The Phenomenon of Man (Harper Torchbooks) (Harper Torchbooks : Cloister library ; TB 83)

A Blind Alley to be Avoided: Isolation

WHEN MAN has realized that he carries the world’s fortune in himself and that a limitless future stretches before him in which he cannot founder, his first reflex often leads him along the dangerous course of seeking fulfillment in isolation.

In one example of this-flattering to our private egotism- some innate instinct, justified by reflection, inclines us to think that to give ourselves full scope we must break away as far as possible from the crowd of others. Is it not in our aloofness from our fellows, or alternatively in their subjection to ourselves, that we will find that ‘utmost limit of ourselves’ which is our declared goal? The study of the past teaches us that, with the onset of reflection, an element partially liberated from phyletic servitudes began to live for itself. So is it not in a line continuous with that initial emancipation that further advance must lie?

To be more alone so as to increase one’s being. Like some radiating substance, mankind would in this case culminate in a dust of active, dissociated particles. This doubtless would not mean that a cluster of sparks would be extinguished in darkness, for that would involve the total death whose hypothesis we have just eliminated by our fundamental option. Rather it would involve the hope that, in the long run, some rays, more penetrating or luckier than others, would finish up by finding the path sought from the outset by consciousness, groping for its consummation. Concentration by decentration from the rest; solitary, and by dint of solitude the elements of the noosphere capable of being saved would find their salvation a t the extreme limit of, and by the very excess of, their individualization. It is rare around us for extreme individualism to go beyond the bounds of a philosophy of immediate enjoyment and feel the need to come to terms with the profound requirements of action.

Less theoretical and less extreme, but all the more insidious, is another doctrine of ‘ progress by isolation ‘ which, a t this very moment, is fascinating large sections o of mankind-the doctrine of the selection and election of races. Flattering to collective egotism, keener, nobler and more easily aroused than individual egotism, racialism has the virtue in its perspectives of accepting and extending rigorously, just as they occur, the lines of the tree of life. What indeed does the history o f the animate world show us but a succession of ramifications, springing up one after the other, one on the top of the other, through the success and domination of a privileged group ? And why should we be exempt from the general rule? why should there not be once again between us the struggle for life and the survival of the fittest ; the trial of strength ? The super-man should, like any other stem, be an offshoot from a single bud of mankind.

Isolation of the individual or isolation of the group: here we have two different forms of the same tactics, each seemingly able to produce a plausible justification by pointing to the methods pursued by life for its development right down to us. W e shall be seeing later wherein lies the attraction (or perversity) of these cynical and brutal theories in which, however, a noble passion may also stir. We shall also see why, faced with one or other of these calls to violence, we cannot help sometimes being deeply responsive. They involve a subtle deformation of a great truth.

What matters at the moment is to see clearly that those in both groups deceive themselves, and us too, inasmuch as, ignoring an essential phenomenon-the ‘natural confluence of grains of thought ‘they disfigure or hide from our eyes the veritable
contours of the noosphere and render biologically impossible the formation of a veritable spirit of the earth. ~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; The Phenomenon of Man; Pages 237-239.