Chapter Five: The Vital Energy And Ideas
Whatever their way of life, whether a solitary person like Hayy ibn Yaqdhan or living in a big city, individuals have to fulfill their vital needs. In order for them to do so, they must use the vital energy constituting part of their being. However, the vital energy of individuals cannot be assimilated, in its natural state, by life within the society unless their social integration is realized with account being taken of their personal needs on the one hand, and of those of society, on the other.
In reality, society imposes certain rules, norms, laws and customs and, indeed some tastes and prejudices representing needs that are no less vital for it. The integration process of individuals will, therefore, take place by responding to their own nature, on the one hand, and by observing, on the other hand, a certain code of life that can, at an advanced stage, be defined as a social contract. Accordingly, the abovementioned process acquires a particular significance thus determining a certain conditioning pattern of the individual's vital energy.
The Pavlovian School has shed the first light on the conditioning process in general. In an interesting book entitled Le Viol des Foules, Serge Tchakhotine, one of its followers, has given us a pertinent analysis and classification of the vital energy under what he has named "natural impulses". Whether the four impulses he pointed out are sufficient to categorize the entire vital energy is an issue that we leave aside.
What is important to verify, instead, are the limits within the framework of which the vital energy does and has to operate in such a manner that society can assimilate it in its concerted action; that is, in all the forms of its activity.
It is evident that if we could, by supposition, get rid of one of the forms of the vital energy such as what Tchakhotine calls the 'nutritive impulse', the 'acquisitive or the reproductive impulse', all the biological forces and possibilities of social life would have been abolished in one go. Had we, also by supposition, done the contrary by liberating the vital energy from all kinds of restrictions, a purely natural order would have substituted the social order. Consequently, the individual would be living under the law of natural selection, the law of the jungle, which permits the survival not of the best but of the fittest.
Therefore, when we abolish the vital energy, we in fact destroy society, whereas when we liberate it completely, it itself destroys society. So it has necessarily to function within the framework of two limits. Accordingly, one has reason to enquire about the power that subjugates the vital energy so as to contain it within those limits. Raised at the very origin of the process of integration of a pre-civilized human group at the moment when it starts moving on to the following stage, this question actually enlightens us on the nature of the conditioning process which the vital energy has to undergo in order to meet all the requirements of this passage.
In other words, the power guaranteeing this conditioning is essentially linked to the factors that contribute to the advent of a civilization. More particularly, it is linked to that factor which plays a preponderant role in the transformation of a primitive (pre-civilized) human group into a civilized society. In this connection, the Jahili society provides us with an excellent picture of this process.
Originally, it is a question of dealing with a type of society in which the vital energy is hardly conditioned by anything. The Jahili cultural universe was almost void of any principles of social constraint. Its principles did not transcend some rules of honor, certain obligations towards the group (tribal cohesion whose political significance in the formation of the North-African states Ibn Khaldun has shown under the term asabiyyah), and to some beliefs commercialized by Qurayshite Makkah.
In that environment, nothing used to condition its vital energy. It was almost in its natural state, thus incompatible with the particular conditions of civilization. But, when the transformation of that primitive society into a civilized one took place, neither the historian nor the sociologist was able to notice in that interval of time the emergence of any novel fact that could explain such a change. The cultural universe, which appeared with the Quranic Revelation, was the only novel fact. The causal nexus between the two events— that is, the Qur'an and the advent of a civilization—is rigorously implied by their concomitance. Accordingly, it was the Islamic idea that subordinated the vital energy of the Jahili society to the exigencies of a civilized society.
It is impossible to explain otherwise that conditioning process which disciplined the biological forces of life in order to put them at the service of history. In fact, at the origin of every civilization, it is the same integration process of the vital energy that is repeated in such conditions thus enabling it to fulfill its historical function. However, the power of integration is not inevitably the same as regards the various cycles of civilization, nor is it a fortiori as regards the different phases of one and the same cycle.
On the other hand, the conditions of integration do not manifest themselves through one and the same pattern in all civilizations. For example, instead of containing the sexual impulse within practical reasonable limits, Christian society tried to abolish it. It thus faced the libido by the ideal of chastity. No doubt, this is a lofty ideal, although it is incompatible with the finalities of history. It succeeded in bringing about some very good examples among the human species in the form of saints, but it has left the rest of the people prey to sexual hallucinations. Today, one can clearly see in those pornographic exhibitions arising here and there in the West, to what lengths such hallucinations may go.
It is thus already clear that the power subordinating the vital energy does not lie in a deliberate choice of an extreme solution. Generally speaking, the solution lies neither in a too rigorous position nor in a too liberal one. Even a happy balance between the two extremes is not a solution. No matter what the solution is, its effectiveness will, in principle, depend upon the nature of the idea-force underlying it and upon its power at that moment.
In order for these considerations to be of more practical significance, one could examine a particular case of the conditioning process of the vital energy in two different societies on one hand, and at two different stages of the same society, on the other. The history of anti-alcohol legislation provides us with an appropriate case in this regard. Muslim society dealt with the problem of alcohol by means of a legislation scheme that involved three texts:
1. A text introducing the problem into the Muslim conscience thus representing, in a way, the psychological stage of the solution.
2. A text putting restrictions on the consumption of alcohol. This corresponds to a phase of dis-intoxication.
3. Finally, a text of prohibition, thus legally establishing the solution.
Parallel to this scheme, one can point out another more or less identical example as regards the method of treatment. Such is the anti-alcohol legislation (the prohibition law) of the USA after the First World War. It consisted of almost the same stages as the first one that is:
1. In 1918, the American press introduced the problem to public opinion.
2. In 1919, it was incorporated into the American constitution under the name of "the 18th Amendment".
3. In the same year, the prohibition law came into force under the name of the Volstead Act.
In the light of history, one has good reason to note, first, the difference in the conditioning power of the two legislations. Fourteen centuries ago, the prohibition of alcohol did not create any shock waves in the nascent Muslim society. On the contrary, in the American society contemporary to the Volstead Act, the shock was so violent that it broke all the dykes, turned all the roadblocks upside down and generated all kinds of morbid reaction: unlawful trade, gang formation, and mass drunkenness by adulterated alcohol. Consequently, the Act of Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment ratified in December 1933.
The idea of "prohibition" is significantly different from the cultural universe of American society, for it has no roots in that universe. Indeed, one may observe in parallel a certain retreat in the present Muslim society with regard to the problem of alcohols especially when it takes the form of defiance (calculated or not) to the simple conventions of social life.
The ironical existence, in a small city like Tebessa in the southeastern region of Algeria, of four taverns along a very narrow alley that had been named Shairi' al-Nabiy [the Prophet's Street] during the heroic times of the anti-colonialist struggle, is in fact nothing but a blatant form of defiance.
Regardless of the laws adopted at present in contemporary Muslim society, the latter has not, however, extirpated the idea of "prohibition" from its cultural universe. Even without having the force of law such as, for example, in the self-claimed progressive countries, this idea continues to play, in the least, a certain role in social constraint. I know quite a number of Muslim girls who pay due consideration to this idea in the choice of a husband.
Thus, an idea has deploringly failed to fulfill its social function in a society like the American society which has invented the most effective methods to launch its ideas and machines and which bases, in general, its legislative resolutions on the most accurate statistics and then subjects them, in the course of implementation, to the strictest scientific means of control. In contrast, this same idea has relatively preserved its conditioning power in Muslim society which, at present, has nothing at its disposal to face the deviations of its vital energy except the mere good will of each person to build up its required social constraint.
Two conclusions can be drawn from the above:
1. The conditioning power of an idea is not the same in two societies that have different cultural roots. In American society based on technical and materialistic values, that is to say, oriented to the world of objects, this power is weaker than in Muslim society that is centered on ethical values.
2. In the same process, that of the Muslim society for example, the conditioning power varies from one stage to another.
Reaching its apex in the first stage (see the diagram in the previous chapter), it progressively gives up insofar as the original idea gives way to the acquired ideas and inasmuch as the latter, in their turn, give way to objects.
In the third stage, the instincts are liberated, the original conditioning process comes to an end and the cultural universe is reduced to a mere world of objects. As a result, the vital energy, which is entirely liberated, destroys the society by abolishing the network of its social relations, thus breaking its concerted action into thousands of conflicting activities undertaken either individually or in small groups, a phenomenon that has been examined by the Marxists under the name of class conflict.
Be that as it may, this is but the end of a civilization! Thus, society is no longer able to carry on its march with brains that are either empty or full of dead ideas, with feeble and worried consciences, and with the relations network (that is, its unity) destroyed. As for Muslim society, this is then the post-Almohad era that commences.