collaboration, competition, cooperation, fascism, fear, greed, hate, learning, life, love, science
Humanity finds itself in a new place. In evolutionary terms, we could say humanity suddenly finds itself in this new place. Life on earth, by best estimates is 4.75 billion years old. It’s easy to imagine, as a person, that the whole point of evolution is us. I don’t really see any reason to believe that. To the dolphin, deer, dog, dodo, and dinosaur, every one of their lives are every bit as precious to them as ours are to us. I do not even think humans are the “smartest” species on earth, at least, not in any absolute sense. We are the smartest in the directions of thought and behavior that humans find useful. So far as we know, we are the only species who has the information to know that our collective behavior can destroy us along with a lot of the other limbs on the giant, diverse tree of life and yet, here we still are, with atomic weapons, not pointed out defensively against invasions from outer space but pointed at other people on the planet. How could we possibly think we are the smartest species? Even if we avoid that kind of catastrophe, we still face dangers from over-polluting the planet, over-heating it, over-populating it, over-fishing and being over-hating. Indeed, this is nearly the darkest day in the darkest year. Is there reason to celebrate?
I think there is. In the blink of an eye, in evolutionary terms, we’ve managed to migrate across the entire planet. People live in tropical jungles, hot desserts, and in the frozen tundra. We’ve developed tools of thought and tools of trade and ways of dividing labor and communicating. And, now, although many people still do not have access, we have a communication network that spans the globe and we can communicate to some degree with people of different religions, cultures, languages, and experiences. We have vast networks of trade. We’ve come a long way.
Yes, there are a few greedy people who, like Voldemort, cannot or will not experience love or its benefits. Instead, they have convinced themselves that everyone is out to get as much as they can for themselves (or, if some people aren’t on that program, they’re just stupid, in the view of the greedy). In reality, only a few people are completely hooked on greed and power. They do not see other human beings as partners, or colleagues, or fellow explorers in this vast world before us — a world that still has billions of unfound discoveries. Indeed, we have even built machines to help us make new discoveries. And, if we don’t change trajectories, we may make far fewer discoveries than we might. Of course, it isn’t just the people completely hooked on greed that are accomplices in humanity’s direction toward greed. The alternative is to think quite consciously about our decisions in terms of who we invest in, what product we buy, how we talk with our neighbor, how we ourselves do business. We ourselves can make choices that move us toward greater cooperation rather than necessarily choosing only on the basis of immediate cost/benefit analyses. Then, and only then, can we turn the world to kindness and discovery.
Despite our many advances, we have yet, for instance, to have conquered cancer; we have yet to conquer war; we have yet to conquer hate and fear. You see how easily, in fact, the metaphors of war pervade our thinking. It is possible that we don’t need to “conquer” cancer, war, hate or fear. Maybe, we just need to let them go. Maybe if we understand these things sufficiently, they will dissipate. Maybe these four things all required quite different approaches from anything that has yet been tried, and possibly all require a different approach from each other. But my reflexive approach is to state this in terms of “conquering” – that is, winning over an enemy rather than winning over an enemy.
Perhaps, instead, the right approach to conquering cancer is not to “destroy” cancer cells but to re-integrate them into the society of the body. Perhaps they have been disillusioned that being part of the whole (body) is working for them. Maybe there is a way to “convince” them not to be cancer cells but to revert to what they were before cancer began.
Or, maybe we put something on an edge of the human body that has more of what the cancer cells “want” then anyplace within the body and let them “migrate” to the edge (and out of the human body — the “Pied Piper Approach”).
Or, perhaps, apart from pollution, a huge reason for cancer is that people are so busy so much of the time that they are not “noticing” teeny cancers within them. Perhaps people can be trained from birth to notice cancer cells and to send an overwhelming immune response before its too late. It sounds a bit absurd, but is it really? People can learn to “turn on” a single neuron in their brains with proper feedback. Is it really so far beyond the pale to imagine we could train ourselves to mount a targeted immune response?
Perhaps all of these approaches might work and perhaps none of these approaches would work. The point is, that we need not reflexively think that “armed conflict” and “destruction” are the only methods that work to change the world. Many biologists think that the “nucleus” of our cells as well as our “mitochondria” were originally different organisms that started living symbiotically inside our cells. Is it too much to imagine that we could some day control the process of cells mutating and do it for our benefit? It seems absurd and ridiculous from the perspective of our knowledge today. And, yet — what would have our common ancestors on the African Savannah have thought 1,000,000 years ago if we could have explained to them that someday we would have machines that fly us around the globe — and to the moon? Or, how would they have reacted to the idea that we would have a network allowing us to communicate around the globe; that we would build machines that enable us to look into the workings of cells or the far reaches of the galaxy; that we would build fantastically beautiful musical instruments and that we could share music and ideas and stories across this earth; or that many people in our world die from having too much to eat!?
It is quite possible that a century from now, people will very seldom die from cancer — or any other disease. In a similar fashion, we may well be able to set aside, recommission, redesign, or simply let go of war, hate, and irrational fear.
But none of that will happen unless we collectively decide what we want to be when we grow up. Because, as a species, despite wonderful achievements, we are still adolescents, at best. There are many tyrants in the world. Tyrants, as I’ve explained in prior postings, hate love and hate the truth. They really need war for cover in order to stay in power. Love complicates things. It’s just too unpredictable for people who want to be in control of everything. People’s reactions to absolute power wielded without ethics are much more predictable. Under enough painful torture, anyone will say anything 99% of the time. Of course, nothing positive and growth oriented ever comes from hate and fear alone. Only love moves life forward. Only love creates a more beautiful earth for our descendants. Only love discovers new beginnings, offers new ideas and new approaches. Beyond love’s instrumental value, more importantly, a world run by love is a world that feels good most of the time while it is happening, moment to moment. Of course, even in a world run largely by love, you will stub your toe or lose a friend, but most of every day’s activities you spend doing something because you feel as though you are making a contribution to something beyond yourself.
On the other hand, in a world run largely by hate and fear, the momentary experience of almost everyone almost all of the time is miserable. You are basically snarling or sniveling with every communication. Naturally, even so, there will be moments of joy, but it will never be unmarred because joy will either fall prey to guilt, or even worse, spend so much resources defending against guilt that life will become gray and pointless. Every day, most of the time you are doing what you’re going because you feel as though you’ll be badly punished if you don’t.
Does it make any sense then, to have a society run by the very greediest people among us? What if the only reason they are so greedy is because they don’t experience the full spectrum of human emotion that the rest of us do? What if a huge part of their greed is actually specifically and quite consciously designing and demanding a society run by hate and fear?
Why? Because they themselves don’t feel love and they don’t want others to be able to in an unrestricted way either. They are jealous and the only way they see to avoid being faced with their own shortcomings is to reshape the world so that no-one can express love openly and fully. I am not talking only about restrictions on sexual partners. I am talking as well about artistic expression, a free press, scientific exploration, and education. Everything is subject to restriction in a dictatorial society. Love is the source of exploration. It cannot be fully functioning under a dictatorship.
And what about Christmas? What about the solstice? What about the light and the dark? I do believe we now live in much, much darker times than most people realize. We are, in one of three states: 1) we are like one of the beginning scenes of the Star Trek prequel where Kirk speeds a stolen car towards that he does not realize is a deadly chasm. At the last moment, he tries to skid sideways to a stop, leaps from the car, begins to totter over the side and holds on by his fingernails — then clambers back up. 2) we in the same scene but this time, our foot hits the door an inch to the left and we don’t quite make it. 3) we are like the road-runner cartoon character who has just run straight off a deadly cliff but his legs are still windmilling and for a short time — he appears to be running, and does not fall until he looks down and realizes he is no longer on solid ground.
Well, it’s Christmas Day for me. And, the winter solstice has passed. The darkness really is receding and the daylight is encroaching on that darkness, minute by minute. We humans have had some dire times before and gotten through them. That doesn’t prove we’ll survive this Age of Greed, but I think it possible, perhaps even likely. But we must put the brakes on now. We must jump very carefully. And we must hold on for dear life.
We must hold on to each other. We must hold on to ethics as something that matters. We must hold on to the thought that, ultimately, we are all in this together. We must hold on to the thought that we are much more alike than we are different regardless of what customs, clothes, and food we prefer. We must hold on to the realization that a few greedy people cannot really rule the world, unless we participate with our own greed, fear, and hate.
We can pull this off. Instead of being the despoilers of the planet, we will make it ever more beautiful. Eventually, we will be “in tune” again, with nature and each other. How precisely to make this happen isn’t clear and no two people would probably approach it precisely the same way. Nonetheless, if we work together as best we can, keep discussing our differences in a civil way, and make as many decisions as we possibly can with at least a thought to the greater good, we will make it.
Pingback: The Blog in Review | petersironwood