What is the nature of humanity?
I ask myself this question in light of the current state of affairs in the world (April, 2008): conflict, violence, disasters and war everywhere on Earth! It’s a time of crisis as far as I’m concerned!
One only has to have studied world history and be ‘up to speed’ as to events around the world, to wonder if we can survive ourselves? And if and when we have departed (become extinct), will we have ‘been here’ at all?
Let’s address the first question: Can we survive ourselves?
This is what Carl Sagan said on the subject?
“Due to our own actions or inactions, and the misuse of our technology, we live at an extraordinary moment for the Earth at least—the first time that a species has become able to wipe itself out.
We have designed a civilization based on science and technology and at the same time have arranged things so that almost no one understands anything at all about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster. We may for a awhile get away with this mix of ignorance and power but sooner or later it is bound to blow up in our face.
We have found from modern astronomy that we live on a tiny hunk of rock and metal, third from the sun, that circles a humdrum star in the obscure outskirts of an ordinary galaxy which contains some 400 billion other stars, which is one of about a 100 billion other galaxies that make up the universe and according to some current views, a universe that is one among an immense number, perhaps an infinite number of other universes.
In this perspective the idea that our planet is at the center of the universe much less that human purpose is central to the existence of the universe is pathetic. Does life thereby lose all meaning, I think not. I think we make our lives meaningful by the courage of our questions, by the depth of our answers, by how widespread our understanding is of the essential tools for managing our future, for how skeptical we are of those in authority and of our obligation to care for one another.
The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of those who derived their self esteem from dividing the dot into two hundred still littler patches. Our posturings, our imagined self- importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in a great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness their is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves, it is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling and even character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. For me it underscores our responsibility, our profound responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot the only home we have ever known.”
Yes, of course, we have a responsibility! But, only .01% of the world’s population has any clue to this. That leaves six plus billion people in the dark, striving to survive anyway they can (even if it means violence)!
People always say the issue is ‘education.’ I say the issue is ‘consciousness,’ (a state of understanding). Of course, education is a part of having ‘consciousness,’ but doesn’t necessarily lead to it? Do we have more ‘consciousness’ in 2008, than we did 5,000 years ago? No, maybe even less!
Education leads to knowledge, but does more knowledge help? Not according to Lao Zi, who wrote about this in his ‘Tao Te Qing’ 2,200 years ago. What it leads to is competition between people and cultures; basically frustration, envy, desire, mistrust, ultimately violence and war. The more we know, the more vulnerable (fearful) we become! Lao Zi essentially said that, ‘Ignorance is bliss!’ Note: This was the state of ‘the Garden’ before Eve ate (the apple) at the Tree of Knowledge.
I can cite myself: I have University degrees, read hundreds of books, travelled the world, have access to the Internet that brings me the world daily. But, am I happier for it? No! In fact, I crave to drop out of modern life and go live with the animals in a remote place! I’m not sure if this is possible at the age of 68-years, having grown up in modernity (20th Century), but I crave it!
I was once $ rich, but was I happy? No! It just led to much bizarre behavior! I don’t know any rich (nee powerful) people that are happy. They smile a lot for the cameras, but I’ll bet they’re not really happy. Why? Material wealth doesn’t compensate for mental health! It’s an illusion!
Parents admonish their children to get a good eduction so they’ll get a good job (financial security). But, does this lead to emotional security? No! People are led in the wrong direction! Capitalism brings out the worse in us, not the best! As my friend Toby said recently, ‘We need more people living in caves, and eating air!’
Once you understand the ‘nature of man,’ that we are flawed (sinners the Christians call it) you begin to understand. Are we any better human beings than we were 10,000 years ago. I think not.
Man still seeks primarily for himself! Is this good? Adam Smith and Ayn Rand would say yes! Has it made a better world? I think not! Yes, some got rich and indulged themselves, but will they be remembered in history (if we survive ourselves)? I think not! Who cares about Ruppert Murdock, except his wife and children (wanting to inherit his wealth)? Nobody!
Is it possible for mankind to evolve and change, compromising in order to survive? We haven’t in the last 10,000 years! The only thing I’ve concluded is that man is at the very beginning of his (potential) development. We’re like infants groping in the dark! If we survive ourselves, maybe in another one million years we’ll reach maturity.
So, why are we here, on this tiny blue dot? Is it just to seek for ourselves, destroying Mother Earth and ourselves in the process? Ignorance may be best (as Lao Zi knew), but I’m afraid it’s too late.
The birth of ego consciousness, symbolized in ‘The Garden of Eden’ myth, was when all the ‘trouble’ began – and God lamented (according to the Christian Bible). This recognition of self (I am!) as distinct from others launched ‘dual existence.’ And with such came ‘I am good, but I’m not so sure about you!’ (mistrust). Also, with Duality came the recognition of God as ‘good’ and Satan or the Devil as ‘bad.’ This is the nature of humanity! ‘I am right, and you are wrong! If only you would be like me, believe what I do. My God is the only God, and if you don’t believe what I do, I’m going to kill you!
In Duality, no ‘I,’ no ‘you.’ No man, no woman (interesting that man blames woman for partaking at the Tree of Knowledge). No, God, no Satan! No war, no peace, and on and on, ad infinitum (for everything there is its opposite). We can’t have one without the other.
So, why did this happen, this evolutionary ‘progress’ from ‘living in The Garden,’ to turning existence into a Hell (Duality)? Did God create us in His light, so we might perfect the species? That we must come from this darkness to know the Light? That we have to suffer to understand it’s possible to evolve from ‘ignorance’ to ‘enlightenment?’
The other significant ‘Story’ in recorded history is ‘The Myth of the Holy Grail!’ Not the simplified version that ‘Hollywood,’ exploits (for money), the literal version, but the symbolic version, the first secular myth in history (circa. 1200) that dealt with redemption.
In this symbolic (powerful) version, Gawain, the errant knight ‘happens’ upon the Grail Castle (‘Heaven’). Invited in, he fails to pay the proper respect to the Fisher King, who is suffering from a ‘wound in his side.’ Gawain is thus banished from the castle. Alone, he spends his adult life ‘wandering in the forest,’ saving damsels in distress, righting (what he thinks are) wrongs, slaying dragons, many times suffering the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ Then one day, many years later, he ‘happens’ upon the Grail Castle again. Again, he’s invited in, but this time he makes no such mistake. Privy now to pain and suffering he notices the suffering King, and asks, ‘What ails thee uncle?’ With that simple expression of concern (for others), he earns the right to stay in the Castle (‘Heaven’). He, having lived and suffered, now recognized the pain of others, and is redeemed having sacrificed his ego! This could not have happened ‘pre ego consciousness’ (‘The Garden of Eden’).
The point of the Grail story is, you can’t just pray or go to church, that living, failing, suffering, is the only way to develop empathy for the pain of others. And this ‘annealment’ the ‘alchemy of life’ is what purifies the heart and opens the door to ‘Heaven.’ This is the story of Jesus Christ! ‘The Myth of the Holy Grail,’ is just the secular version.
So why are we in the ‘deep do do,’ that we’re in? Because the majority of us are still ‘wandering in the forest!’ Thrown out of ‘The Garden of Eden,’ (nee Grail Castle) we still haven’t learned, we still don’t understand! We take the easy way out and project evil onto others! We’re still ‘infants wandering in the dark.’ I love the line that a man named Walt Kelly gave his erstwhile possum, ‘Pogo’ in his American comic strip: ‘We have met the enemy and he is us!’
99% of the world is still wandering, lost in the forest, self-righteous in their cause, unsympathetic to others (as Gawain was). They still don’t understand (unconscious: we don’t know that we don’t know!).
Organized religion (Communism included) distracts people into thinking their God is the only God. The Arabs know they’re right against the Jews, the Jews know they’re right against the Arabs, the Chinese know they’re right against the Tibetans, the Tibetans know they’re right against the Chinese, the Americans know they’re right against the Iraqis, the Iraqis know they’re right against the Americans, ad infinitum! The drums of war continue, the beat of suffering! (Note: I must say, however, that violence and war does help to keep the world’s population down. This is the Tao at work.)
C.G. Jung said the only sin is unconsciousness! How right he was! We are still blind to the truth! That no one (group) is right, nor wrong, and that the only way to salvation is in, first caring for others, and ultimately sacrificing your ego (as Christ did on the cross)!
Since we haven’t made much, if any, progress in terms of consciousness in the last 10,000 years, I pray for an event so huge we can’t fail to pay heed. For example, I pray that the U.S. and China get into WWIII and half of the world’s population is wiped out (in a nuclear exchange)! Or, a meteorite hits the Earth and wipes out a significant amount of us (as supposedly happened with the dinosaurs). Astronomers are predicting, sometime in the next 20 years, a ‘close encounter’ with a meteorite. How great it would be if it wasn’t just ‘close,’ but a glancing blow scrapping off a continent or two! With any of these ‘events,’ we’d be plunged back into the ‘Dark Ages,’ just surviving a challenge! Certainly, anyone of these ‘events’ would get the survivors attention! Maybe this would cause ‘metanoia,’ a fundamental change in thinking, and humanity would have a chance of surviving itself!
Now, let’s address the second question posed, assuming the above events don’t occur and we destroy ourselves! When the last homo sapien succumbs, and humanity is extinct, will we have been here at all? Before you answer so quickly, think about it… It just might be that it takes our type of (‘human’) consciousness to recognize artifacts. What if the next species, if there are any, doesn’t? Our artifacts might be like rocks to them, acknowledging their ‘beauty,’ or utilitarian nature, but not recognizing ‘rock culture’ (us). And if they don’t… Did we ever exist?
At this point in history God must be very disappointed in us! He has given us a chance to perfect ourselves, and we are failing!
‘It underscores our responsibility, our profound responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot the only home we have ever known.’ (Carl Sagan)
I will leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein:
‘A human being is a part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.’