‘Being-Together’ Here Now at the End of the World: A Philosophical Imperative

A PESA Conference Pre-Text

For 戴南洲 Dai Nanzhou (Robbie) in friendship: ‘Mountains in the mist’

The concept of ‘being-together’ explores the idea that humans are inherently social beings, with their survival historically dependent on social interactions that foster interconnectedness, interdependence and a sense of community. This essay delves into the various dimensions of ‘being-together’ and its implications for our understanding of self, ethics and knowledge. It also examines its role in addressing the challenges posed by global crises and the clash of Western and Eastern worldviews. I have written it in a series of epigrammatic and aphoristic statements to raise a network of related views and arguments.

I. The Essence of Being-Together

‘Being-together’ is a concept that goes beyond mere philosophy; it encompasses forms of intersubjectivity rooted in shared experiences, memories and social interactions. These interactions shape our self-understanding and our perception of the world. Furthermore, ‘being-together’ underpins our language and symbolic systems, enabling our capacity for inquiry and knowledge. It promotes an ethical standpoint that emphasises diversity, inclusivity and shared humanity, providing a moral foundation for justice.

II. The Intersection of Philosophical Themes

This essay unites two central themes of my recent work: collective modes of thinking, knowing and writing, and the imminent global crises manifesting in theological, fictional and philosophical literature portraying apocalyptic scenarios. These crises, including pandemics, wars and ecological collapse due to climate change, are further complicated by geopolitical tensions between the ‘decline of the West’ and the ‘rise of the East.’ ‘Being-together’ bridges these themes, emphasising shared experiences, emotional bonds and psychological connections.

III. The Western Challenge: Individualism vs. Collectivism

My recent research has explored the role of open science and education in providing global public goods. It raises the question of whether the dominant Western thinking, characterised by reductionism, linear thought, individualism and competitiveness, can be reconciled with the principles of ‘being-together.’ Western individualism, a cornerstone of its philosophical tradition, prioritises personal freedom and autonomy but can lead to social alienation and a lack of community cohesion. It also results in the unequal distribution of resources and the externalisation of social and ecological costs.

 IV. The Western Collectivist Tradition

While Western individualism has been prominent, a less-discussed Western collectivist tradition exists. This tradition, marked by movements such as socialism and communitarianism, emerged as responses to social injustices, advocating for collective ownership, collaboration and social responsibility. This counterbalance to individualism underscores the dynamic nature of Western thinking about ‘being-together.’

 V. Colonialism and Its Impact on ‘Being-Together’

The legacy of colonialism has significant implications for ‘being-together.’ The colonial powers imposed their cultural practices and values on colonised societies, disrupting traditional practices and causing social cohesion. However, many affected cultures have actively preserved and revitalised their traditional practices as a form of resistance against the colonial legacy, emphasising the importance of culture in shaping ‘being-together.’

VI. Cultural Variations in ‘Being-Together’

Across different cultures, the value placed on ‘being-together’ and social connectedness varies significantly. Some cultures, particularly collectivist ones, prioritise group needs, emphasising social harmony and cooperation. Indigenous, Mediterranean and African cultures all place great importance on social connections, kinship and communal obligations, shaping their social interactions and values. 

VII. Cultural Differences in ‘Being-Together’

In Chinese culture, often considered collectivist, group identity, social relationships and familial obligations take precedence over individual desires. The concept of ‘guanxi’ highlights the value of personal connections and relationships in personal and professional life. Acknowledging that not all individuals within a culture share the same values and beliefs, as attitudes and behaviours can vary even within collectivist cultures, is crucial.

VIII. Māori Culture: A Unique Embrace of ‘Being-Together’

I roto i Māori ahurea, he tino whakawhiwhinga nga tāngata taketake o Aotearoa-Aotea, ‘ora katoa.’ Ko ngā ariā o ‘whanaungatanga’ me te ‘manaakitanga’ e tāraro ana i te hiranga o te whanaunga, ngā wheako tiritiri, te manaakitanga, me te tautoko tahi. Ko nga huihuinga pāpori me nga hākari e tākaro ana i tētahi tūranga nui, e whakakaha ana i nga here i waenganui i te tangata, i to rātau iwi, i te whenua. [In Māori culture, the indigenous people of Aotearoa-New Zealand, ‘being-together’ is highly prized. The concepts of ‘whanaungatanga’ and ‘manaakitanga’ underscore the importance of kinship, shared experiences, hospitality and mutual support. Social gatherings and ceremonies play a significant role, reinforcing bonds between individuals, their community and the land.]

IX. Embracing Cultural Diversity

The value placed on ‘being-together’ and social connectedness varies across cultures, shaping relationships and interactions in diverse ways. Cultural practices and traditions significantly influence the experience and expression of ‘being-together,’ reflecting a wide range of values, beliefs and social norms. Recognising these cultural differences is paramount for fostering cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.

X. The Challenge of Cultural Relativism

Navigating the delicate balance between acknowledging cultural diversity and upholding universal values is crucial. While respecting cultural practices is essential, there are fundamental ethical principles that transcend cultural boundaries. In our pursuit of ‘being-together,’ we must recognise and uphold these universal principles, such as justice, equality and the protection of our shared environment.

 XI. Education and Cross-Cultural Understanding

Education is pivotal in promoting cross-cultural understanding and fostering a deep appreciation for the diverse expressions of ‘being-together.’ Educational systems worldwide must incorporate curricula that encourage intercultural dialogue, empathy and the exploration of common human values.

XII. The Neutral Ontological Category of ‘Being-Together’

‘Being-together’ transcends cultural and ideological boundaries, making it a neutral ontological category capable of encompassing diverse forms of human existence. It accommodates the most extreme manifestations of far-right white ethnic nationalism and the ancient indigenous tribes of wandering nomads. These contrasting manifestations of ‘being-together’ are rooted in racial hatred and genealogical continuity, respectively. Both, however, emphasise the concept of togetherness without dictating its specific content.

XIII. Diverse Expressions of ‘Being-Together’

The quality of ‘being-together’ is reflected in the organisational structures within these forms. The white patriarchy, characterised by oaths, symbols, secret initiation rituals and a supreme leader, stands in contrast to nomadic communities with acephalous small groupings, gender equality and respect for elders.

XIV. The Scale of ‘Being-Together’ Ontologies

The typology of ‘being-together’ ontologies acknowledges a broad scale, encompassing planet Earth as a unique habitat for life and the smallest ecosystems. It emphasises the interconnectivity of species, flows and elemental forces, positioning human beings as integral components of the broader environment rather than its central focus. Various modes of ‘being-together’ coexist, encompassing cooperation, competition, and collective and individual interactions, with a predominant emphasis on collectivism in both biological and social contexts.

XV. ‘Being-Together’ as a Political Ontology

The term ‘political ontologies’ describes how animals, higher primates and humans organise themselves for collective security, territorial defence and governance. ‘Being-together’ can be understood through this lens, where the ‘Asia-Pacific’ is presented as a political ontology based on identity, territory and security. The political dimension of ‘Being-Together’ ontologies aligns with the contemporary world’s increasing interconnectivity and system rivalry. It extends to community ‘being-together’ ontologies and ‘being-together’ epistemologies and ethics, enriching our understanding of human existence.

XVI. The Imperative of ‘Being-Together’ at the End of the World

As we stand at the precipice of global crises, both natural and anthropogenic, the imperative of ‘being-together’ becomes increasingly evident. The challenges of pandemics, conflicts and climate change demand collective responses that transcend borders and ideologies. We find ourselves at the confluence of Western individualism and the world’s cultural diversity, with an urgent need to find common ground in our shared humanity. ‘Being-together’ serves as a philosophical imperative, emphasising our interconnectedness and the necessity of nurturing relationships with others and our environment. This concept recognises that while cultural differences exist, there is a fundamental shared aspect of our humanity – the need to belong, connect and collaborate. ‘Being-together’ is the bridge that can lead us through the darkness of our world’s end.

XVII. The Role of Philosophy

Philosophy, as a discipline that transcends cultural boundaries, has a vital role in promoting the imperative of ‘being-together.’ Philosophers can engage in cross-cultural dialogues, exploring how different traditions conceptualise and embody the essence of togetherness. This philosophical inquiry can lead to a more profound understanding of our shared humanity and the ethical principles that underpin it. 

XVIII. Peer Philosophy as an Expression of ‘Being-Together’

Peer philosophy is a diverse and evolving field, with many different approaches and perspectives. It is a model based on collaboration and peer-to-peer exchange, creating spaces and opportunities for dialogue, exchanging ideas and co-creating knowledge.

XIX. Democratisation of Knowledge

Peer philosophy sees knowledge as a shared resource that should be accessible to all members of society rather than a commodity to be bought and sold on the market. This means working to create structures and institutions that enable equal access to knowledge and ensure that it is produced and distributed in the interests of society. Peer philosophy challenges traditional hierarchical models of knowledge production and dissemination, and emphasises the importance of decentralisation and horizontalism that enable equal participation and decision-making among all participants

XX. Diversity, Inclusivity and Agency

Peer philosophy recognises the value of diversity and inclusivity in knowledge production and seeks to create spaces welcoming and inclusive of all perspectives and experiences. Peer philosophy can empower individuals, as it enables them to take an active role in the production of knowledge and contribute to the collective understanding of a topic or issue. This can lead to a greater sense of agency and empowerment, as individuals can see the impact of their contributions and feel a sense of ownership over the knowledge produced.

XXI. Innovation and Creativity

Peer philosophy recognises that collaboration and exchange among peers can lead to new and innovative ideas and approaches. By creating spaces for experimentation and exploration, peer philosophy can foster creativity and innovation in ways that are not possible in more hierarchical or individualistic models of knowledge production.

XXII. Peer-to-Peer Philosophy

Peer-to-peer philosophy is a philosophical perspective that emphasises the importance of collaboration and collective knowledge production among peers. It is based on the idea that knowledge is not the exclusive property of a few experts or authorities but rather a shared resource that can be developed and expanded through dialogue and exchange among equals. It challenges traditional hierarchical knowledge production and dissemination models, which often privilege certain voices and perspectives over others. Instead, it emphasises the value of diverse perspectives and experiences and recognises that every individual has something to contribute to the collective understanding of a topic or issue.

XXIII. Creating Spaces

Peer philosophy involves creating spaces and opportunities for dialogue and collaboration among peers, whether in academic settings or everyday life. It also involves questioning and challenging established norms and assumptions and seeking alternative perspectives and approaches. Peer philosophy is a dynamic and evolving field driven by the desire to create more inclusive and democratic forms of knowledge production and dissemination. 

XXIV. New Ecologies of Knowledge

The epistemology of knowledge ecologies has yet to be written. Its history is marked by the emergence of the concept of ecology as the analysis of interactions between the organism and its environment, first coined by Ernst Haeckel in 1866 and derived from its philosophical roots in natural history by Aristotle and Hippocrates and later systematically revised according to evolutionary theory based on notions of natural selection and adaptation.

XXV. Ecology of Weeds

Gregory Bateson remarks: ‘There is an ecology of bad ideas, just as there is an ecology of weeds.’ The rest of that sentence that gets forgotten has a special valence in an age of ‘post-truth’: ‘… and it is characteristic of the system that basic error propagates itself.’

XXVI. The History of Error

The history of the basic error that keeps getting propagated, Bateson maintains, is the idea of ‘self’ that we have been acculturated to in the West and that has become part of our eco-mental system as the basic operating premise of our thought and experience.

XXVII. The Epoch of Digital Reason

Bateson’s cybernetics (systems ecology). Wittgenstein’s ‘language games’ and epistemic contextualism – ‘meaning-as-use.’ Foucault on ‘biopower’ and ‘governmentality’ as emergent truth regimes. The history of digital logic and science in algorithmic knowledge capitalism.

XXVIII. Interconnectivity 4.0

There are more than 15 billion pages on the internet, and navigation between any two pages should take less than 20 clicks.

XXIX. The Digital Humanities

The humanities are marked by two emergent and profound developments that have already begun to determine their future shape and major theoretical preoccupations: the ecological and digital turns. At the most basic level, the ecological humanities share an ontology of interconnectivity with the new digital technologies, decentre humanity, and redefine it as part of larger living and technological systems. We must learn the intermeshing of these two systems and inquire into new possibilities for thought and research.

XXX. Elements of Ecodigital Philosophy

Collective intelligence. Knowledge ecologies. Digital ecosystems. Distributed cognition. Global brain. Bioinformatics. Evolutionary networks of collaboration. Process philosophy. Self-organisation. Emergence. Post-cybernetics. Bio-cybernetics. Complexity. Complex adaptive theory. Media ecologies (tribal, literary, print, electronic, digital interactive media). Algorithmic capitalism (predatory trading).

XXXI. Digital Information

Gillings et al.:

Evolution has transformed life through key innovations in information storage and replication, including RNA, DNA, multicellularity, and culture and language. Digital information has reached a similar magnitude to information in the biosphere. It increases exponentially, exhibits high-fidelity replication, evolves through differential fitness, is expressed through artificial intelligence (AI), and has facility for virtually limitless recombination…. [T]he potential symbiosis between biological and digital information will reach a critical point where these codes could compete via natural selection.

XXXII. Biology and Information

Digital information is accumulating exponentially and could exceed the quantity of DNA-based information. Biological and social implications arise from our growing fusion with the digital world. The parallels between evolution in the biological and digital worlds need to be explored.

XXXIII. ‘Biocapitalism’ and ‘Informationalism’

The concept of ‘bioinformational capitalism’ articulates an emergent form of capitalism that is self-renewing in the sense that it can change and renew the material basis for life and capital as well as the program itself. Bioinformational capitalism applies and develops aspects of the new biology to informatics to create new organic forms of computing and self-reproducing memory that, in turn, has become the basis of bioinformatics.

XXXIV. Algebraisation

Western modernity (and developing global systems) exhibits long-term tendencies of an increasing abstraction described in terms of formalisation, mathematisation, aestheticisation and biologisation of life. These are characteristic of otherwise seemingly disparate pursuits in the arts and humanities as much as science and technology and are driven in large measure through the development of logic and mathematics, especially in digital systems

XXXV. The Ecological Dimension of ‘Being-Together’

In an age when the ecological challenges we face are global, ‘being-together’ extends beyond the human realm. It encompasses our relationship with the natural world. Recognising that we are an integral part of the broader environment, rather than its masters, is essential for preserving our planet. ‘Being-together’ calls for a harmonious coexistence with nature, where we act as responsible stewards of the Earth, irrespective of cultural or geographical differences.

XXXVI. The ‘Commons’ and the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’

The idea of the ‘commons’ has been a recurring theme in discussions of human togetherness. We must re-examine the notion of the commons, particularly in the context of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ where shared resources are depleted due to individual self-interest. ‘Being-together’ encourages us to find ways to manage the commons collectively, ensuring the sustainability of our shared resources for future generations.

XXXVII. ‘Being-Together’ and The Evolution of Planetary Consciousness

The Evolution of Planetary Consciousness explores the progression of human understanding from the early flat-Earth model to the geocentric model of Ptolemaic times, which dominated for over 1500 years. This geocentric view, characteristic of ancient civilisations, posited that all celestial bodies revolved around Earth.

XXXVIII. The Copernican Heliocentric Model

Introduced by Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler, the heliocentric marked a significant shift in human thought. It challenged the geocentric cosmos and asserted that Earth and other planets orbited the Sun. This transformative phase in our understanding of celestial mechanics represented a pivotal moment in the evolution of human thought.

XXXIX. The Interconnectedness of All Life

The evolution of ‘being-together’ extends beyond the astronomical domain. It encompasses social aspects, as seen in socialist ideals promoting equality, epitomised by Marx. Psychological dimensions also come into play with Freud’s exploration of libidinal energies and ego-politics.

The interconnectedness of all life and the emergence of the concept of ecology, as articulated by Haeckel, reflect a shift in our comprehension of Earth as an ecosystem. This broader perspective acknowledges the interdependence of all living organisms.

XL. Interplanetary Physics of ‘Being-together’

The journey continues into interplanetary physics, including Einstein’s theory of relativity, quantum theory, nanoscience and genomic biology. These scientific advancements have reshaped our understanding of the cosmos, challenging old paradigms and opening new frontiers in our comprehension of the universe. ‘Interstellar’ hints at humanity’s ongoing exploration of the cosmos, suggesting that our understanding of the universe and our place in it is an ever-evolving journey.

XLI The Time of Biodigitalism

‘Biodigitalism’ represents the force of cultural evolution in our modern era. This dynamic intersection of biology, digital technology and culture fosters a profound transformation in how we perceive and interact with the world around us.

XLII. Biodigital Philosophy and New Knowledge Ecologies

Biodigital philosophy is an emerging field that explores the intersection of biology, digital technology and philosophy. It emphasises the idea that the boundaries between the biological and digital worlds are becoming increasingly blurred and that new forms of life and knowledge are emerging as a result. These ecologies involve the development of new forms of knowledge that are generated through collaboration and interaction between humans, machines and biological systems, including the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyse biological data, the development of biodigital interfaces, and the use of social networks and other digital platforms to facilitate the sharing and dissemination of knowledge.

XLIII. The Urgent Call for Justice

As we navigate the turbulent waters of the modern world, an urgent call for justice echoes through the imperative of ‘being-together.’ Justice is not merely a legal concept; it is deeply rooted in the principles of equity, fairness and the protection of the marginalised. Our interconnectedness as a global community necessitates the pursuit of justice on a global scale, addressing issues such as inequality, poverty and climate change.

XLIV. The Light of ‘Being-Together’

In a world facing numerous crises, the concept of ‘being-together’ emerges as a guiding light. It reminds us that we share a fundamental humanity despite our cultural, philosophical and geographical differences. Our interconnectedness transcends these distinctions, emphasising the need for unity, empathy and cooperation.

XLV. ‘Being-Together’ as a Philosophical Imperative

‘Being-together’ is an imperative that not only calls for philosophical exploration but also practical action. It beckons us to bridge the gaps between cultures, ideologies and individual self-interest and to work collectively towards a more just and sustainable world. As we stand at the end of one era and the beginning of another, the imperative of ‘being-together’ should be our guiding principle, moral compass and philosophical North Star. It is a call to action, an embrace of diversity and a reminder of our shared responsibility to protect the world and each other.

In this time of great challenges and uncertainties, the imperative of ‘being-together’ has never been more relevant. It is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the human spirit, reminding us of our capacity to evolve, learn and grow. ‘Being-together’ offers hope in the face of adversity, inspiring us to transcend our limitations and work together to create a better world, not only for ourselves but for future generations and, indeed, for the planet’s future.

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Full Citation Information:
Peters, M. A. (2023). ‘Being-Together’ Here Now at the End of the World: A Philosophical Imperative: A PESA Conference Pre-Text. PESA Agora. https://pesaagora.com/columns/being-together-here-now-at-the-end-of-the-world-a-philosophical-imperative/

Michael A. Peters

Michael A. Peters (FRSNZ)  is a New Zealander and is currently Distinguished Professor at Beijing Normal University and Emeritus Professor University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He was awarded a Personal Chair at the University of Auckland in 2000 and became a Research Professor at the University of Glasgow (2000-2006) before being appointed Excellence Hire Professor at Illinois and Professor of Education at the University of Waikato. He has Honorary Doctorates from Aalborg University, Denmark and SUNY, New York.

Michael was Editor-in-Chief of Educational Philosophy and Theory for 25 years and is currently Editor of Beijing International Review of Education (Brill). He is the founding editor of Policy Futures in Education (Sage); E-Learning & Digital Media (Sage); Knowledge Cultures (Addleton); Open Review of Educational Research (Taylor & Francis); Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy (Brill) and on the board of many other journals and book series.

Michael has written over 120 books and many journal articles on a wide range of topics and has worked with and mentored many younger scholars. He was given the Social Science and Humanities Leader in China Award in both 2022 and 2023 (Research.com) and is ranked 1st in China and 5th in Asia for Education and Educational Philosophy and Theory (AD Scientific Index, 2023). He is also ranked in the World’s Top 2% of Scientists by Stanford University. His recent works includes two books on the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic philosophy to be published in 2024.