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The Great Work of Metalaw: A Paradigm of the Entireties by Hal White

By: Hal White
University Professor of Ethics, Law and Policy
University of West Florida

Hal White, Stephan Harding, Sean Kelly and Isabel Carlisle will be co-teaching a 5 day course at Schumacher College in July 2017 (3rd to 7th) entitled 'The Great Work – Science, Consciousness, Jurisprudence and Ethics'.

In 1999, in his magnum opus, The Great Work, Thomas Berry said that the present urgency is to begin thinking within the context of the whole planet, the integral Earth community with all its human and other-than-human components, as an ecological imperative. Two years later, at the fateful Gaia conference at the Airlie center in Virginia, he suggested that this ecological imperative should be embodied as Earth Jurisprudence, which would embrace at least minimum conditions for life to be sustained and flourish on Earth, but which would be derived from cosmic law, thus a true Law of Nature, a “Great Jurisprudence” or a meta-law.

“History is governed by those overarching movements that give shape and meaning to life by relating the human venture to the larger destinies of the universe,” he said. “Creating such a movement might be called the ‘Great Work’ of a people….Nor is the ecological imperative derived from human ethics. Rather, our human ethics are derivative from the ecological imperative.”

As we consider this observation, we are drawn to the increasing evidence of and the increasing imperative for the completion of the greatest paradigm shift since the Copernican shift took us from flat-earth animism to global empirical mechanism. This new paradigm is grounded in the holistic science of ecology and its first law, everything is connected. It is further reflected in all the new sciences of the 20th century, from relativity and quantum theory to chaos and systems theory. This new paradigm is the holistic paradigm of the entireties, governed by a cosmic meta-law, a “Great Jurisprudence.

The classical textbook definition of philosophy is “a reflective and reasoned attempt to infer the character and content of the universe, taken in its entirety and as a single whole, from an observation and study of the data presented by all its aspects.” This approach was well exemplified by Washington, D.C. attorney William Moore in a 1974 presentation to the Symposium on the Unification of Sciences and Humanities of the Society for General Systems Research of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His paper concerned “The Application of Systems Theory to the Real World of Industry, Business, and Government, as Derived from a Paradigm of the Entireties.”

Moore suggested that the paradigm of the entireties is based upon the assumption that the most likely characteristic of an intelligent approach to dealing with the revolutionary changes of perceptions being brought about by the new sciences and the onset of the planetary era are the same characteristics exhibited by the revolutionary founders of the United States . . . characteristics described by the French as l’esprit de systeme, a yearning for total explanation. Moore described those characteristics as “scientific, holistic, systematic, dynamic, multi-disciplinary and continuous.”

The five “domains of the paradigm” which are identified by Moore as the subjects of these types of approaches, are energy sources, land, life, people, and institutions of people. Author Gene Roddenberry, the creator and producer of Star Trek, colorfully used the shorthand term “socio-organisms” to substitute for ‘institutions of people.” These five things then – energy sources, land, life, people, and socio-organisms (institutions of people) - represent the five corners of an imaginary pyramid. Each of these domains is viewed merely as the peak of another hierarchy of sub-disciplines and subsystems on many levels. These levels might be thought of as a pyramidal, three-dimensional model or holographic chart, reaching down to a spherical base at the center of the pyramid that is composed of an infinite number of bits. Each bit of knowledge might be small enough to be, say, the subject of a graduate thesis; and each bit is dynamically interacting with the whole three-dimensional pentagram. Again, this pentagram is a pyramidal model, viewed from above the apex, with internal location of adjacent and congruent bits determined by intersecting vectors from the five corners of the pyramid.

The essence of Moore’s pentagram is that it stresses the interaction of every domain with every other domain, and so on down to every bit of knowledge with every other bit. The ancient Chinese exhibited their perception of this same concept long ago. Their proverb said that the flutter of a butterfly’s wing affects the farthest star. Biologist Garret Hardin of the University of California at Santa Barbara described this proverb as a “Metalaw,” and called this realization “the first law of ecology.” This ecological Metalaw is that “you can’t do just one thing.” This means, of course, that everything you do has many consequences, and everything that happens in the universe fits into an endless chain of interrelated events on many levels of reality. As William Moore described it:

“To pursue the paradigm further, perceive a point at the center of concentric spheres, rather like the center of an onion. But this is an infinite onion without bounds. Each concentric layer or level is composed of various orders of subsystems, elements, and mosaics of bits. . . It has multiple aspects in space, time and motion with multi-aspects. It is in motion – spinning, circular and linear in all directions. Now if you interconnect every bit of knowledge with every other bit . . . in all mosaics, elements, systems, levels and hierarchies, then you have the infinite orderly array. . . This is the anatomy of Omniscience, the Cosmic Brain.”

This, of course, raises an issue that has been called “the discomfort of determinism.” Sociologist Earl Babbie once used Rube Golberg cartoons (where a chain of events leads to an inevitable accident) to demonstrate the determinist model and its implication that all the forces and instances of nature have already largely determined everything that will happen to you, and so we ultimately come face to face with the discomforting thought that anyone else who had the same forces operating on him or her would have done the same things in the same circumstances that we have done and will do.

However, Babbie went on to reveal the fallacy and paradox of this kind of deterministic thinking. Although much of what we do may well be determined, and does have reasons, we ourselves are one of the most important of those determining factors. We are influencing the future every day and in every way. Every day we make arrangements for the use of some kind of space or energy resource and propagate our common wisdom about some subject, either through words or conduct. We are creating the future, bit by bit, through our own actions and inactions, whether we like it or not. Indeed, a close examination of the Rube Goldberg cartoons indicates that their ironic and paradoxical nature lies not only in the cosmic chain of events, but also in the fact that it is nearly always impossible to tell which character in the sequence actually started the sequence. Computer hackers call it being “stuck in a loop.”

Are we the effect or the cause? Or both? There is a sense in which even inaction is action, and no choice or failure to choose (itself a choice) is without consequences. Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher sometimes said to be the first modern philosopher, whose philosophy is often said to be most consistent with the insights of quantum theory, noted that the foundation and source of morality is precisely “the idea of the will of every rational being as a will which makes universal law.”  We co-create our own circumstances, our own outcomes, our own biosphere, our own cosmos with every action and inaction, with every decision and indecision. This quickly became clear in James Lovelock’s revolutionary Gaia Theory. “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” said Ghandi, perfectly capturing these insights.

This view places each and every one of us at the center of the universe, just as Einsteinian theory places each and every point in space at the center of a multi-dimensional universe with no real center, no real edge, and no absolute time. Everything we do affects the future; and, at least to an infinitesimal extent, everything we do affects everything else everywhere else. This compelling reality of survival, moreover, also mirrors Einstein’s “special theory of relativity,” which reveals a universal omnipresence in every quantum of energy. His startling theory predicts that, at the speed of light, mass is infinite and time is nonexistent. In that sense, then, at least in that dimension, every single quantum is everywhere in the universe at once in an unbroken unity, “configuration space” some quantum theorists call it. Thomas Berry observed that this must also mean that every atomic particle is present to every other atomic particle in an inseparable unity, “a unity that enables us to say that the volume of each atom is the volume of the universe.” In a 1984 speech to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, just prior to his investiture as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Robert Adams described our roles in this way:

“The position that systems have assumed (or will assume) at specified times along curves of growth, and even the directionality of change they exhibit at those times, may remain unpredictable even though there is full knowledge of the deterministic laws governing their evolution. . . Thus it appears that . . . important and related axes of differentiation . . . are complexity and non-linearity of response. . . and scale of occurrence. . . A fourth axis of differentiation, fully as significant as scale, complexity, and non-linearity, is history. Here I refer not just to the usual, restricted application of the term to human society, but more generally to all non-repetitive sequences of change.” This includes everything we choose to do and not do.

It is from this meta-legal perspective of the entireties that I write. The essential idea is to examine, in at least a cursory way, but always with an idea to synthesis, the major disciplines involved in the human cosmic odyssey to date. How do they bear upon the human endeavor and shape the human experience? How does that experience feed back to affect the ecosphere and affect human society and human needs, perceptions and beliefs? How did human society come to be the way it is today? How do these things relate to the human desire to travel into outer space or to solve the riddles of the atom and the genetic code, or to create a Gaian civilization on the planet Earth, Berry’s “Great Work” of the 21st Century? 

To what extent are these things subjects of an extraordinary ecological experiment . . . one which has both quantifiable effects upon the experimenters and also implications for the long-term survival of the human species, and of life itself, both on this planet and off of it? It is in this context that communication concerning the sustenance of life on or the movement of life out of the womb planet becomes truly relevant to all of humanity and to all of life on Earth, as we now consider whether nature itself has rights, and are beginning to extend those rights from rivers and trees to dolphins and “Martians.”

In an unpublished document for the U.S. Library of Congress, science specialist Al Hellman identified five “fundamental problems of extraterrestrial civilizations involving communication.” Although he was specifically referring to possible communication with interstellar civilizations, which was the first subject matter for the widespread use of the term “metalaw,” his five categories of problems requiring communication, mediation and adaptation are all also relevant to human civilizations, whether terrestrial or extraterrestrial. They are very similar to the five domains of the paradigm of the entireties; and, roughly, they reflect the general areas of knowledge which will be the subject of a new approach to the human future, albeit somewhat from a jurisprudential perspective. They are, in abbreviated form:

1. Astronomical matters – Cosmogany and Cosmology;
2. Life – Origins, Concepts, Ecology, Epigenetics and Exobiology;
3. Intelligence and Intelligent systems – Theory of complex self-organizing systems;
4. Humanity – Analysis of the laws governing the development of civilization and the metalaws governing the existence and interplay of life, life forms, and living systems;
5. Information transfer – The role of the various media and the mediators in relations between individuals, societies and groups, both human and non-human, both living and non-living.

These, among others, understood within the dynamic context of the paradigm of the entireties set forth above, represent both the elements and the context of a new human story, a new structural myth, one that is derived ultimately from the metalaws of creation itself. Thomas Berry called it “The Dream of the Earth” and “The Universe Story.” Similarly, the great mythologist Joseph Campbell suggested that “the only myth that is going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet … not this city, not these people, but the planet, and everybody on it…. and until that gets going, we don’t have anything”

Only thus will the next era of the human odyssey successfully proceed. We have reached the point in human evolution and planetary development that requires a radical transformation of perspective. The First Law of Ecology dictates that this new perspective must start with a Paradigm of the Entireties characterized by the Great Work of Metalaw and Earth Jurisprudence.

Hal White, J.D. is University Professor of Ethics, Law and Policy at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, where he served as Executive Vice President from 2002-2010. He was formerly Acting Attorney General and Chief of International Law for the Federated States of Micronesia, for whom he served as a Delegate to the United Nations and as Plenary to the Third Preparatory Conference on Global Warming and Sea Level Rise to the Rio Earth Summit. He is teaching in: