“Little by little and bruise by teacup, my doubly disillusioned spirit made an awesome discovery…that all groups, gangs, and collectives — no matter how apparently disparate — are fundamentally alike; and that what makes the world go ’round is not the trivial differences between them but the immeasurable difference between any of them and individuality.
Better Worlds are born, not made, and their birthdays are the birthdays of individuals. Let us pray always for individuals; never for worlds.”
Then he quotes William Blake, “He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer.”
He concludes his thought with, “for that deeply terrible line (of distinction) spells the doom of all unworlds; whatever their slogans and their strategies, whoever their heroes or their villians.”
So from what I have gathered about Cummings so far, besides an apparent fondness for semicolons, is a world view that sees the Individual and the Group in fundamental opposition. He regards Individuality as the necessary and sufficient condition for Good. Conformity to groups, in the end, can only bring harm.
Here’s where I have the temerity to disagree with my poetic hero. Cummings, in my humble opinion, is half right.
Individuality is a neccessary, but not sufficient, condition for Good. The Greater Good is something I believe in, but my conception and the one that I think Blake and, through him, Cummings rail against are different.
The Greater Good is not an Imposed Good which stifles autonomy and requires individuals to march in lock-step but and Emergent Good which is driven by individual, autonomous actors motivated by a common vision.
Emergence is, as far as I can see, God’s modus operandi for generating Good in the world today. I can see it everywhere, from studies in chaotic and complex systems, advances in genetic algorithms and cellular automata, genetics, stem cells, and nanotechnology, complex social models like Chaords, to the resurgently popular cosmic eschatology of Teilhard De Chardin. Our human technology is at the dawn of the age where we will leverage nature’s (read: God’s) model of Getting Things Done — independent actors generating emergent behaviors and patterns — in our own technology. We have reached the edge of the modernist model of deterministic, mechanistic control and are dipping our toes in Emergence.
But for Emergence to work, it needs Cummings’ independent individuals, but with a common “vision”, and a set of rules and boundary conditions which direct interaction. Automata are not just mindless lock-step drones nor are they heedless self-seeking actors, they react to their environment and other individuals around them with their eyes on an established goal or vision and within a set of boundary conditions or constraints. All elements — individuality, autonomy, common vision, and constraints — are neccessary for a General Good. Let any one of them get out of hand at the expense of the others and that can’t be Good.
And in my book, the General Good is none other than the Kingdom of God. The Body of Christ is none other than an Emergent Good. And we are the autonomous actors that, with Jesus as a vision and God’s Law as a constraint, will (continue to) make it happen.
But of course, this Theory of Everything is just my humble opinion.