x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Solidarity, and the integrity of community

A truly human community is founded on the shared recognition of "ought"-based ethical principles by its members.

Man is a social animal. The phrase is a staple of political science but it carries with it implications worthy of contemplation. This means that we need one another just to get on with the basics of daily living. We really just can't go it alone; hence, "no man is an island". So it does indeed matter how we organise ourselves and what parameters we accept for our treatment of one another. We have no choice but to recognise a fundamental need for community; and that the integrity of community must be respected and maintained as unassailable. Individualism - especially in its more extreme forms - implies a decentralising separation of the whole. The individualist enters into society to further his or her personal interests without taking into account the greater interests of community. Individualism does not lend credence to any philosophy that requires the sacrifice of individual self-interest in favour of any higher social cause. But to the contrary, we must depend on one another and therefore be concerned for the principles and protocols by means of which we structure and manage a healthy and supportive society; a society that shares responsibility for its weakest members and allows everyone the means to prosper and live with dignity. A responsible and compassionate community - "ummah" in Arabic - must enjoy a solidarity that maintains its integrity. But this solidarity must be based on something beyond rainy-day friendships or marriages of convenience. Otherwise it will not hold. Once this is forfeited, it's all Lord of the Flies from there. Could all of us really survive the devolution of our humanity like Shuya, the hapless protagonist of the Koushun Takami novel, Battle Royale? A truly human community is founded on the shared recognition of "ought"-based ethical principles by its members. There is an assumption on the part of its members that there are principles - worthy of maintenance - that are based on something beyond material gain; and that adherence to these ethics is what makes our environment a healthy place. The alternative would be that our solidarity be based merely on the utility of the wolf pack. Policies of only material utility leave us with an "open season" for the hunter and the hunted where nothing is beyond "redundancy" and deletion. We have to be about something more than just materialism, and allowing space for the sacred enables this. In fact, human rights are ultimately impossible without the sacred. If the reasoning behind human rights is followed to its source, you will always end up with Jeremy Bentham's assertion that "rights" are merely "nonsense on stilts". The only alternative to timeless sacred principles is the existing one that has rights relying on mutual convention. But there is no guarantee that conventions will hold (ie national socialism or neoconservatism). Conventions, lacking any serious grounding beyond utility, are little more than a line in the sand waiting for the boldest player to cross it. The logical conclusion of society without the sacred might be a place where prisoners scheduled for capital punishment are strapped into cots on buses where they are driven to loading docks at hospitals. There they are quietly euthanised while still on the bus and harvested for organs, which are then unloaded to recipients lined up on the other side. Now that's utility. The principles that organise our community and upon which we treat one another have to be about something greater than the bottom line. Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi.