Anything But Something That Matters (Essay)
No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
John Donne, No Man is an Island, Meditation XVII
The world of human beings is an incredibly diverse place, and it might not be entirely fair to make sweeping statements or generalizations about what is going on in the hearts and minds of even a specific demographic of a particular geographic area. The lines become increasingly blurred when you consider the dynamic, evolving, and temporal nature of the cultures and subcultures within the constraining and defining attributes of an identified demographic. In reality, the average Jane and Joe (and every average in between) doesn't really exist. Metaphorically, and physically, we all exist in bubbles within bubbles, all co-existing, interacting, and participating, at different dimensions of the grand symphony of the universe; from sub-atomic particles, to human cultures, to galactic systems on the verge of – or beyond – human comprehension. Some of the greatest minds of physics have even theorized that our universe itself is merely a bubble in an ocean of bubbles, within another bubble existing in yet another ocean of bubbles, and so on and so forth to infinity (Hooper 32-37).
But for all that can be said, defined, and delineated, in regards to our differences and degrees of separation in terms of quantity, there is equally an infinite quality of unification that also exists and permeates throughout all of the actors on this magnificent stage of this cosmic drama. Consider, for a moment, the most widely accepted theory we have to explain what we perceive as the current physical state of our universe: the Big Bang. Long story short, our entire universe grew from a point in time and space smaller than the head of a needle; a singularity. Fast forward in time to a few decades ago, when the human constructed and deployed space vehicle known as Voyager 1 was on on the cusp of our solar system on a journey into the vast unknown of outer-space. With the last opportunity at hand, it turned its eye back on Earth and captured an image of our planet which inspired the famous “Pale Blue Dot” monologue by Carl Sagan: “The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam” (“In His Own Words” 14).
Even in terms of our biology, it's easy to make particular distinctions such as skin colour, hair colour, gender, height, and weight, just to name a few. But the genetic code which programs all these unique human features, derived from deoxyribonucleic acid (or DNA), is 99.9% identical to any other human being on the planet (Highfield). The reality is, there is often a fundamental duality which resides in the human psyche between separation and unity, where the existence of one or the other is a subjective truth which every individual chooses to believe and emphasize. This duality is a common thread within many cultural and religious ideologies throughout human history, sometimes described in western philosophies as opposing forces, such as, for example, angels and demons, good and evil, capitalism and communism, competition and cooperation. In other schools of thought, however, such as Taoism and Buddhism, for example, this duality is described more in terms of interconnected, balancing forces, and the moral judgments described as good and evil (or the essence of duality) are perceptual only and don't really exist (Giles 9-15).
Many people today – in our world of globalization – believe that competition has been the ultimate driving force of human evolution, and yet we might never have evolved beyond our cradle many years ago without successfully learning how to cooperate in the act of pursuing and hunting large animals which provided us, in theory, the necessary proteins our brains required to assume the path to, and result of, our current state of mind. In fact, the vast majority of human progress and evolution would never have been possible without some level of cooperation (Bowles 200-205). The evolution of human thought and technology – from the domestication of fire, to the printing press, to the world wide web – has now allowed us the ability to instantly and efficiently access almost limitless amounts of data, including all of the ideas mentioned so far. For most of us in the West, our potentially unqenchable thirst for knowledge is limited virtually only by our free time and our will to pursue it. And yet the vast majority of us do not, satisfactorily contented – or distracted – by the daily spectacles of society, motivated mostly by greed or fear, and somehow shrouded in a surely false sense of security and freedom guaranteed by some benevolent external authority, providing us with the necessary personal exemptions we require to justify our apathy towards pursuing our own wisdom and achieving our own freedom and security.
The point is not to condemn or criticize, divide or minimize; in many ways we've been conditioned and desensitized, indoctrinated and penalized. But the world isn't getting any smaller, and there are clearly many issues that are in dire need of our attention. I get it: even if we are only slightly aware of the many apparently insurmountable obstacles we face, the distractions and illusions are an easy escape from the very real truths we must accept; anything at all is more palatable than something that actually matters which requires some uncomfortable thought followed by action. But this type of short-sighted thought, and false sense of security and freedom, will prove to be a fatal error for ourselves and our species as a whole. When the Romans faced a similar paradigm, they chose pan et circenses1; their ignorance providing them absolutely no real savior to their own dire circumstances (Shroeder; Curtis). Human beings have faced catastrophe before, and when the warning signs were ignored (many times at great expense) we were able to pick up the pieces and try again. It might not be so this time around; we are truly at a unique landscape in human history.
At the core, human beings are, at the very least, united by our emotions. The cascade of issues we currently face are the symptoms of a human disease from within. There is no pill or vaccine that will be delivered to us to make things better; the only cure for our current malaise is simply to face those emotions that we all possess (and possess us) that perpetuate the systems in our lives that remove us from the responsibility and need to address our feelings of hate, ignorance, separation, oppression, and, above all, fear. This is a process that we can – and must – face. Not a single one of us on this planet is in a position to pass absolute judgment on the progress of others in terms of this human evolution – an evolution beyond fear and separation towards love and unity. Now, more than ever, it is apparent that we are all in this together, and to judge and condemn the morality and ethics of another, without the will to forgive (but not forget), is to lack human compassion for the other, and it will only discourage others from embarking on their own journey of discovery and healing.
We all have unique and diverse perceptions of the world created from our own experiences, and the path along this process will be different for everyone. We will fail at times, but that is part of this process of learning and overcoming our fear to do so. When you fall down, shake it off and celebrate your courage and resilience, and do the same for others. This is not a race or a competition; it is a cooperative life long journey in which you simply win by participating and empowering those around you. We are all human; we are not perfect, but striving for a shared reality in which we encourage the best parts of our humanity in every little thing we do, and simply doing our best in this regard, is all it takes. We have more power than we think, in the best parts of our humanity, and each one of us can – and must – make a difference. Like a ripple in a body of water, even the smallest thought, action, and intention, can have vast radiating effects over our perceptual barriers of time and space.
Bowles, Samuel and Herbert Gintis. A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2011. Print.
Curtis, Jack. "Bread and Circuses: The Last Days of the American Empire" American Thinker. American Thinker, 29 March. 2013. Web. 8 April 2015.
Highfield, Roger. "DNA survey finds all humans are 99.9pc the same" The Telegraph: Telegraph Media Group Limited. The Telegraph USA, 20 Dec. 2002. Web. 8 April 2015.
Hooper, Rowan. "LIFE IN THE MULTIVERSE. (Cover Story)." New Scientist 223.2988 (2014): 32-37. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
"In His Own Words." Skeptic 4.4 (1996): 14. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
Giles, Lionel. Taoist Teachings. New York: Grove Press Inc., 1959. Print.
John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, no. 17: 108–9. Originally published in 1624.
Shroeder, Alice. "The Danger of Living on Bread and Circuses" Bloomberg Business: Bloomberg L.P. Bloomberg, 1 June. 2011. Web. 8 April 2015.