Europe, transcendence



I recently returned from a cruise on the Danube river in the heart of Europe.  Although I was born in Europe, I had never traveled and done sight-seeing there.  In fact, since I was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, I harbor a good deal of ambivalence about Europe.  Still, traveling along the Danube  one cannot help experiencing natural beauty beyond compare and, also, seeing one magnificent building after another, one awe-inspiring church-cathedral after another,  and passing the birth place, Vienna, of life-ennobling music by a Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn. In short, one encounters TRANSCENDENCE by the human spirit, which is transformed into creative human activity.  It took place over the course of centuries — alongside periodic wars, gruesome living conditions for most people, and lack of what we would now  judge to be most basic human rights and dignity.

In my work in sociology I have suggested that we humans are often located in social zones where one can have autonomy to exercise a great deal of creativity, while having virtually none in other zones.  Translated into some of what I saw on my Danube trip, I saw the fruit of emperors employing flunkies to do their bidding — where the emperor can order a musically gifted flunky to “compose me a piece of music for next month’s celebration” and the flunky produces a magnificent piece, which the world will celebrate for centuries.  (My book about autonomy, AUTONOMY AND ORGANIZATION: THE LIMITS OF SOCIAL CONTROL was published by Random House in 1968.)

In my more recent book, OUR QUEST FOR EFFECTIVE LIVING: HOW WE COPE IN SOCIAL SPACE / A WINDOW TO A NEW SCIENCE I suggested that “TRANSCENDENCE” is one of the four components of the Social Space in which we humans live.



charisma, charismatic leaders, germany, leadership, social psychology, transcendence


—Discussed in Fred Emil Katz’ book, “Our quest for effective living: A window to a new science / How we cope in Social Space.”

—And discussed in his E-book, “Hitler: The False Messiah Phenomenon.”

Bi-Polarity of the Ultimate

bi-polarity, personal identity, pogroms, transcendence

I.         A glorious side:

— We sometimes experience a vague sense of something larger than ourselves that bears on our life, a glimpse of some sort of Ultimate Reality.

— On occasion, an Ultimate Reality becomes compellingly real. And most compellingly comes the conviction that we actually have access to that Ultimate Reality; and from it we transcend all the shortcomings, all the failings, all the pain of the here and now, replaced by pure bliss.

— Viktor Frankl, in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” tells us about a dying woman he encounters at Auschwitz. She is convinced that she has now achieved a state of access to the Ultimate, followed by pure bliss. She tells him that in all her life she has never been happier than right now. In my book, “Our quest for effective living: How we cope in Social Space / Window to a new science,” I give more examples about access to Ultimates that enchant people and appear to bring their yearnings within reach.

II.       There is also a deeply disturbing side:

— Access to the Ultimate can produce extraordinary vulnerability,

— limitless pain and disorientation,

— a seeming rupture of the core of one’s very being.

II-i:      How did I learn about this disturbing side?

II-ii.         From how Muslims responded with the most profound outrage to desecration of, to them, something sacred, the embodiment of the Ultimate:

(1) To a denigrating cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in a Western newspaper.

(2) To a report that a page from the Koran was allegedly flushed down a toilet.

II-iii.       From my own life:

I was born into a Jewish family in a village in Germany. I was living there during Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against Jews on November 9, 1938. That night the sacred Torah scrolls were dragged from our synagogue and thrown onto piles of manure. The memory of this desecration of the Torah scrolls is as painful to me, even now, 76 years later, as the murder of my parents and my brother. It has not left me. It shattered a part of my being.

III.         What does it all mean?

Our access to the Ultimate introduces us to bi-polarity of the Ultimate. On the one hand, it brings transcendence into our immediate, daily life. It helps us go beyond its limitations and encumbrances. It brings a profound sense of meaning to our personal identity by connecting us to the Ultimate. On the other hand, when that transcendence is desecrated – when the Ultimate is besmirched – transcendence once again enters our immediate, daily life. But now it does so in a form that seems to fracture and shatter our mental world, as our very identity is being destroyed.

Both polarities are part of our human condition!