We are living on the edge of a precipice. Don't look down. It's taken me a long time to realize how critical the situation is, if, in fact, I am right that we are living on the edge of a precipice. What if we aren't but think we are? What's the difference in our behavior? Whoever, whatever, or however we were designed, something important was left out - the ability to accurately see the present. Our brains are not wired for the illusion that dominates our beliefs handed down from the 18th Century Enlightenment - the possibility of rational thought. The reality is that our brains aren't wired that way.
Perhaps I should start with, Are we living on the edge of a precipice? I look around me and see that our society is failing, the world is failing, we're making a mess of this Eden given to us -- by God or Darwin, I don't care -- it doesn't matter. What do you see, I wonder, and how can we resolve our different visions?
Human beings as civilized creatures is the most dangerous myth ever foisted upon a species. It's not fair. A million years ago we were living in caves, probably without language. In evolutionary terms, a million years is the flicker of a lightning bug. Our tools have evolved so much faster than we have that we mistake the elegance of the tool for the basic barbarian who created and now wields it. How could such an imbalance happen?
I have facts to support my illusion. Do you have facts to support yours? For example, as a good corporate spokesperson, I belittled global climate change for years, but only a fool would reject the notion that something is happening to our climate whether humanity is a major or minor player. Or consider that nuclear proliferation is reaching the point where a bomb planted in a major western city is simply a matter of when, not if. We proudly proclaim high moral values, but at the slightest sign of inconvenience, they're jettisoned. We rarely live them.
What did we learn after six million Jews and six million others got gassed and flamed and tortured to death by the Nazis? The world since then has become a testament to our heightened morality and chest-thumping words of grand visions.
We stood by while Cambodia created its killing fields, the Hutus and Tutusies (a fictional racial creation) slaughtered each other, while Mao and Stalin and Amin and countless other dictators and thugs and scum slaughtered at will while we wept oceans of crocodile tears. It's still going on - right now. Today. In Darfur. Do you hear? A child just died from starvation. Listen. No, you can't hear the cry of death. Don't look down. Wait. Now. Do you see? Another child was just slaughtered with a machete or a bullet or a bomb. What are we doing about it? Trick or treat for UNICEF? Is there is a more pathetic vision of our indifference?
The West? We've a history of barbaric behavior interspersed with some of the most incredible art and culture imaginable, but in the end we are a collection of moral cowards desperately hanging onto the illusion that we've gone far beyond the caves, not just three simple steps. My greatest fear is that, down deep, we know we're facing the end of civilization as we've known it, that nothing lasts forever, and something else must inevitably take its place. In the face of almost cosmological uncertainty, we withdraw into the illusion that we can take care of those closest to us.
The East? Eastern religions for some reason have always downplayed the value of the individual and have used the concept of reincarnation and Karma as a way of tolerating the most extraordinary inhumanity. Ironically, it shares some of what the Christian Church tried to sell in the so-called Dark Ages, but it's just a different brand of cowardice; it's a different path to the endgame.
What is humanity? We are so complex and yet so simple at the same time. We can create such beauty that we find it hard to catch our breath while the heavens weep. We can show selfless goodness and compassion that shouts from the mountaintops, "see how far we've come from the caves. Three steps indeed." How many of those moments must exist to erase the barbarism of the past and of today and tomorrow?
Why do we think we're superior to lower forms of life? Is it because one or two of us stand against the tides of insanity, is martyred, and cast in bronze for the rest of us to admire? We watch Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Desmund Tutu, and a small handful of others leave the safety of the area around the cave and walk out into the open fields. Our pride soars at what humanity can accomplish, but it's not humanity; it's a few humans.
If only we would emulate them. If only we would see that, in evolutionary terms, they are superior to us, but we've been given the gift of consciousness that just might make it possible for us to force our own evolution in the right direction. Neurologists have found that primitive parts of our brains, created when the world presented different threats, still have the power to determine our reactions with us having no conscious understanding of why we're acting as we do; but our conscious minds are not without power if we have the courage to engage them.
How do we take responsibility? How do we own and fix the mess we've created? It's part of my greatest fear - that we can't. There is nothing we can do, so we'll continue to withdraw, to create smaller and smaller social networks, to rail against them even though we no longer know who them is. We celebrate the phony intimacy of the Internet and social networks when it's obvious to anyone who will stop, just stop for a moment, and realize that without a hug the spine shrivels, that physical contact among people is essential to life.
At my most cynical, I see the Internet as a monument to our failure as a species. We don't know our neighbors who we can see and touch and smell. We will, however, form dozens, hundreds of...of what? Friends, associates, and colleagues - the few people I think of as friends I've met through the Internet I have to meet or the friendship will dissipate. I have to see their faces and watch them laugh. I have to break bread and share wine with them, allowing real intimacy to grow over time to the point where when we meet or say goodbye, we hold each other with a passion that fills so many of the empty parts of our souls. We may separate having agreed on nothing except that we are human beings and worthy of survival, worthy of the challenge of evolution. Go ahead, hug your computer. Let me know how good it makes you feel.
Wait for a moonless night when it's still warm enough to walk outside. Listen. Let the sounds of civilization pass through you until you can hear what nature, naked, is trying to tell you. Look at a plant, or a tree, or a rock - it's nothing special - just a plant or tree or rock; but it's amazing. Enjoy the awe of realizing that it somehow got there. Feel. Let the earth reach up and caress you with her toils and triumphs until you realize how fragile we are. Find a way out of yourself to help forge a true civilization. Those of us in civilized lands too easily forget it's simply a thin veneer of civilization - that we are only two or three steps from the caves.
You are your brother and sister's keeper.
Anyone's suffering, anywhere, diminishes your soul.
Find the great and simple truths: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Take emotional risks because we're becoming a nation, and a world, of strangers.
I don't know what to write about anymore. I know I'm not making a difference with this article regardless of how many ways I recreate it. Even if I could get my fiction published, it wouldn't move the firmament. If only God wasn't such a mute, perhaps I could become a preacher. Perhaps, in His silence, that's the best use of my time, but I will not be played the fool - offering strident calls for human rights and dignity that, at best, are read quickly and disregarded.
Quite simply and yet with a cry from my heart that should rend the sky into falling shards of blue, I believe humanity is losing. I have no idea how we sustain ourselves in the evolutionary chain. Humanity has been an awesome experiment, but no matter how I look at it, I can't find enough lasting potential and, worse, enough value that would warrant nature continuing to select for us.
On some selfish level, I'm grateful that my bride and I are old enough to go quietly into this good night. We will escape, I think, but so many of you won't. Your anger, your certainty, your righteousness blinds and binds you.
Some millions of years from now, what a tragic tale will be written about the short-lived human race. People will look at the dinosaurs that ruled the earth for 150 million years and compare them to Homo sapiens who ruled for perhaps two million years and then were gone. It doesn't matter how -- nuclear nightmare, disease, climate disruption, or the emergence of a superior species.
On balance, between us and the dinosaurs, who will be considered of more value in the perhaps infinite time of history?
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