Back in 1967, Arthur Koestler wrote Ghost in the Machine. He coined the term Holon from the Greek holos, ‘whole’ and -ον, -on, ‘part’ – meaning simultaneously a whole in and of itself and a part of a larger whole.
Atoms are wholes in and of themselves, as are cells. Yet atoms are parts of cells just as cells are parts of an organism.
Humans are whole in and of themselves. They are simultaneously a part of a family, a community, an enterprise and Spaceship Earth.
Take away atoms, and we have no humans, or indeed much of anything at all.
Take away clean air, photosynthesis, pollinators and an ecology that operates between a specific temperature, and we do not have life on Earth, including human life.
Nature enjoys hierarchy, and that hierarchy comes with both rights and responsibilities. Yet humans forget the responsibilities, demanding our rights, asserting our dominion.
Humans like to think of themselves as the apex. But the apex has no one or no thing who can attack and destroy the apex. Instead, humans exist because of a unique set of circumstances – the perfect rotation and distance of Earth from the sun, the membrane that lives between Earth and sunlight, and the atmosphere that enables life. It is a glorious interconnected, interdependent web where no element is irrelevant to the health of the whole.
We might begin to teach our children the Nature of existence. That we are Holons existing within a Holonic world. Imagine if six-year-old children inhabited a Holonic worldview reinforced by collective action as they grew up.
Everything is a whole. And every whole is a part. “Unity is plural, at minimum two.” R.Buckminster Fuller
Considering the value of everything
Let us now consider value; for sure as the sun shines, we need to remember, honour and respect real value if we want a world with a future for Earth and all her creatures, including you and me.
Ground Value or Existential Value
All Holons have equal Ground or Existential Value. An atom’s Existential Value equals the Existential value of you or me.
A complex forest has the same Existential Value as a thriving human community.
We must remember to give all things this equal place in the world.
Intrinsic Hierarchical Value
As we build Nature’s hierarchy, from a neutron to an atom to a molecule to a cell to an organism to an organ to an animal or human to an interconnected mycelial network, the Intrinsic Value changes.
Like a set of Russian Dolls, every Holon is nested. The ape requires the neutron to the atom to the cell to exist, as do humans.
The Intrinsic Hierarchical Value of the ape is greater than the neutron. The smallest Russian doll has less Intrinsic Hierarchical value than the final outside one, while both have equal Ground or Existential Value.
Humans have more Intrinsic Hierarchical Value than a bee.
However, before we get too pumped up with righteous superiority – something we humans could do well to drop like a hot iron – we must consider Extrinsic Value.
Extrinsic Complimentary Value
By Nature of all things being Holonic, we are also a part of something.
Every Holon has value for others. Others depend upon other Holons for their existence. This is the place for us humans to eat humble pie.
An Atom has more Extrinsic Complimentary Value than an ape or a human.
Take away all the atoms, and what do we have?
Or, to put it in a human context, destroy all the humans and atoms still exist. Destroy all the atoms, and not much exists. We might celebrate the Atom as if our life and existence depend upon it.
Questions to consider as we recalibrate our sense of superiority: Rights
What are Humans a part of? What is essential for our existence as Wholes? What relies on Humans to be a Whole? These are the central question when we consider real value.
Humans are a part of life on Earth. The atom, the ant and the bee are essential to our existence.
What part of life relies on Humans?
Humans are a particular species that need humans to enable young humans to survive. We might argue that a healthy adult also needs other humans to survive emotionally and spiritually.
We need connection and community. We need other humans to ensure the survival of Humans as a species.
We need each other as much as we need atoms, ants and bacteria.
What are our rights as Humans in the Universe?
If we agree that all Holons have equal Ground or Existential Value, we might also agree that all Holons have equal rights to exist. This is because existence enables a Holon to maintain its wholeness.
When we deny the rights for a Holon to exist to maintain its wholeness, for example a tree poisoned by toxic chemicals, it will break down into its subholons, will die and, as such, become atoms and molecules that provide food for bacteria and other creatures.
From this perspective – understanding the Nature of Holons and Value – we find the motivation for all Holons, including you and me, to have the right to exist in our wholeness. While we might consider eating other Holons to survive, we do this in reverence and recognition of that Holon’s Ground, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Value.
We might also consider what our human wholeness is. I propose it is the critical element to sustaining whole life—food, water, health, connection, care, shelter. Suppose we want to amplify sustainable life to thriving life. In that case, we might add education, child and elder care, and the opportunity to contribute to the whole community, which simultaneously supports our individual wholeness. We might consider our rights to connect with spirit, Earth, life and flow. To bring the fullest expression of our wholeness, what Syntropic World calls our Pattern Integrity, to life. The unique skills, perspectives and gifts we offer contribute to whole life wellbeing.
To deny one Holon these rights without deep consideration and respect for that Holon’s Ground, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Value while demanding we get our rights at any price is to lose the Pattern Integrity of a Holonic Universe. In the short term, it is possible. But, in the long, long term, it comes at a cost to those who deny the same rights. (The long, long term can be years, decades, or centuries.)
Indeed the butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon causes a tidal wave in Asia. But not on a timeline that we think or imagine. Every action has a precessional effect – an effect at 90 degrees to the action. This precessional effect is to know we live in an interconnected, interdependent Universe where every action matters.
And we arrive, finally, at the elephant in the room. Responsibilities.
For the most part, we humans love our rights and deplore our responsibilities. However, we have persistently ignored that rights and responsibilities are complementary pairs. Not separate.
The story of a Holonic Universe is the story of the complementarity of rights and responsibilities.
Our responsibilities are the conditions we each, as an individual Holon, must meet to be a part of the whole.
Because Humans have more Intrinsic or Hierarchical Value than an atom, we do have more rights. We have far more choices to act, move, change, create, invent and play.
And, this means we have far more responsibilities than the Atom, the cell, or the bacteria. If we do not take care of the Atom, the soil, the ozone layer, or the atmosphere, we do not exist. This is our responsibility gifted by our rights.
We are a part of Human society, citizens of Spaceship Earth. We have a responsibility towards our fellow citizens by the right of being a citizen, including those citizens not yet born. This isn’t some moral code imposed on us. On the contrary, it is the substrate of our existence.
We are dependent upon other Holons. Life dependent. This is not an abstract comment. It is a Truth.
To be responsible – to respond – to consider the whole and the parts – is a life condition, not an option.
To think otherwise is to roam in the illusion that lives beside the one saying we are separate from Nature. Fools games both, with Human demise as the absolute outcome.
If we teach our children an essential principle of how life works, we might start here.
And then we might reinforce a Holonic Universe in every story, thread it through every enterprise, institution, design and creation.
Within this Truth lives all-human dignity, all species dignity.
I invite you to re-read this article through a few different lenses.
At the human level.
The lens of religion. The lens of caste. The lens of race. The lens of capitalism. The lens of authoritarianism.
At the creature level
The lens of factory farming. Of bulldozing down every tree on a piece of land to make way for some opportunity for humans to ‘thrive.’ Or to dig up acres of land to extract something that appears of great value.
At the monetary finance/governance and systems level
The lens of monetary value that discounts and debases Holonic life value. Governance that gifts rights while ignoring, avoiding or externalising responsibilities.
Any system designed to abstract value to a place so far removed from its Existential Value that it appears uncorrelated, and as such, gives us permission to do horrible things, is a system we need to change.
If we want a world with a future for Earth and all her creatures, we must create new stories and frames that can hold true value – life, beauty, love, all-thriving – as central to all we do on our beautiful Spaceship Earth.
The Frame of a Holonic Universe offers much to restore Humans to the place of Earth and Life Stewardship, known so well by many of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
**The above is my interpretation of Ken Wilber’s work on rights and responsibilities.