The basic and, in my opinion, defining property of the human mind is creativity: the ability to break out of any scheme, any fixed pattern or law of thinking.
This results in our world to be “open”, in contrast to the closed, defined worlds of animals. We are able to grasp new phenomena and re-interpret known ones in new ways and in doing so, we are able to extend our world and our understanding of it as well as enter into novel interactions with the world.
A single unified and unifying theory of human thinking and human culture is, as a consequence, not possible since we are able to break out of the bounds of any such theory. It is therefore impossible to come up with a complete description of the human mind and of human cultures. We cannot understand or define ourselves completely. This is reflected in the vast plurality of topics and methods of the humanities.
As a result of creativity, our cultures split up into an unbounded multiplicity of different groups showing an unlimited multiplicity of different phenomena.
One way to deal with this situation is to embrace it and accept the multi-cultural and pluralistic global society resulting from it as something positive. This way of reacting to our fundamental “world-openness” leads to the development of the ideals of tolerance and a pluralistic and democratic open society.
Some people, however, seem to experience the fundamental incompleteness of our self-definition as a threatening gap, as an abyss. They try to patch this gap in different ways, by institutions limiting the freedom of action and by dogmas limiting the freedom of thought. Such systems may come in the form of religions or any kind of political ideology. The “gap” can always be ripped open again by creativity, so creativity is a threat and must be limited. Limiting the freedom of thought therefore results in the disruption and crippling of creativity. Creativity, however, is at the core of intelligence, so attempting to close the “gap” for good results in humans and societies that have reduced their own human and cognitive potential. One could say: it is not stupidity that results in ideology, but ideology that results in stupidity.
As long as ideological thinking is retained in the private sphere, however, it hardly causes problems for an open society. The attempt to build a society based on any such ideology, however, will almost necessarily lead to violence. The creativity of humans can always break out of the limitations imposed by a religion or ideology. Since this would undermine the basis of a society based on the religion or ideology, creative thought as well as the people who think or behave differently must be suppressed, in one form or another. This is only possible with some form of violence, from brainwashing and propaganda through peer pressure and suppression of books and free speech, to imprisonment, torture and killing. So the attempt to create a secure and fixed foundation of society and moral causes immoral results. Similarly, such societies and cultures will tend to get into antagonism against other societies and cultures, resulting in conflict up to the level of open war.
The attempt to turn the open, creative human being into a closed follower of any fixed system of thinking can thus be seen as one of the main sources of evil. To avoid it, I can see no alternative to an open, pluralistic, cosmopolitan and tolerant society. However, not all cultures can participate in such a multi-cultural society. People or groups who are not able to apply a minimum of tolerance themselves and who claim to own absolute truth must be excluded.
The challenge lies in doing this in a way that does not compromise the basic openness of society. This might lead into dilemmas and difficult problems in many cases, but the basic values of openness and freedom must be kept up or else our societies will themselves flip into some form of closed ideology, be it patriotism or whatever. Solving these problems can be very hard and limiting creativity here causes deadlock situations in which opposing ideologies are facing each other. We must not succumb to the temptation to patch the gap. Doing so is, in my opinion, actually a childish attitude.
Instead, we have to bear the fundamental and unavoidable incompleteness and patchiness of our own human existence. The inability to give complete answers and find perfect solutions is the inescapable back side of that same creativity that makes us what we are: human beings. We should understand this as a source of strength, and we have to use this same creativity to try to tackle the problems resulting from it.
(The picture is from