A New Synthesis
“However far science pushes its discovery of the essential fire: and however
capable it becomes some day of remodeling and perfecting the human element,
it will always find itself in the end facing the same problem–how to give to each
and every element its final value by grouping them in the unity of an organized
whole.” -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. This is an old story, espoused by philosophers since
the beginning of reflective thinking. From Socrates to Jesus, Goethe, and Hegel,
from Karl Marx to the integral world of Ken Wilber, the song of synthesis has
been sung again and again. This dialectic is one of the basic rhythms of cultural
evolution. The pattern is clear: we begin with a basic thesis; then split off from
it to make something different; then reintegrate with the former thesis again at
a higher, more complex level. From the splitting of chromosomes in cell division
to the bifurcation of social systems and political movements, evolution proceeds
by differentiation and reunification, novelty and confirmation.
In our discussion of the X, Y, and Z axes, we see how each synthesis brings us back
to the center, where we find the heart. In the human story, we have examined the
broad strokes of cultural history to see how the dynamics of masculine and feminine, static and dynamic have influenced different areas of history. To recap this story in
terms of the synthesis occurring now, I offer this review:
We began with a basic thesis, as children in the primal garden of the Great Mother,
living in fused symbiosis. We grew and began to act upon the natural world, planting seeds, irrigating, traveling, building communities. We then walled ourselves off from Nature, ostensibly in the name of security, but this began our differentiation and separation. We became ever more distant from our primal ground, instead aspiring
to invisible forces from above, lifting ourselves upward toward the heavens. We
moved from feminine values to masculine values; from procreation to domination,
from the Mother-son motif to that of Father-daughter. We learned to write, calculate, build, mechanize, print, communicate, relay images, and compute information, until
we built the means for a complex industrial society with a planetary communication network–a global brain.
Instead of finding our authority from below, we sought it from above. Instead of
organic law, we followed written law. We developed democracy, personal rights, individualism and personal autonomy. Through science and industry, we transformed
the world and ourselves. We gave birth to the ego. We even learned, as deconstructionists, to step back and critically evaluate our contemporary cultural
But in this process, we lost our ground, our health, and, many would say, our souls.
We still lived as children under parental dictates. By differentiating, we were caught
in an either-or paradigm, between the basic thesis and its antithesis, caught between Nature and civilization, instincts and socialization. The antithesis was necessary to develop our freedom and build a knowledge base necessary to understand the Earth
as a whole–but we went so far into individualism that we began to sacrifice the whole,
so far into reductionism that we became fragmented. We lost our purpose and our collective moral compass.
We adopted masculine values so completely that the feminine was forgotten. Fight
and flight took precedence over tend and befriend. Conquest and achievement
became more important than nurturing and care. Separation and detachment held
higher value than compassion and connection.
Now, as masculine and feminine forces approach a mutual maturity, we are ready
again for a grand synthesis. The archetypal Mother and Father have played their
roles in our development. We who are alive today are their children, which means
that, quite simply: We are the synthesis. We are now ready to enter relationships
as adult to adult rather than parent to child, maturing to the point where we take
back the reins, and steer the course of evolution in a new direction. As Barbara
Marx Hubbard has said, we are moving from “procreation to co-creation,” from
the primary emphasis on the parent-child relationship, to one of mutual cooperation
in the service of co-creating our future.
If the dance of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis has happened repeatedly, what’s
different now? At our current level of complexity, it is not only a synthesis of
dualities that is occurring, but a convergence of plurality. Today’s synthesis is
not the creation of a third thing, but the process of throwing ourselves headlong
into integration itself. Yes, there are many dualities to unite: the politics of left
and right, the values of masculine and feminine, the balance between progress
and sustainability, civilization and Nature. We must turn us and them into I and
thou, and ultimately we. We must integrate mind and body, Heaven and Earth,
inner and outer.
But the grandest synthesis in our world today is to to find a common purpose
for a plurality of beings, a common identity in the holon of a higher order. This
requires that we each retain our diverse natures, yet realize a collective identity
as members of a global civilization. This grand synthesis does not lose the unique individuality of the parts but establishes unity in diversity.
Our growth and success as a species has pushed us up against what writer Duane
Elgin, calls the evolutionary wall. He states: “Our time is unique in one crucial
respect: the circle has closed–there is nowhere to escape. ” For the first time
in our history, the entire human population is confronted with a common
predicament whose solution will require us to work together. Just as single-
celled organinisms once banded together to make complex creatures; just as our ancestors banded together to create the irrigation projects in the Tigris Euphrates |valley; just as there were cooperative efforts to rebuild Europe after WW II; the
current crises will call forth global cooperation like nothing ever has before. It is
only through cooperation that we will solve our collective crises, create a culture
of peace, and begin the Age of the Heart. While this cooperation may be mothered
by necessity, we may find it has hidden jewels. Learning to work with others
different from ourselves can be deeply enriching, enlivening, and heartening.
We are hitting the boundaries of a planet of finite resources and infinite
possibilities. Boundaries are the means by which we define something, and it
is perhaps this very limitation that can give humanity a new definition as an
evolving, global system. Our anxiety may be no less than the pressure of
planetary convergence breaking down our isolated selves in the global
cauldron that’s cooking our collective soup for the next banquet of the gods.