Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Save the world?

When I was young my father used to ask me, "What did you do today to make the world a better place?" Or it might have been, "What did you do for mankind today?" In any case, it was a call to serve a higher purpose than personal gratification or even personal salvation. He wanted me to think globally. He never specified which humans or whose specific world I was to improve by my presence.

Maybe I was supposed to figure out the narrowing parameters for myself. In that case he failed completely.

Some people who serve what they call goodness feel they do their best work by exterminating the agents of badness. This category produces holy warriors.

Some people serve goodness by drawing power to themselves, so that they may have a powerful influence on human affairs.

Some people serve goodness by eschewing power and wealth. They try to lead by example. Some of them through the centuries have generated compelling legends over which later generations argue bitterly, further slicing the concept of goodness into narrow strips of turf turned into battlefields and homelands of the One True Faith.

True Believers of any sect regard nonbelievers as disposable. We are not all in this together. No one will unify a human race made up of exclusive divisions. Only if every single human identified with its own unique existence and the shared experience of being human would the race have any chance at unity. And without unity we are doomed to die in blood and fire, as the holy warriors fervently hope.

Unity does not mean uniformity. Uniformity would mask differences and lead to internal stresses that would eventually break out in civil strife. Unity requires an easygoing attitude and thoughtful cooperation. Such an attitude does destroy zealotry. This frightens zealotry no end, leading to the saber rattling that threatens us in every age. The weapons of war get more horrific as technology advances. The horror deters humanity from flinging itself so readily into war, but some ideologies consider it more important to die for the right reason than to live for easygoing unity. If it really looks like the majority will choose to learn to get along, some true believer will be ready to push the button to send us all to judgment.

The current state of the Republicans illustrates the power that zealotry has gained over a nation once supposedly proud of its ability to give people of many backgrounds a place to flourish under the warm sun of freedom. The truth is darker, of course, but for a very short time around the early 1970s it did look like we meant it. Immigrants and strivers had risen during the 20th Century to make the mythical American Dream very gradually somewhat more inclusive.

In good times people tend to graph those rising curves of prosperity right up through the roof. The same is true of inclusiveness and social freedom. The social turmoil of the 1960s led to a nice party in the 1970s. The party atmosphere masked the fact that bitter resentment was festering in the darkness outside the various circles of light in which happy people danced. The forces of division and exclusion would not be denied. While the celebrants graphed their happiness up toward an amazing future in which a unified humanity cleaned up its own planet and then journeyed to the stars, the frustrated bigots marshaled their forces.

Force is the key to conflict. If the argument is not going your way, whip out a gun and shoot your opponent. Change the basis of discourse to one that suits you. If God is on your side you cannot lose. Even in death you will be exalted because you were doing the right thing. The other side claims God as well? Blasphemers! Theirs is a false god or a sinful misinterpretation of holy word. See how easy it is to keep the bloodletting legitimate?

As long as we praise warriors as the best among us we will remain locked in a death spiral. Thus the world cannot be saved. Humanity is doomed by its own idealism that extends even beyond death. As long as we force each other to prove our devotion by facing extermination we will continue to treat each other as prey.

How do you end hatred when so many people love it so much? Even people who claim to be tolerant will rise to some bait and show themselves willing to fight the ultimate battle, to end some other person's all-too-brief span or have their own ended, just to prove a point.

So what's to save?

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