Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Universal Value

In the previous post, I suggested that modernity has used “time” as an overriding frame of reference and that the “latest” ideas, fashions, etc. were usually viewed as the best. But the folly of this modern/postmodern scenario is demonstrated in the American musical “Oklahoma” where a farm boy returns from the big city, and sings, “Everything’s up to date in Kansas City. They’ve gone and built a skyscraper seven stories high, and that’s about as high as you can go.” More to the point was the 20th Century’s exposure to the great depression, WWI and WWII, Nazism, Fascism the holocaust, Stalinist purges, the fear of nuclear winter, and the devastating realization that maybe the “latest thing” was not the best thing. Maybe progress was not inevitable after all.

Anyone who has a cursory understanding of the work of Albert Einstein knows that both time and space are relative rather than absolute, therefore time is an inappropriate frame of reference -- regardless of whether the model of understanding is based upon premodern time, modern time, or postmodern time. Time and space make up a space/time continuum where time is measured in terms of the interval it takes for light to travel from one space/time point to another. Indeed, the whole of twentieth century science, from Einstein’s 1905 paper on special relativity to contemporary space probes, confirms the fact that everything in the universe is in motion -- The earth is rotating on its axis and orbiting around the sun; our galaxy is hurdling through space; and the universe, itself, is expanding.

Around 1923, American astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), for whom the Hubble Telescope in named, discovered that there were multiple galaxies outside of our own Galaxy. In 1929, relying upon the constant speed of light as a standard, Hubble was able to measure the speed and direction of eighteen of these other galaxies. His discovery that the velocity of each galaxy increases in proportion to its distance from the Earth provided scientific evidence that the universe was expanding and is now known as Hubble’s Law.

I would argue that premodern absolutism with its fixed frame of reference has outlived its usefulness and that the modern/ postmodern idea of “time” has failed as a frame of reference. Therefore, we are left with no frame of reference, and the resulting muddle has lead to moral and cultural relativism.

Since the whole cosmos is in perpetual motion, perhaps motion is the most promising frame of reference for the development of a new model of understanding. Cosmic motion would certainly apply to all people, all places, and all times. Maybe the Latin term moto, meaning “motion” or “to keep moving,” paints a better picture of life in our universe than the “just now” of modernity’s modo.

In recent years, I have struggled to break free from modernity’s “just now” assumptions and to develop an alternative “model of understanding” that would unite all people around a “general theory of value” -- a model based on motion rather than time. The basic problem in developing a general theory is that the “general” idea must incorporate “particular” ideas without losing their individual distinctiveness. For example, a general theory must affirm the differences that abound within and among various cultures, but it must also reaffirm the existence of universal value.

The goal is to integrate the variables of contemporary pluralism with the traditional idea of universal value. However, to achieve this objective, the model would have to overcome three obstacles: The model would have to have a general point of view; it would have to preserve both the sameness and the differences of particular points of view; and it would have to be value-based.

Without in any way suggesting the existence of a mathematical formula, I have used the following three components to conceptualize such a model:

Moving frame + Uniformity/Nonuniformity + Constant value = General Theory of Value

Stay tuned for the next installment…

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