Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Evolution of Good and the Purpose of Human Tragedy


Today I read a piece, by Alex Steffen, on the usually amazing Worldchanging blog, that put me ill at ease. The first paragraph read as follows:

One of the Worldchanging slogans is "We've inherited a broken future." That is to say, mainly, that the direction in which we're headed leads right over a cliff. But it might be read a different way: that many of the biggest legacies left humanity by our parents, grandparents and more distant ancestors are broken systems, ruined places, vanished species, antique climates. Much of our inheritance is destruction.

I worry when I read these doomsday articles. I feel like they hype one part of the human story to push an otherwise worthwhile cause – our existence and its wellbeing. There is always some tone that smells almost of propaganda and hate mongering – of the worst kind; our own collective history.

The legacy of our parents and grandparents (and the countless generations that came before) was in fact filled with broken systems, and vanished species, but truth be told systems need to be broken and species need to vanish for progress to happen. The nature of evolution is about the disappearance of one species for the emergence of another. It is a highly unromantic idea that death, dying, disease, despair, is part of the structure of our vast universe - but it is. Stars die every day, galaxies “grow extinct,” viruses are born daily, humans perish by the millions every week, and non of this is ultimately happening because of our grandparents legacy.

Humans have indeed made many questionable decisions fueled by half baked ideas that are often fed by ego rather than the soul of our humanity. Each generation, much like each individual life, is driven by a core instinct to assure for its own survival. The fight for a bigger piece of meat to feed your clan (often at the expense of someone else starving to death) in prehistoric time is no different than what has happened in countless moments of history where humans took as much as they could for themselves at the price of someone else’s life and well being. Weather this was land, resources, or the very culture of other people – dominance is more driven by instinct than intellect. So where does this leave us? And does this justify the ugliness of episodes like the Trail of Tears, the horrors inflicted by the Third Reich, the brutality of Rawanda, the travesty of the ravaged environment ?

Destruction, corruption and the “evil quality" of the doings of man are a call to those who can see past the “wiring” of the systems of our universe and its brutality, to the possibility beyond. These tragic moments in our world are a call to action for those who can provide new insight and direction and systems and process that help in our very evolution; not just physically but also emotionally, intellectually and ultimately spiritually. When a system becomes outdated, when a thinking stops serving a generation, it breaks down and distorts, much like our physiology. The results are what we see and endure as the ugliest episodes of our history, like historical cancer, graphically marking the coming death of an outdated idea or system.

I agree with Worldchanging, in that we have endured thousands of years of destruction – but I believe we have not inherited it – instead we have inherited the fruits of it. We have inherited the ideals of democracy in this country through the blood shed of American Revolution, the Civil War and the fight for often brutal civil rights just a few short decades ago. We inherited new religions, and ultimately new spiritual perspectives, through the revolutionary ideals of extraordinary individuals throughout time (many who died for those ideas). We have invented new technologies and treatments that have wiped out deadly viruses, because of the tragedy and death of millions who created a call for such treatments. And in some cases, our lessons have indeed been slow to learn.

Governments remain in many ways corrupt, industry still fails to serve the people first, the notions of “family” remain both narrowly defined and yet too broadly defined in terms of the purpose of family, intolerance persists on varying scales across all cultures. We are, in every way, still an evolving species. Our work is not done yet.

In the grand scheme of life, in all forms, throughout all time, there is a method to what we call the madness. Perhaps our purpose is not to make it all “right” – for our purpose ultimately is to not live in utopia – but to hear, feel, smell, and see the moments of opportunity (through the noise and darkness of our own moment in history) where one life can birth one idea to help move our cause as humanity, one step further up the evolutionary ladder.

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