Saturday, August 27, 2011

I Don't Feel Your Pain

The world as we know it is a rough place, a series of nettlesome problems laced with personal disagreements, differing opinions, and a variety of points of view. The only constant is that the trials and tribulations are happening to people such as ourselves, people who may be very different from us through casual inspection, but upon deeper reflection, are not that much different. They, too, are trying to survive, trying to flourish, trying to have a decent life.

What disturbs us more than anything, is how so many seem to be unable to empathize with others, for reasons beyond comprehension and through rationales which test rationality. It is so easy for one person to look at another, and allow surface impressions to form their whole opinion, and to parse the information that comes in through various media as proof of that opinion. These opinions, far from fluid and malleable, become the bedrock of intolerance and ignorance, driving people further apart. It is as if the contraction for the world through technology and transportation is being resisted by a visceral repulsion, not unlike the collapse of star being slowed or halted by the fusing matter within.

This repulsion is more a revulsion, an inchoate force that is building by the day, seeking to halt the inevitable collapse of humanity from its tribal origins into a unified whole. The inevitability of a unified humanity is as clear as the eventual death of our home star once it's nuclear fuel is expended. Barriers between people have eroded over hundreds of thousands of years, as the first true humans spread out from their enclaves and roamed the surface of the world on foot and by boat, spreading like a drop of ink in a still pond. Eventually, we humans made it to almost every nook and cranny of our globe save the most inhospitable, which stood mutely defiant until such time as our technology brought us the ability to conquer them as well. We even brought our power to bear to leap the gap to our nearest neighbor in space, the Moon.

With the spreading, came settling, and with settling, came populating, and with population came the need to expand resources, and to do so meant some level of cooperation, or in some cases, enslavement. A species, formerly simple and working from only its instincts, reached a point of requiring new skills and capacities to develop. The rise of the cerebral cortex was the rise of humanity. And yet, the primitive parts of the human mind would not be dispatched so easily by their new neighbor in the brain-case. Even now, they prey at the edges of our rationality, forcing otherwise reasoning and reasonable beings to do unwise and unreasonable things. One of those things, is to see our neighbors as being different, and therefore, some sort of threat. That primitive instinct, latching on to the enhanced capacity of the human mind, now drives human beings into intolerance, bigotry, and leaves them with an inadequate sense of compassion and empathy.

Not all are so afflicted with this insidious disease, this gnawing relic of primitive ancestry, but the number who are is staggering enough to make it seem as if we are surrounded by an unholy sea of the unreasoning. We are shocked at the heinous indifference some feel toward others and that shock may drive us to greater heights to make up for the deficit, or may cause us to rock in despair for our species. No day goes by that some story does not cross our eye or ear that makes us cringe, for the wanton disregard for human beings whose only crime is that they were "different," or did not believe as others believed. That the disease so prevalent in The Middle Ages -- which was allowing us to burn and stone people until only a few hundred years ago -- could survive into the 21st Century is incomprehensible to any reasonable person, though it should come as no surprise, given that the malevolent poison of intolerance is spread through words passed on from generation to generation in tomes, from pulpits, and behind closed doors.

What may shock us further is how that indifference and intolerance is mutating, afflicting new populations, making them regard others as somehow "diseased" for having feelings or emotions, denying the need of some for solace, becoming inured to the malice in the hearts of their fellow humans. That a world becoming so close knit can see a new crop of people rise who would look around at the staggering load of humanity upon this world and feel no connection to it, becoming ever-so-tired of hearing about their travails, seeing themselves as above it all, unable to empathize, is troublesome. It is to be expected, given the advance of knowledge, that some old precepts should fall by the wayside as outmoded and proven untrue, but it is baffling that such a process of realignment with what we know of the world should advance to a point where nihilism is more acceptable than human duty.

The vast bulk of humanity falls well under that curve that represents an empathetic and rational humanity, but it is the fringe elements, those that hold on to a dying past, and those that look to a future disconnected from their fellow humans, that should trouble us, lest they poison more minds. We cannot discard the lessons of human history, and we certainly cannot discard our humanity. We survive and flourish only where we work together, as part of a coordinated whole. We die out, where we abandon our connections to others. We must do what we can to damp out the messages that those on the fringes would have us accept as fact, lest we doom all humanity to obsolescence and burial in the dust.

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