It is said that it has been a long journey between the beginning of time and the moment that has brought us all to this place, but, really, it is a single moment that is passing with all the haste of a lazy summer day. To our binocular vision, the span of history as measured by the mind of a man has persisted since before our ability to record it, but, in a grander view, the genetic and cultural leap from our hirsute Australopithecine cousins to the We of the here and now is very, very short.
How can this be? In recounting the evolutionary, spiritual, moral, scientific, philosophical and technological progressions that history is, how could I possibly say that our existence can be measured in a single moment? I will grant that there is a fair amount of technological distance between the wheel and the iPhone, or between the crude representations of regional fauna scratched onto cave walls and the digital art of today. Compared to our distant parasite-picking relatives, in some respects we’ve clearly come a long way. So how is it that I claim that despite a host of clear signs pointing towards human advancement, the passing of millennia is nothing more than a single spin of the wheel of time?
Well, let us for a moment step outside of our humanity and look at history in the harsh light of objectivity. Let us put aside our predisposition towards the ego-gratification that our collective pride in the achievements of art and physics and television and professional sports foster in us to stop and think not about our advances in thought, in expression and in invention, for those are nearly incalculable – from the walls of Lascaux to the ceiling of the Sistine, the evolution of expression is obvious; The leap from the abacus to the microprocessor is undeniable, and the eradication of a host of diseases is without argument. Rather, let us focus not the advances of collective humanity, but how these advances have in very real ways rendered our existence stagnant. Our historical record has shown that there is no greater time of innovation than times of war. In the classic struggle between the haves and the have-nots, advances in resource management and technology have widened the gap so much as to be nearly impossible to bridge. The First World exemplifies its magnanimity not in providing our Third World neighbors with luxuries of life like TV’s and high-speed internet access, but with the necessities of survival like food and clean water. Without so much as the slightest hint of deference for our natural world, we pillage our oceans and forests and landscapes with the abandon afforded by a perceived entitlement, and all for the sake of jockeying our way up to the top of the heap. (Although many groups have distinguished themselves by the how aggressively they have climbed the ladder, in saying “we”, I refer not to any particular country, ethnic group or religious or cultural organization, I am speaking only of humanity as represented by history, past and present.) The adage that history is written by the victorious is almost universally applicable, and, in this context, serves to support the idea of species stagnation rather than detract from it: The freedom to record events in a manner that suggests the authors of history are somehow more deserving of being at the top of the pile than those that has been kicked off it. That perk alone is often motivation enough to rise above the rest.
But, one would argue, what other choice is there? Being on top of the heap is, after all, a guarantee of freedom. Those that feel the need to rise up usually do so in a last desperate act of kicking off of the “yokes of oppression”, of taking for themselves what was taken from them and to right a social wrong. The wages of freedom very often is blood – whose blood that may be is just as often unimportant.
History also shows us that freedom from oppression often turns into oppression of freedom by those who come to power. The prosperity of freedom often spurs advances to insure and secure the freedom of the ruling power without regard for and often at the expense of the not so fortunate. Advances in health care and food production increase the population of the ruling mass and prolong their lifespan. Advances in technology are often end results of or applied to weapons technology and advances in culture are often used as propaganda to tout the superiority of those in power. Advancement often serves to galvanize the perception of entitlement to power by those who wield it. “We are greater in number”, cries the king and or queen of the hill, “we are more powerful and all below seek to emulate our ways, we therefore must be right. We will act to defend our rightness from those who are wrong, even if it means that we must crush them underfoot.” And so the cycle repeats. The oppressor becomes the oppressed, and vice versa.
And so, I submit that the advancement of civilization is irrelevant to the stagnation of humanity. Stagnation due to a lack of an evolution in human nature. In millennia of human history, we seem to be unable to overcome our tendencies towards hoarding, oppression, disharmony with man and nature, and egocentrism. In a careful reading of the tomes of history, it is clear that humanity’s drive to control is the pen that inked them. Indeed, it would be a fair statement that the benefits of civilization advancement are a pleasant side effect from an otherwise relentless pursuit to control the world everything in it. All conflict stems from one person or group trying to control another with the other person or group fighting to maintain the control it believes it has.
So what fosters this need to control? What drives humans to domination? The obvious answer would be that he who controls cannot be controlled, and that the drive to control is, in fact a drive to prevent others from controlling us. The drive to control is often manifested as a response to feelings of powerlessness over one’s own life. The more powerless one feels the more they seek to control the forces around them that make them feel this way. The school bully often finds himself at the mercy of the class wimp who just couldn’t take any more. The bullied student often delivers his tormentor an excess of violence in return for the overwhelming sense of powerlessness that he has endured.
Looking deeper, the drive for control is actually the assertion of the right to self-control. We want to feel, to know that we are empowered to stand at the helm of out own destines, to look ahead with all the command presence and certainty of action of a Jean-Luc Picard and “Make it so”. We want to know that our whim and will rudders our personal universe in the direction of our own choosing.
Just as we once believed that the Earth was at the center around which the universe revolved, so do we, if only unconsciously, believe that all events within the scope of what we call “our world” revolve around us. Many respond to natural disaster with the question “why do things like this always happen to me”, as if fire or earthquake or hurricane or god singled them out for punishment. We recognize death and tragedy as a part of this mortal life, and yet when it impacts us directly, we feel helpless and angry at the helplessness. Life becomes a cold and uncaring thing full of injustice and persecution. When we grieve, we grieve not for the loss of life or way of life, but for the perceived disruption to control of our lives. We eventually come to accept the loss as an event beyond anyone’s control, and with that acceptance we often move on to focus on those aspects of our lives in which we have established our dominance – Work, home, family, hobbies, etc. – and devote ourselves to solidifying our command over those aspects. We respond to loss of control in one arena by establishment or reassertion of control in another. That is Human Nature.
If this is true, if this is who we are as a species, if this is as imprinted in our genetic makeup as firmly as eye color, bipedal locomotion and a love for chocolate, how can we expect to escape it? If this very thing, this need for control, or at least this dependency on the illusion of a lack of it, is what it is to be human, then how can we not be what we are? The answer is: we can’t . We are what we are and that will be true no matter how much change.
We can, however, evolve.
Evolution is not about change for its own sake, it is understanding and adaptation in keeping with that understanding. Taking the Darwinian tact on the origins of man, just as our ascent from knuckle-dragging and prehensile tails into our upright-walking opposable-thumbed selves was a result of our understanding that there are more efficient ways to feed and protect ourselves, so too can our human nature similarly adapt to the understanding that the quest for control is fruitless, not because we can never have it, but because we never can lose it.
Every single circumstance in our life is the result of a choice that we make, and surrounding every choice is a consequence. There are no mistakes, only outcomes. There are no accidents, only events. We make the choice to take particular action at a particular time in a particular place for a particular reason. Unfortunately and all too often we find ourselves caught up in the fight to regain control of what we think went wrong to think about what the particular reason may be. I believe that the key to our collective evolution is the realization that we as individuals do have control, and that specific circumstances in life are our own creation. It is result of our knowing that we are our own guides, that we have chosen our own paths and that we are at all times the captains and caretakers of our own fates. We are the masters of our souls.
And how is the mastery attained? Truth be told, I have no idea. I make no claims to being the light and knowing the way for anyone other than myself, but I do know that once I started to think about the events in my life not as barriers but as opportunities, once I stopped asking “why me?” and simply asked “why?”, once I started to “take back” the parts of me that I had given away to the kid who bullied me in second grade and the guy who dumped me and the friends that betrayed me, I started to feel more…whole, more at ease with myself and the world that I created. I started to feel more like the “me” that I always knew I was but never seemed to be able to meet up with, save for in dreams and stories and other products of my imagination. It was not unlike a veil being lifted, and for the first time I could see the world in all its glorious possibility. And what a wonderful word possibility is. Aside from its inherent verbally pleasing qualities, possibility is the very foundation of reality. All possibilities are attainable, and for me it took realizing that my whole world was of my creation to understand that. Every person I have ever met, every choice that I have ever made, every experience that I have ever had, no matter how unpleasant they may have been at the time has been a step in the journey that has led me to this here and now.
And perhaps it is that realization that has brought as all to this here and now. Perhaps there is some idea, some possibility contained within these pages that well set the hand of time, poised and ready to tick off this prolonged moment into motion once again. Maybe our time is here, or maybe it has just begun. Whatever the case, we are all here, we friends and fellows, and we have chosen this as a crossroads at which to intersect as certainly as we have chosen all of the others, and for our own reasons, and possibly more than one. My reason? In all honesty, part of me would like to fancy myself as some sort of pioneer, some philosophical Lewis and Clark trailblazer erecting markers and drawing maps to guide the way. Perhaps more like a space-faring adventurer, at the helm of some mighty star cruiser boldly going where no one has gone before. The truth is, though, that I am no pioneer, as these thoughts truly aren’t mine. They have popped up in various forms in religion, philosophies and other intellectual or spiritual disciplines. I know full well that what I speak is simply my interpretation of ideas available to everyone, whether they are locked deep within the recesses of our genetic code, or floating in the ether of the Universal Mind. Often enough, though, it is not the story but HOW it is told that opens our eyes to a truth. These may be things that we hear over and over again in our everyday lives, but it isn’t until the right combination of words and inflections and phrases finds its way to our ears and catches our attention that we begin to truly understand what is being said. I don’t expect that I have said anything that you haven’t heard before, but, hopefully, I have managed to put it in a way that you have never heard it, which, in a lot of ways, is probably better. If nothing else, it is a testament to my unique and ever-evolving nature.
And, perhaps, that is exactly what it should be.