Human Society and Progress

Progress, Utilization, Theory
The Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT), as the name implies, is a theory inspired by the idea of progressive utilization.
According to philosophy and science, each and every entity in this universe is moving. Movement has meaning, however, only when a direction or goal is present. Progress denotes movement toward a goal. In the context of PROUT philosophy, progress is best explained by the Sanskrit word pragati which means motion that is well directed. According to PROUT, therefore, progress is movement which is directed toward the goal of well-being for all. Progressive applies to such things that are conducive to universal well-being.
In common parlance the word progress is often associated with an increase of comfort in the material sphere, or with sophistication in the sphere of technology. To go by airplane instead of covered wagon is termed progress. According to PROUT’s definition of progress, however, such advancements may or may not be termed progressive. It depends upon their contribution to all-around human welfare. Upon deeper analysis, we find that, in the material world, an advance in pleasure or comfort on the one side is always associated with some adverse effects or difficulties on the other side. Technologies which increase convenience may, on the other hand, have adverse effects upon the environment. Nuclear power, automobiles, plastic, and many other scientific advances have proven themselves to be mixed blessings. This is due to the nature of the material world, which is characterized by the law of cause and effect. Even the most seemingly progressive advances in science are not without negative ramifications. This is not to say, however, that efforts in the physical realm are to be avoided. It is simply necessary to acknowledge that true progress cannot be achieved in the physical realm alone, as any advance is coupled with corresponding problems.
In the psychic or intellectual world, we also find that an increase in mental activity and knowledge is often accompanied by mental suffering due to an increase in mental contradictions. We observe that among intellectuals and educated urban populations, psychic diseases and insanity are much more prevalent than among uneducated village people. Increased intellectual development gives scope for new types of mental maladies to arise, especially in an imbalanced or materialistic society. Hence, it is difficult to say that true progress can come about solely through intellectual development.
The spiritual sphere is concerned solely with linking the finite to the Infinite. Movement or progress in the spiritual sphere is not associated with an opposite movement, but is purely one-directional. The goal of movement in the spiritual sphere is the resolution of contradiction. This allows mental expansion toward the state of perfect equilibrium and equipoise. When the mind is in this balanced state, one experiences true inner peace or happiness. Human beings are always seeking this state of mind. This state of consciousness lies beyond the realm of pain and pleasure that characterizes the mind when it is attached to the physical-psychic world. The endeavor to attain this blissful state is the human quest known as spirituality. Therefore, in PROUT, all actions and ideas that lead to this state of Oneness are considered to be progressive. In truth, human progress in the deeper sense is only possible in the spiritual realm. The spiritual realm is found within the subjective, rather than the objective state of the mind. It is experienced in the inner core of the heart. Knowingly or unknowingly it is the source of all our inspiration and aspirations.
If true progress can be achieved only in the spiritual world, should human beings be concerned with the material and psychic world? Should we shun involvement in physical pursuits and retreat to mountain caves or secluded monasteries? Given the state of human affairs today, this could reflect an escapist mentality, having little to do with the development of spirituality. As human beings exist in three spheres – physical, mental, and spiritual – sincere effort will have to be made for cultivation in all spheres. For spiritual progress, a human body and mind are needed, and to maintain them we require a proper environment. So while spiritual progress in our lives should be the goal, we need to attend to our physical and psychic environment and adjust them in a progressive manner to allow our forward spiritual movement.
PROUT, as a theory, addresses the need to continually make progressive adjustment in our political, economic and social systems in order to achieve the highest cultivation of humanity’s psychic and spiritual potential. While the fundamental principles of PROUT are based on the perennial spiritual philosophy of life, the applications and policies of PROUT must change as per the requirements of time, place and person. This built-in adaptability will safeguard against the pitfalls of dogmatism. Freedom from dogma is in itself a sign of progress because dogma keeps the mind from expansion and fulfillment.
Utilization is the second key word in understanding PROUT. Utilization means the capacity of things to satisfy the needs of living beings and spur development in the material, mental, and spiritual spheres. To satisfy human needs is the basic aim of economic activity. Here we find a fundamental difference between a Proutist system and the present day capitalist system. In capitalism, it is well known that corporations are in business to maximize returns on investment. Without this bottom line there would be no support from investors, shareholders or banks. In PROUT, however, the bottom line is to meet the needs and spur the all-round growth of living beings. Hence, the innate potential of different economic variables are not viewed as to how they may create profit for the owners of capital, but rather how they may be progressively utilized for the collective well-being.
It was Karl Marx who first analyzed the concept of commodity value and showed its dual nature — utility value and exchange value. He went to great lengths to analyze and describe the differences and relations between these two values. He concluded that the capitalistic mode of production is based on the calculation of exchange value, with utility value being secondary. A Proutist economy takes the opposite approach and looks first and foremost towards utility value. PROUT is designed to satisfy human needs. Under PROUT, it may be tenable for unprofitable industries to be established if they provide substantial long term benefit to the people.
Finally, let us look at what we mean by theory. There are a great variety of theories around. These are all mental constructs, with or without practical value. Some are only intellectual extravaganzas, while some have value within a certain intellectual climate. Others seem well constructed, but become a total failure when we try to implement them in hard reality. PROUT, as a theory, is not an intellectual creation. Its perennial principles are based upon spiritual intuition, while the details of planning and implementation are based on the practical human problems existing in a certain place, at a certain time. The development of PROUT arises from the effort to establish rationality and social justice for all and to bring human activity into harmony with our inner spiritual aspirations.
Section Two:
The Existence Of Human Society
Human society provides the framework for the collective movement and growth of all individuals – for the expansion and development of the individual and collective potentialities. As such, society does not indicate merely an aggregate of individuals; rather it implies a degree of collective consciousness and social cohesion. The factors necessary for the existence of human society are known as asti in Sanskrit. The existence and the strength of this human society rests upon the three factors of asti. These are social unity, security and peace.
Social Unity
The degree of social unity in a system is created by, and depends upon, the existence and strength of certain key factors: common ideals, an absence of social stratification (a classless society), collective social functions, and an absence of capital punishment.
Common Ideals: Inspired by common ideals, people move together overcoming all hardships and obstacles. Without the inspiration of a common ideal, their movement becomes thwarted and haphazard. Historical groupings – whether ancient clans, medieval empires or modern nation-states – have all been based upon common ideals and sentiments to achieve social unity. While common ideals are positive, the various “isms” based on these ideals have often divided humanity into mutually belligerent groups. In modern days, for example, the patriotism of nation states have often given rise to national chauvinism, racism and imperialism. Such value systems are fast becoming outdated. Two World Wars, the excesses of imperialism, and the exploitation of global capitalism, demonstrate the need to develop global common ideals and realize that this mother Earth is populated by a single human society. The narrow groupist sentiments of the past, including racism, nationalism, and class elitism must to be overcome to realize greater social unity.
Philosophically, the only ideal which is all-inclusive and synthetic, is to merge one’s identity with all of life. Only by offering each of our actions to the Divine Entity are we able to developing feelings of true universalism beyond narrow self interest. This is the required sentiment to inspire people to move toward greater unity.
Classless Society: Human beings have a natural bond of love and affection towards each other and this tender thread should be strengthened. The idea of the basic equality of all human beings is known in Sanskrit as sama samaja tattva: the principle of social equality. This principle of social equality should be the basis for human society. It is essential for the promotion of unity.
Even in an ideal social structure there would be infinite differences of outlook, occupation and opinion insofar as diversity is the law of nature. But this apparent diversity, which accounts for the beauty and strength of human culture, should not be used as a pretext for the creation of a social structure undermining the basic rights, unity, and oneness of human beings. Stressing the apparent differences and dividing people by injecting or promoting irrational divisive sentiments is detrimental to the growth of society, weakening its unity and strength. Ideas of division based on gender, race, class, religion, etc., are the products of self-serving leaders who want to inculcate them into the social psychology in order to divide and conquer. People have to be educated and mentally strengthened to overcome such sentiments.
Social Functions: It is in our common social functions, festivals, gatherings, etc., that the social fabric is woven and where people learn to appreciate each other. Social functions inspire the sense of community that is necessary to collectively face our everyday difficulties. They also give us a chance to express our higher forms of art and culture.
Absence of Capital Punishment: It is morally wrong for society to sanction murder by law as a punishment. It legitimizes killing and creates a psychic imbalance in people. From the social point of view, every executed member of the society will leave behind a husband or wife, sons and daughters, parents, friends, etc., who become alienated and disgruntled by this measurement. Their resentment and pain (with or without any wrongdoing on their part) undermines the unity of society. The situation worsens when racism or class dominance come into play. Similarly, social ostracism (the creation of “outcasts” or permanently rejected individuals) is a sort of capital punishment on the psychological rather than physical level, and also causes negative effects. As such PROUT advocates that education and rehabilitation, rather than punishment, should provide the basis of a criminal justice system.
For the existence of human beings and for the development of their full physical, psychic, and spiritual potential, economic and social security is required. This security primarily depends upon two factors: social justice and discipline.
Social Justice: Many of the insecurities of life can be removed by recognizing the need for social unity despite the world’s apparent diversity. When this recognition is linked to a greater effort to ensure everyone the opportunity to meet their basic necessities, according to rational and human considerations, we have the basis for PROUT’s system of social justice. Proutists will make a strong effort to remove all exploitative and unjust practices from the social fabric. This will greatly strengthen the well being, creativity and productivity of the individual, making society much stronger as a whole. The economic system of PROUT is this idea of social justice. is based on this idea of social justice.
Discipline: A well balanced and agreeable code of conduct is highly necessary in both individual and collective life because it lessens conflicts due to self interest. All societies have social codes, such as standards for courteous behavior as well as regulations and laws. These help create an environment and attitude conducive to mutual respect and interaction. They give scope for freedom of expression up to the point at which one’s behavior creates interference with the basic rights of others. Lack of discipline in individual and social life bring about social deterioration, as unrestrained self-interest, greed, and immorality erode unity. The rich and powerful puff up their own lifestyles by preying on the weak. Poverty spreads in similar proportion to the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few. The Earth’s resources are limited, but selfish desires and greed are unlimited. Without a strong common code of discipline, based upon universal values, society degenerates into a pack of wolves. Social Darwinism legitimizes the exploitation of the weak and the poor by the rich and the powerful.
An overly repressive or permissive code of conduct that does not take into account human psychology inevitably has disastrous results. Discipline must be in tune with the nature and subtle aspirations of human beings. The mechanical discipline of the military or discipline based on the repression of human nature will never serve the whole. The repressive manners and beliefs of the Victorian age resulted in modern days’ hedonism. In the former Soviet Union, only the omnipresence of the secret police assured socially acceptable behavior – making individual life a repressive nightmare and ultimately leading to the destruction of that social system from within.
Discipline in social life must develop from a code of conduct which is in tune with the physico-psycho-spiritual nature of human beings, and be adjusted to the needs of different age-groups and cultures. Children will have to be educated with a love for self discipline. Only by such means can freedom in the social and individual sphere be realized. For the utilization of the higher faculties of the mind, self discipline is especially of great importance.
War is a great blight on human history. Human society thrives in peace and is destroyed by war. War throws human beings back into the animalistic fight for survival and brings out all base instincts, creating untold sufferings.
Peace is of two kinds. Sentient peace indicates the predominance of the forces of unity, justice, and the light of rationality. Static peace, on the other hand, indicates that oppression, suppression and the forces of ignorance and exploitation are dominant. To establish sentient peace in the human society, the well-wishers of humanity can not shy away from struggle. Only by struggling against the forces of ignorance and exploitation can lasting sentient peace be established.
For establishing lasting sentient peace, two factors are important: scientific spiritual practices and the fight for the removal of all dogmas. Through spiritual practices (proper diet, asanas, morality, selfless service, meditation and devotion), selfishness and physical longings are converted into higher mental and spiritual propensities, and the clash on the material level for limited goods can be minimized. Sentiments are broadened as people accelerate the unfolding of their innate potential.
By fighting against irrational superstitions and dogmas, human beings establish themselves in rationality. Various dogmas have been the root cause in the past for much bloodshed. Take for example the clash between two different schools of Christianity that plunged most of central Europe into thirty years of utter destruction; or the dogma of racial superiority which gave the European settlers in America the scope to enslave Africans and eradicate Native Americans. And all this took place under a constitution professing the liberty and equality of all men. Rationality encourages ideological discussion and conflict, but abhors the cruelties of war and destruction. To establish sentient peace, broad-mindedness must be encouraged and universalism must inspire the hearts of all. To do this, the following factors are necessary.
We must strive to develop and adopt a common philosophy of life. This does not mean the adoption of a set of dogmas or limiting of ideological differences. Rather it means the acceptance of universal values built upon a strong foundation of rationality.
We must develop a common constitution for all people and nations, especially a bill of human rights. This constitution should take the best of all experiences from different constitutions and blend them into one, to be ratified by all national governments. This will help protect the rights of minorities, and will be the first step toward establishing a world governing body with legislative powers.
We must create a common penal code for all nations, to be based primarily upon accepted human rights rather than local notions of vice and virtue.
There must be a guarantee of the production, supply and necessary purchasing capacity for the minimum requirements of life. This will assure everyone’s security on the existential level and free up the tremendous psychic energy presently bound up in fear, insecurity, and the struggle for the basic necessities. This mental energy can be harnessed for the welfare and development of individuals in all spheres of life, and a quantum leap in the quality of social life can be achieved.
Section Three:
Social Development And Progress
One of the most fundamental notions of PROUT is that society has a collective psychological existence that arises from the totality of the individual minds that make up the society. That is, the human society is more than just an accumulation or congregation of individuals, it is a socio-psychological entity ruled by principles unique to itself. This collective psychology is akin to the “Zeitgeist” of Hegel – a term he used to describe “the spirit of a time.”
Human society is a dynamic entity having certain existential requirements. These were discussed above. Aside from its existence, the development and strength of its movement also depend on numerous factors. Amongst these, there are six that are the most essential. They characterize a developed and balanced civilization, capable of withstanding the weather of time.
1) Spiritual Philosophy encompasses the attempts at understanding the perennial questions of existence. Generally, philosophy is divided into ontology, cosmology, hermeneutics, ethics, and epistemology, and as such provides a guide to all aspects of human life and existence. Ideally, spiritual philosophy should explain in clear terms the underlying principles and the scientific laws of spiritual practice.
2) Spiritual Practice encompasses the intuitional science that leads to Self Realization. This is the science of yoga, the foundation of spiritual culture. It includes all the processes by which one is able to move toward the state of blissfulness and self knowledge. If a society does not possess concrete spiritual practices, only a select few will be able to achieve the sublime mental states that all human beings seek. Intuitional practices help human beings to live their lives happily and make progress in the psychic and spiritual realms. In yoga (literally, to yoke the unit consciousness with the Cosmic Consciousness), these practices are understood as the process of converting physical energy into psychic energy and psychic energy into spiritual or Self-Realization.
3) The Socio-Economic Theory shapes the socio-economic life and structure. According to PROUT, it must be based on maximum utilization and rational distribution, and must adjust to changes in the relative factors of time, place and person. Insofar as people can not develop their higher potential without food, shelter, clothing, health care and education, the function of an economy should be to make these “minimum necessities” available to all.
4) Social Outlook is the underlying value system that shapes the society. In the past different values have predominated in the society depending on its leaders. They shape the social psychology of the day and give scope to the factors that influence and color it. For ideal development, cardinal human values, based upon a universal outlook, should be the foundation of the social life.
5) Scriptures are those authoritative writings, teachings, or books which exhibit a profound effect upon the society by virtue of their universal acceptance. Scriptures (shastras in Sanskrit) may be spiritual, philosophical, or social writings. A fully developed society should possess all three. Ideally they guide and inspire social and individual life, and require diligent study. The delicate question is what to accept as truth and wisdom, and what is to be understood as an expression of a certain time and certain circumstances. Whether the Bible or the Little Red Book (of Maoist China), the influence of scriptures upon society cannot be denied. Society must accept such scriptures which remain a constructive guiding force and reject those which have lost their value.
6) Preceptor: The impersonal entities which guide and regulate the society are the scriptures and social codes, but the human heart is sentimental and often seeks a personal leader as a source of inspiration. This is at the root of the personality cult, and it cannot be denied that society’s unity and momentum are aided by this factor – whether positively or negatively. Most societies of the past have possessed a preceptor; sometimes it is a spiritual preceptor such as Christ, Mohammed or Buddha, or a social preceptor such as Confucius, Lenin, or Mao. The societies founded upon the legacy of a spiritual preceptor are much stronger and longer lasting than the societies initiated by social preceptors.
All of the above factors determine the structural solidarity and the inherent dynamism of a society and its civilization. For lack of these factors in the past, human groups, nations, and civilizations have perished. The original Egyptian civilization could not withstand the impact of the dynamic and young Islamic Arabian wave. The Americas’ Mayan and Aztec civilizations were destroyed and absorbed by the expansive Spanish empire. In most cases, the stronger social structure with more dynamism is able to politically conquer the weaker one, having less strength or vitality and/or fewer of the six factors. However, younger civilizations with fewer factors have also been absorbed by older ones due to their momentum or dynamism. In such an example, the Mongolian empire was able to militarily and politically conquer China. However, the Chinese society was culturally much stronger and thus absorbed this wave within a single generation, gaining vitality from the warrior society of the Mongols as well. India absorbed in a similar manner the Islamic Iranian invaders; so too did the Greek culture transform the conquering Romans.
We will have to nourish all these factors on a global level in order to form a human society that is strong, dynamic and lasting. The existence of all the six spokes in a balanced state leads to a society which can resist any internal deterioration or foreign invasion; hence it is crucial for social progress not to neglect the development of any of the six factors discussed above.
Section Four:
Spiritual Realization As A Social Goal
Where there is movement, there must also be a goal. Without a goal there can be no mention of progress. There can be no direction. The perennial inspiration for the movement of human society is felt on the personal level as a state of composure, peace and happiness beyond decay. This is called spiritual bliss (ánandam). Such a state is beyond the scope of social theory. But it is this state of realization in personal life which inspires the social behaviors of morality and respect for all living beings. When the six factors of social progress, indicated above, are present and in a balanced state, then the social movement will be toward this spiritual goal. The inner aspirations of the human mind will have a conducive social environment for full expression and realization, and a universalistic social outlook will develop.
When the blissful realization of ánandam is taken as the foundation for good will and benevolent treatment of all creation, the scope of humanistic love and kinship is expanded into a universal love that we call Neo-humanism. Neo-humanism is the guiding social outlook of PROUT. It provides the ethics and principles for social movement toward the spiritual goal. In Neo-humanism, supreme recognition is given to the intrinsic existential value of each and every living being. Even inanimate objects are unique expressions of the Cosmic Consciousness. This recognition of the intrinsic worth of every entity is the fundamental social outlook of a truly progressive society.
In our interaction with the environment, PROUT places the existential value of all entities above their utility value. We cannot continue to treat this universe with hungry eyes, looking only at the value of things to satisfy our never ending desires. Frequently we overlook the subtle value of things, as it is still hidden by our limited understanding. Our obsession with turning everything into commodities prevent us from detecting the beauty and harmony in the world around us. As we come to understand and correct our past limitations, this world has all the potentiality to become a paradise for all humanity, animals and plants.
Further Reading:
PROUT in a Nutshell. Part Four of this series contains important elementary PROUT material. In Part Three, a portion is devoted the discussion of unity, security and peace. In Part Six, the article “The Future of Civilization,” discusses asti, bhati, and ├ínandam, particularly the six factors.
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