Friday, March 25, 2011

Each Another's Audience

The attempt to differentiate ourselves, be it how we dress, how we act, what God we do (or don't) pray to, and so on, is something that absorbs the greater portion of our lives. We want to be noticed for our individuality, even as we try to fit in with some social class we think is desirable. We value independence, even as we surrender our will to the whims of the crowd. We don't care how others feel, except to wonder what they think of us and imagine the worst, or worse, believe they think well of us when evidence suggests we do not. We want to stand on our two feet, even when we are most assuredly not even ready to crawl.

What most of us fail to realize is that we are, for all intents and purposes, as different as the next person. Our DNA writes a story specifically for us, shapes and molds us, sets up the conditions under which we integrate into our environment. The code of every living human is different, even where they may be “identical.” Variation is the name of the game evolution plays, and it seeks to keep us as differentiated as possible, to ensure that we retain the maximum adaptability of the species. That is the key to our survival – having the greatest range of traits available, to allow for the greatest number of useful combinations, encouraging the welfare of humankind.

The truth belying the truth of our existence is that, for all our differences, we are the same: human. The same types of blood course through our veins, the structures in and on our bodies are placed in roughly the same places, and the biochemistry of our systems is replicated in each and every one of us. The differentiations between us are superficial, controlled by inherited traits, run by the genetic material at the heart of every cell in our body. We, the product of  donated genetic material in the form of a cell from each parent, are complex assemblages of cells, trillions of them, each a tiny engine of creation, carrying the catalog of who we are physically with the nucleus of each.

It is this dichotomy that is best represented by the motto of the United States of America, E Pluribus Unum: “From many, one.” Expressed as the Founders intended, it represented the coming together of the original Thirteen Colonies to form a new nation. Expressed a representation of humanity, it is both an accurate description of the human body's sum total of cells forming one being, and many human beings forming one coherent species. Like a fractal pattern, we can go down, and say that each cell is an exquisite construction of molecules joined together, and the molecules built of the atomic constituents of matter. We can also go up, and claim that our world plus our other planets and the Sun form a solar system, and many solar systems form a galaxy, and so on. The universe is a mirror, that when held up to us, allows us to see not only ourselves, but the entirety of creation, large and small, as the beautiful confection of energy and matter it is, and we, only a small part of it.

In light of this, of all we know, we cannot continue to look upon ourselves in any other way than as the marvelous, self-determinate, molecular machines that we are. Beings that, now alive, have moved beyond the bounds of their evolution, to contemplate the very fabric of the creation. The raw awesomeness of the idea that fifteen billion years of cooking matter and energy in the furnaces of stars has led to our existence is awe-inspiring. When we recognize this, it should settle over us like a warm blanket, comforting us that, even in our insignificance on the cosmic scale, our existence as thinking, feeling, inquisitive beings, makes us special. Currently, we may be the only intelligent species in the cosmos; so far, we have not heard the cries of extraterrestrial brethren, welcoming us to the fold. There may have been others, there may be still, or they may be more eventually. Only time and exploration will tell us for sure.

Meanwhile, given our gift of existing when and where we do, it lays down upon us a great responsibility: to survive. No matter the existence of other intelligent societies, ours has its place in the grand scheme. We may wish to couch it in dogmatic terms, try to bend the universe to fit our creation stories, assume that our presence confirms an even higher order in our creation, or the presence of a sole or multiple creators, but ultimately we are here, all alone in the night, twirling and whirling about our star, glued by gravity to this ball of dirt, rock, water, and air that is our home. Right now, we have nowhere else to go, and no further resources to call upon than those at hand. We live here and now, and we must understand that limitation, if we are to grow further.

Right now, our globe is wracked in spasms both natural and man-made. We take for granted our existence, to the point of finding it easy to throw life away or treat it as a given or pretend it is sacred. We do not recognize the perils set before us, nor the opportunities just beyond the outer fringes of our planet's atmosphere. We are in flux, our species, fighting a battle with ourselves over moving forward or falling back, the outcome of which could be continued growth and life, or hollow, shadowy, and ultimately futile existence. The decisions we make determine our fate for all time, for if we perish, our like will not be seen again.

Where we begin is simple: we look at the others around us, and we shear them of race, religion, body type, gender norms, clothing styles, accouterments, social standing, and all other artificial categories we used to calculate and codify, and we accept them as human. We pause, and feel the blood rushing through us, knowing it rushes through them as well. We close our eyes, then open them slowly, realizing that the light that falls on us, falls on them. We reach out, touch a hand, and realize that their skin is soft and warm, as is ours. We connect with our fellow humans and realize that they are us, and we are them. That one simple act, that one simple bit of knowledge, may make all the difference. Perhaps we will finally see the truth: we are all one, united.

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