Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brave New Humanity

I was given pause to consider what has changed in the way humanity views the world, between the Middle Ages and now. You can consider that on the grand scale, the world is significantly altered, such that a denizen of the Middle Ages would find it inconceivable, though not totally incomprehensible, that we reached every corner of the Earth and have sent men and machines to the far-flung environs of space.

So, we have progressed, in technology, in population, in resources, in capacity and capability. Perhaps the one area where it can honestly be said that little progress has been made is in thought and rationale. A person of the Middle Ages would be filled with wide-eyed wonder at our accomplishments, but would feel right at home with many expressed attitudes, though our behavior overall would be quite different. While there is sexual freedom, more racial equality, and a greater ability for the commoner to enter the free market, the taboos of centuries past still linger, and we cannot seem to free ourselves of them completely.

For it is clear, that a great proportion of humanity still clings to the dogmas of the past. We are surrounded by the blare of information and the bright lights of technology, and we see all these things, which were no doubt anathema as little as five centuries ago, brought forth into the light of day. Learning and knowledge have repainted our picture of the universe we inhabit, moving us from its center, off to a corner of but one galaxy in a multitude. Science has granted us kinship to our animal brethren, made us important players in the functioning of the Earth as a system, and shown that despite all outward differences, we are one species. We have been given new life, and the possibility of expanding ourselves beyond our cradle, into the galactic milieu.

As such, you would think that all this has transformed us as thinking beings, but, in fact, the pace of external transformation is not matched by our internal transformation. While water may flow, rock may crumble, and even iron yield to flame, human belief is resistant to change to a degree unmatched in the natural world. The eternal struggle between the enrichment of knowledge and the inner turmoil brought about by change is ongoing, fueled by emotion. Those unafraid of knowledge and change embrace differences; those fearful of further erosion of their model of the world cling to personal beliefs, as the stranded sailor to a life raft. Those who live on the edge, charge forward; those who live amidst the quiet, stay back.

So, as humanity moves forward, it drags along the dead weight of the past, an inertia that retards progress and restricts freedom. The ghostly past Marley comes to our modern Scrooge, and warns us that the fetters he wears due to his previous ignorance and self-absorption are also secured to us, though we do not see them, and that we forge new links each and every day. We are in danger of being denied our heavenly rest, because we could not open our eyes to the world around us, and see it for what it is. We deny the evidence of our eyes and ears and hearts, in the constant grasping and shuffling toward grabbing a piece of the world for ourselves, something which, ultimately, death will take from us.

It cannot be that we simply wipe the slates clean, for indoctrination in the new is precisely the same as indoctrination in the old; as the songs says: "Meet the new boss... same as the old boss." We cannot mandate thought or belief -- it is impossible to counteract a definitely opposed will, and our own strictures forbid it. For an American, freedom is just that: freedom to believe what you want to believe, even if the prevailing wisdom is that your belief is based on premises that no longer hold. Each entitled to his or her opinion, no matter what it may be.

Yet, even as that great ideal is important, if we are to be a truly free and peaceful people, there is an overarching principle that must be factored in: we are all in this together. No matter our differences, no matter what we believe, no matter what ideas our principles are based on, our individuality is assured only as long as our humanity is reinforced. No distances, no resources, no beliefs, no conflicts, no perceptions, alter the fact that humanity lives as one on this Earth, and it is, for now, our only home. We may have our differences, but we are all in the same boat.

So, at some point, those who may believe a certain thing and believe it so fervently that to go against it is considered heresy, must learn to yield to greater considerations. This is by no means easy, nor assured, for fanaticism in belief is seldom counteracted by any degree of reason. Still, the general welfare of all, the greater good, will and must take precedence. This does not mean the denigration or destruction of individual belief, as much as it means any group's beliefs cannot be allowed to override what is in the best interests of all, especially those who do not believe as they do. It should be possible to live as individuals amongst a greater group: the human race.

We can hope that movement toward a united and peaceful humanity continues, and that the chains that tie us to a moribund past are broken. As in every century, though, there are those who will resist the change, to their detriment. Those who chose not to ride the tide of progress, are left to founder in its wake. We note their passing with sadness, for it did not have to be so, but humanity's destiny cannot be denied forever. We strive to build, to grow, to learn, to understand, and thus, survive. The human story is still preamble; eventually, it will be written across the stars.

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