Sunday, April 30, 2017

A dark truth becomes ever more obvious

As a Baby Boomer, I accepted without question that the human race wanted to last a long time and grow ever more friendly toward each other. How could I have been so blind to the fact that nearly half of all people are outright hostile to such a utopia? I joined vast numbers of others who bought into a vision of a world beyond hatred and divisiveness, unaware that the very concept fostered deeper and more bitter divisions.

The descendants of that world view continue to work toward it in spite of the continuing opposition. We dig through the muck of hostility and greed, thinking we're building a permanent road to higher ground, only to see the mire close behind us and grow deeper in front.

Believers in a higher power have an advantage when it comes to organizing. That's the way in which they will gather and march forth to destroy a secular society created by ethical -- but non-religious -- citizens who may come to outnumber the believers in a specific, narrow version of religious doctrine. The believers in their small groups can plan their campaigns of violence and sabotage in the name of goodness and righteousness. With the stamp of God's approval they can dedicate themselves to destroying the enemies of their belief system. These enemies include religious people who believe that believers in different faiths can and should get along.

Any way you look, you can see a final confrontation brewing. Obstinacy and superstition demand it.

In the Christian tradition, God will whisk the virtuous true believers straight to heaven before the shit hits the fan. It would be interesting if this roster included a lot of people who were not scripture-waving churchgoers.

Meanwhile, in another Abrahamic religion, the self-styled Islamic State is trying to bring about their own version of the final battle, as described in an article from 2016 about the attacks to date in Europe and America.

No religious narrative has to be true for religious warfare to bring about the end of our species. Everything does happen for a reason. Unfortunately, the reason turns out to be that humans are suckers for suicidal delusions.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The future of opportunistic scavengers

Modern media have made it possible to worry about the future far beyond the lifespan of any human currently alive. We can use our concern for future generations to support arguments in favor of everything from environmental stewardship to ethnic cleansing.

Various cultures considered less evolved by the technology-obsessed Europeans had a sense of generational responsibility and a reverence for the land that gave them life. Whether their practices actually worked we cannot say, since the Europeans sprawled across so much of the globe and smashed the balance those cultures had maintained. That's a part of history and a reality from which the life of our species must go forward. Technologically advanced science may manage to put measurable numbers on the things that older cultures handled intuitively, so it could net out as a gain overall.

Our ancestors did hunt species to extinction. You have to eat, after all, and they were only human. On the rise to become human, plenty of them probably became meals for other predators. This engrained a sense that humans can do anything they feel they need to do, in order to survive and proliferate.

In reality, in any era, a person will do whatever looks like a good idea at the time, to get ahead. This may mean just staying one jump ahead of starvation or it could mean acquiring another million dollars to bolster an already immense fortune. Most people are wired to seek a sense of security. If a little is good, more is better. While many things may be normal, their effects can still be pathological. In other words, everybody feels a certain way, so it is widely accepted, but its long-term effect is detrimental. Think of fossil fuel consumption, or the presumption that wealth is good.

The idea that one individual's actions can do no harm grows directly from the sense that a person can and should do whatever is necessary to survive and proliferate. When survival itself is no longer in doubt, the perception extends to mere wants that loom in stature to seem like needs.

Humans have eaten carrion and each other in the course of our often unappetizing history. Someone, somewhere, has tried to eat just about everything. And when we learned to exploit more difficult resources, we developed more and more efficient implements to extract and refine everything from trees to minerals to sea creatures.

We are really just opportunistic scavengers. While some of us have figured out that we need to set limits on this tendency, the vast majority of people live by the old rules: if you need something, take it. If you no longer need something, drop it by the wayside, or throw it somewhere far from your house, if you don't want it stinking up the neighborhood. That may be in someone else's back yard, but we can deal with that later if they complain.

Sure, we have Earth Day and a lot of public awareness. But then a guy I know who seems quite environmentally aware shows up with the lunch his wife packed, with every single item in an individual plastic bag, and he tosses all the bags into the trash after he extracts the food. These bags get used for a total of three or four hours to contain this guy's food before they go into the waste stream. And we're talking sturdy zippered sandwich bags. Opportunistic scavenging supersedes education even in someone who appears to care. Lunch comes to him in these bags, and he consumes it without a critical thought.

As we revert to divisiveness and distrust, as we embrace insular religions and draw up teams for a future of conflict, our children's children could end up eating carrion and each other once again. Will we be honest enough to admit that we don't really care how they live? Evolution moves forward on a broad front, never stopping. Whatever is alive at any given time figures out how to manage conditions as they find them. There is no real need for long life, or happiness. Planetarily speaking, there is no need for life at all. We who are alive at this moment will do whatever makes us feel happy.  If you want to cloak it with some glorious embroidery about the future, go ahead. We're all just taking our best guess, and hoping we remain comfortable up to the point of our individual deaths.

Our species will only have the future that enough of us collectively turn out to want.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

The Flipside of The Greatest Generation

Never underestimate the value of a good bad example.

Well-deserved praise has been heaped on those who answered the call of duty to defeat militarily the Axis powers in World War II. If you ignore the fact that we couldn't have done it without our own ally, that sweetheart Joseph Stalin, it really was a clash between Good and Evil.

The Nazis in particular did future generations a favor by being so categorically and undeniably evil. Of course they didn't view it as evil. They considered it an admirable rigidity of principle, and the iron will to carry out a ruthless plan to impose a virtuous monoculture across the globe. The urge itself is evil, but it has its adherents even now.

Because World War II came along when humans had developed film, broadcast, and recording technology, and because the Nazis were so stuck on themselves that they kept meticulous records, we have a lot of detailed history about who did what when. We can rapidly draw parallels to current events and show without a doubt what can happen when the logic of a hateful ideology is drawn out to its grimmest conclusion.

Mass killing is a human tradition. Some instinct impels us to try to wipe out rival DNA, to compete for global domination, starting right in our own back yards. It doesn't happen everywhere, all the time, but it recurs enough throughout history to show that we have a chronic problem. Returning to the bloodbaths of the mid 20th Century, we find plenty of historical records related to every theater of war and land under occupation.  Other examples than the aggressive Nazi regime haven't had the great marketing that makes the Third Reich such a strong brand, but the idea of killing people who don't agree with you needs no introduction, wherever it arrives.

It is this very archive of evil that gives us the graphic rebuttal to plans put forward now in countries that once considered themselves bastions of freedom. The hypocrisy of the United States is unfortunately evident in the persistence of official and unofficial racial segregation after the Second World War, but at least some efforts were made to acknowledge the rights of more than just white guys as the 20th Century passed the half. Those very efforts solidified the core of evil that predated the Nazis by a couple of centuries in our great country, and that sympathized with the actual Nazis in their rise to power.

Recognizing an evil does not automatically cure it, but it is the vital first step. Parallels to the Nazis are too freely drawn, but the sensitivity to Nazi-like encroachments is an early warning system for the advancement of a truly free and inclusive society.

The monoculturists consider the desire for a free and inclusive society to be the evil. They despise the weakness of accommodation. They pride themselves on their admirable rigidity of principle and iron will. That's why we keep having this argument. They must be refuted on principle, not just bested on the field of combat. In fact, combat merely obscures the real issues in a cloud of smoke and a spray of blood. That's why hardasses would rather fight a war than lose an argument. War is exciting, and some day they might win. Until then, they'll take whatever beating they have to, and retire, grumbling, if it goes against them again.

The real Greatest Generation will be the one that confronts and vanquishes its own evil in quiet meditation, and never inflicts its misery on the rest of the world. While I would welcome that at any time, I'm not holding my breath. Every generation has to interpret the world they find, and choose a way through it.