Either we temper delusions of national grandeur and religious superiority—or pessimism is justified
As serious scientists depict the earth as a closed system, aside from sunlight, who’s surprised that global stresses—overcapacity, climate change, pandemics, and resource mismanagement —dramatically come to the fore. Just as “no man is an island, entire unto himself,” the interconnection of plastic and chemical pollution, plus global transport and communication, have blown apart delusions that nations are remote, separate or de-linked from fellow earthlings. The Age of Nationalism (the last few centuries) must now for the health of all shift to the Age of One World. We learn to act together or suffer the consequences. I understand this conundrum mandates a nearly evolutionary shift in consciousness.
“Solutions,” whether local or global, good or bad, now rely on no small test: transcendence of the dual, perverse, even contradictory aspects of human nature. Earthlings have thrived in record time thanks to mutual, generous co-operative unity, advancing by standing on the shoulders of forebears. All that is bashed when predatory aggressors decide they have no choice but to foment destructive, monomaniacal, no win invasions. What major outside invasion force in a century has achieved its goals? Unlike less neurotic collective species (ants, bees, otters, lions, wolves, meerkats, whales, dolphins), self-absorbed earthlings resist abandoning a zero sum model: for them to “win,” someone else must “lose.”
There are alpha animals and “queen bees,” but none organize genocidal wars. The smarter co-operators celebrate not might is right but all for one and one for all. Only human beings concoct (then reinforce with social/military organization) conflagrations wherein a Putin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, even Roman emperors, hold sway. When buttressed by absurd religious folly (variations on the divinity of leaders), wannabe tyrants try to act the part, whether Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban or tin pot, small fry like Bannon or QAnon/ Freedom Caucus creeps.
That the human genome fosters such ruthless monsters, denuded of simple compassion, alongside radiant figures like Jesus, Buddha, Shakespeare, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Einstein, Gandhi, Lincoln, FDR, or MLK, would stagger any imagined divine creator. How can the same package produce such colossal differences—icons of imagination who expand our experience of the richness of the world vs. the destructive, tyrannical dark side that enacts inhumane (often counterproductive) brutality like bombing Ukrainian children? Hardly to our species’ credit, we live amidst a battleground that pits the dark side—propelled by broken capitalism, faith-alone religious absolutism, unwise operation of police/military power, economic exploitation and educational myopia—with the irrepressible collective, moral, humane vision that imagines something better.
Four profoundly entrenched belief systems now jeopardize the prosperity, even permanence of the species.
1) National exceptionalism—the conviction that any self-declared, tribal superiority is warranted, that claiming national exceptionalism validates it, even justifies imperial belligerence. Many decent nations have good reasons to be proud of local, cultural achievements—fostering many good places to live. But that does not justify the irrational leap that loud declarations of moral superiority elevate the mighty over the modest. Certainly, military and economic might hardly correlate with civil, humane enlightenment: the U.S. exhibits our brand of arrogance when manipulating world markets and resources, if not violating borders; Russia presumes “to know better” when committing Ukrainian atrocities; the Chinese show their inhumanity when oppressing otherwise nonthreatening religious minorities for not being Chinese-enough; extreme presumption allows one powerful Saudi royal to order the murder of a critical journalist who challenged his unjust regime; and Syria is the current disaster model of conflicted, inhumane mayhem.
2) Tribal-centered, holier-than-thou religion. That leads in fundamentalist Protestant circles to force their values on everyone, re abortion, education and book banning. That turns politics into a no-compromise war. Alongside follows the absurd Prosperity Gospel, equating wealth with salvation, then to donations in cash in this world. Every war has religious overtones, and what belligerent (or victim) fails to assume “God is on our side”? A not provable belief is that god or gods exist to serve and favor the “chosen” tribe, with commandments, rules, and eternal rewards, heavenly or hellish (or earthly). Western missionary faiths, like Christianity and Islam, are committed to convert infidels, presuming spiritual and moral per-eminence. Thus do peaceful non-believers morph into enemies (conquered to “save their souls”), especially with different skin color, practices or living conditions. Such surface dichotomies set up sectarian minorities as arbiters of culture, wealth, housing, and status—unless and until enlightenment governments oppose bigotry and discrimination.
3) Human-centered universe—human actions (vs. declarations of humility) proclaim that our species is the ultimate summation of existence, thus granting us dominion over other animals without “souls”—and limitless treasures mined from the ground. Strident cultural values (about getting rich or living better than your neighbors) feeds rampaging individualism (the myth of self-reliance and anything goes). The result—wasteful, vulgar, anxious, conflicted cultures by which the top elite enjoy access to the best goodies. Crony capitalism is the Protestant Ethic on steroids, or the Prosperity Gospel on steroids, or the “I do whatever I want” syndrome on steroids. Co-operation and social networks are dismissed as subversive, and spreading the wealth only allegedly spreads sloth. The glorification of private property (and presumptions of perpetual ownership, rather than as transient gifts) is related to the arrogance that all of existence was made solely for human delight, consumption and control.
4) Opposition to the best of the knowledge/research advances, especially scientific, artistic, medical and technological breakthroughs beneficial to humankind, critical investigations tied to quality, independent higher education, plus the expansive tolerance to garner all human brain power, independent of ethnic, gender or geographical source. Only knowing history and culture, then knowing how to think (by which reason and logic confirm what’s real) provide the necessary bulwarks against magic, delusion, fantasy, superstition, or conspiracy thinking, even unjustified group paranoia. Ultimately, willful blinders lead to either declaring true the demonstrably false or the not provable (that god uses storms to punish evil). Or that truth itself is an illusion wherein everybody can make up their own “facts,” then assert dominance over informed expertise. That sickness, aligned with know-it-all, faith-alone presumption, is ripping the communal weave necessary for sufficient common ground in America (and elsewhere). If every ultra-partisan MTG, Kevin and Donald irrationally defies any lost election as rigged, stolen or illegitimate, with zero evidence, what stops more conscienceless liars from fabricating anything they damn well please? Which they do, wash, dry and repeat.
I understand this list is ambitious, implying that survival depends on re-adapting human nature, a rather fixed entity for thousands of years. No doubt, but when one species so spectacularly succeeds at procreation (and longevity), thus exceeding the sustainable capacity of the earth, something has to give. And compared to humanity, Mother Earth that birthed us is a potent reversal force, too.
If human nature cannot modulate negative appetites, there will be horrendous checks when we exceed sustainable limitations. There is no alternative for more than few to live elsewhere—and life doesn’t look appealing, easy or affordable to visit (think of the subsequent rocket pollution from moving thousands). Better for us to fix our own backyards, however challenging, and push for human nature to become sufficiently prudent, even wise to know when enough is enough. Giving up is not part of human behavior so there are always possibilities to consider, the best of which we may not have yet imagined. No predictions.