We hear a lot about meta these days. It has even become the name for the parent company of Facebook. There is meta-narrative, meta-physics, meta-data, meta-fiction, meta-verse, meta-key. Meta is hot. Meta has even become an acronym — “most effective tactics available.”
Meta comes from Greek, in which it meant “beyond” or “above.”
I don’t mean to pile on the popularity of meta, but, as I see it, Humanism is meta. Meta-religion. We humanists see the human religious impulse and the many things that the human religious impulse has created — from scripture to astounding architecture — as part of the vast and wondrous universe of human imagination, ability, and creativity.
Seen as such, human religions can be placed side-by-side with other human accomplishments, such as farming and governments and economies and cities and transportation . . . and on and on. Human accomplishments are awe-inspiring to us humans, but it’s fairly clear that some accomplishments have worked out and brought human flourishing while others have not.
The same religious impulse that built Chartres Cathedral also built the torturous fires that consumed perceived heretics.
From this we can derive a couple of moral concepts:
- Our ideas are clearly ever-evolving through time and circumstance. Therefore, we do well to remember that human dignity is a constant while our various ideas are not: People are more important than ideas. Torturing and murdering people because of arcane disagreements over dogma (or politics or economics, etc.) just doesn’t make much sense.
- Human beings are capable of both creating and fixing human problems. Human beings, for example, created climate change, and we can (or not) choose to fix it.
Another moral concept that is derivable from our natures is that — like ants, one of our fellow social creatures — we work together to build; we work together to explore; we work together to survive and thrive.
Because, also like ants, our ability to work together leads to such activities as genocide and war. Most things have a light and a dark side, and social cooperation is one of those things.
But another moral concept that is implied is that we need to act in pro-social ways because social works better for everyone than does antisocial. We need to try to get along, cooperate, and contribute to the society that protects us.
Those who do not cooperate must be invited into a system that is beneficial to cooperate with. (Gandhi said that better, but you get the idea.)
Unlike ants, we can also object to how things are, and we can dream of how they ought to be.
Those implied moral values that I mentioned are meta. They’re also part of many religions. Not because any gods demand them but rather because they make sense to social creatures as ways of acting: People matter more than ideas; we are capable of fixing problems; positive social behavior is how we all survive and thrive.
Which brings us back to META as an acronym — “Most Effective Tactics Available.”