Back Close this window

So, I'm having a bit of a crisis here.

A crisis of faith, you might call it... faith in the human race.

Now we all know that, as animals go, the human is a pretty feeble specimen. We are physically weak, in relation to our size. We are extraordinarily slow moving, and our ability to see, smell, and hear danger is limited. Our eyes are placed like the eyes of predators, yet we are poorly suited to prey on any but the slowest and weakest.

At the same time, we have almost no physical defenses against higher predators that would prey on us. Our teeth and claws are nearly useless as either defensive or offensive weapons. Our skeletal system is poorly designed to protect our internal organs, and to make it worse, we walk upright, exposing the most vital organs to any attack.

We reproduce slowly, with each specimen requiring an average of 14-15 years to reach sexual maturity. Physical dependency (mother-child) is lengthy as well. Nursing is generally ongoing for nearly a year, and most humans do not reach a state of physical independence for as many as 10 years. Cognitive maturity is often not achieved until much later (depending on the model you use.. I'm partial to Maslow and Piaget).

By nature, we lack the capacity to survive in adverse conditions. The lack of body hair means we cannot warm ourselves in the cold or cool ourselves in the heat. Our respiratory and circulatory systems are easily interrupted. We are susceptible to a wide variety of diseases and parasites.

Really, the only saving attribute is our minds.

Our mental capacity is astounding. With intelligence, creativity, and logic, we have mastered the world and overcome almost every obstacle that nature has placed before us. We have expanded across oceans and over mountain passes. We have converted deserts to farms and golf courses. We have changed freezing alpine heights into ski resorts. We have even built comfortable human habitats on the bottom of the ocean.

We have designed vehicles to propel us from the deepest depths of the sea to the reaches of outer space. We can move faster than sound, higher than the highest bird, and we can breathe under the waters. We domesticated animals that serve and feed us. We devised weapons to defend ourselves from predators and to hunt prey.

We have learned to manipulate and control our world all the way down to the molecular level.

While this statement is not intended to offend certain religious beliefs, we have, in essence, become god-like. Our physicians, daily, retrieve life from death. Our physicists have created light without heat. The "miracles" are hard to number, and growing every day.

These awesome mental powers also led us to form social structures. What began as isolated family groups, has since extended to creation of the megalopolis. Today we are on the verge of the global society, wherein geographic boundaries are blurring.

This is pretty cool stuff. When you think about it, we're pretty awesome critters... despite our physical weaknesses.

So you may wonder, wherein lies the crisis?

I suppose it lies mainly in my expectations.

With all the evidence of our intelligence as a species, such as complex social structure and educational advances, I would anticipate a certain level of logical thought and intellectual open-mindedness among the modern man. I would expect, for example, a basic respect for alternative ideas. I would even expect, at least partially, an ability to recognize and engage in logical debate and discussion.

Almost every advance in human history has come from an idea that flew in the face of accepted knowledge. Most of the great thinkers and change-makers throughout history, though, were ridiculed, vilified, and persecuted. Many paid for their ideas with their lives.

Those ideas ran the gamut from theological (e.g. the rise of the Christian religion) to the astrological (e.g. Earth is NOT the center of the universe). In many cases, these thinkers were only vindicated posthumously, when their ideas were found to be truth.

I have often wondered at an intriguing commonality in the fall of the great societies ("societies" meaning empires, such as Egypt, Rome, and Britannia, as well as social orders, such as Communism and Nazism). As each society became more unstable, the freedoms of thought and ideas seemed to be stifled. Those whose ideas did not align with the leadership were branded as traitors, despite the good intentions of the thinkers. Blind patriotism became the order of the day. At this stage in every society, the end is in sight.

Now I'm not exactly suggesting a causal relationship here. Dissecting the fall of a society is a complex and confusing activity, and I claim no expertise in that area. This could be coincidental to the main event, and I think it probably is. But the point remains the same. As the end nears, freedom of dissent and criticism erodes. Toe the party line, or become pariah.

My expectation is that, as such an adaptable and versatile species, we would learn from history. With an unprecedented access to information, global ideas, and perspectives, our species is in position to enter a whole new age of enlightenment (I beg your indulgence for the cliche). We can examine cultural differences, overcome obstacles, and work to find solutions to the obstacles we can't overcome.

I would expect that, in light of all we know about past societies, the mistakes they've made, and the value that has come from free and open discussion of new ideas; such discussion would be welcomed and encouraged. It doesn't mean, of course, that all new ideas are necessarily right or even wise. In fact the product of healthy debate is very often the formation of a brand new idea, one that does answer the questions and suit the needs of everyone.

But what I'm finding, as I watch American society today, embroiled in this war, is that freedom of thought is again being crushed under the thumb of blind patriotism. Criticism is become tabu, and the simple suggestion of dissent is considered traitorous.

Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the great American society? Are the rattling war drums of nationalism echoing the death rattle of free thought?

Herein lies my crisis. Why, with all the mental power we have going for us as a species, do we keep falling into this trap? Why don't we learn?

Some might argue that no society every truly falls, it simply evolves. Evolution is generally considered a positive change, and perhaps that's accurate in this case. Maybe the painful throes our society is experiencing are actually the pains of birth? I suppose that's an optimistic perspective.


©2003 Elwing Enterprises