Some time ago, I wrote an article for BC called Three Steps From The Cave. In my distress about the state of society, I wrote, "Are we living on the edge of a precipice? I look around and see that our society is failing, the world is failing, we are making a mess of this Eden given to us — by God or Darwin, I don't care — it doesn't matter. What do you see, I wonder, and how can we resolve our different visions?"
And then I added, "Human beings as civilized creatures is the most dangerous myth ever foisted upon a species."
The reality of being three steps from the cave, i.e., we're barely civilized, plagues me. It's important to understand the context for me to state that, barring some catastrophic event in the next few decades, I'm old enough and financially secure enough that the implications won't affect me. And I don't have children, so it's hard to worry about their future. However, I do live here, although few will remember that some short years after I'm gone. And because I live here — on this earth, not in this country — the savagery that is the social norm around the world causes me pain.
Perhaps the sense of impending doom so pervasive in the previous article was overdone. Recently, I've reread Masse's masterpiece, Peter the Great, a fictional/history on the early years of Genghis Khan, and the book, The Last Samurai, which was twisted into what I thought a powerful movie, although little of movie bore any relation to the reality of the story.
The problem is that the history of homo sapiens is primarily a story of barbarism, cruelty, and inhumanity. (Interesting question: What is humanity if we are simply barbarians? What does the word mean?) With the growing desire on the part of third-world nations to acquire nuclear arms in response to Iran, and the failure of the West to constrain them, what is clear is that we do have the ability now to destroy ourselves in ways never before imagined.
However, the lack of weapons of mass destruction in the past didn't stop nations from doing their best to wreak as much havoc as possible given the technology of the time. How many historians treat the development of the long bow in England, which allowed them to devastate the French during the Hundred Years War as a technological advance, as something to admire? The Crusades quickly became a means for looting and pillaging. The Ottomans, the ancient Chinese and Japanese, and virtually every other nation were built upon the blood and bones of those who came before.
America and Europe have been no better. It was only 300 years ago that Americans burned witches at the stake. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Europe crippled Africa and the Middle East with their so-called nation building that ignored centuries of tribal realities.
When we consider the world today and try to comprehend the massive failures of virtually every foreign policy initiative by all countries for improvements, we should recognize that, for all our best intentions, human beings simply do not have the ability to accomplish great goals. Recent studies in neurology, psychology, economics, and other fields make it clear that emotions and primitive urges are much more powerful than either the rational or conscious parts of our minds. The 18th Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, the belief that human beings could harness the power of our rational minds has been revealed to be a myth.
We do stand on the edge of a precipice, but I've come to realize that we have always stood there. It is not a new phenomenon. Most cannot even see the precipice; it is too terrifying to imagine. Others believe that technology and the illusion of control over it will provide a bridge.
I no longer know what to believe, but I also now question my own fears that homo sapiens is simply another in a series of failed experiments by nature. It's not that I have more hope; it's rather that, looking backwards, I can't find an historical period when we were any better.
That is not to say that one should succumb to despair and cease all efforts at improvements. Human beings do have good qualities, not the least of which is a fundamental optimism — perhaps unreasonable but nonetheless valuable. Despair is tantamount to submission: We have always been and will always been three steps from the cave. Progress is futile.
I can't accept that. We must never stop trying to create a more just, equitable world, but perhaps we'll have more success if we realize how much of our own barbarism we have to overcome to achieve it.Powered by Sidelines