contemporary reformulation of this principle in his “Constructal Law” (see my first post in this series)— systemic wellness will always manifest situationally in the dynamic interplay between first force (the imperative need of any finite flow system to keep on flowing in order to survive); second force (the legitimate resistance or friction imposed by the system it flows through); and third force, which controls the mix by applying the constructal (or “common good”) algorithm—i.e., “maximize access to the current throughout all parts of the system.”

If we were to apply this formula to our deeply foundering American form of governance (viewed as flow system), I would identify as first force the cumulative momentum to keep the infrastructure intact and flowing—capable of delivering its mind-blowingly complex array of goods and services without interruption or imperilment. Second force I would identify as the deep polarization of viewpoints and values, turning the riverbed through which this flow system must flow into stony ground at best, an active battlefield at worst. This is in part a result of deliberate political and informational manipulation, but if the Gebserian perspective is correct, it reflects a still more profound impasse: the proverbial “soul of America” now pinioned between the shifting tectonic plates of two profoundly incompatible structures of consciousness. No one’s fault, just where we happen to find ourselves on the forced march of human consciousness along its inexorable evolutionary trajectory.

If this analysis is even remotely correct, then third force could only lie in the direction of softening this stony ground—in Teilhard’s words, making it “more supple more fully animate” —so that the current can actually begin to flow again.

And perhaps, as Teilhard intimates, the missing ingredient may indeed have something to do with faith. More on that to follow shortly.

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