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 man has persisted since before our ability to record it. In taking in the grander view, however, the genetic and cultural leap from our hirsute Australopithecine cousins and humanity of the here and now is very, very short.
How can this be? In leafing through the catalog of evolutionary, spiritual, moral, scientific, philosophical and technological progressions of our history, how could the assertion that our existence can be measured in a single moment possibly be true? I will grant that there is a fair amount of technological distance between the wheel and self-driving car, or between the artistic ability of our primitive Darwinian ancestors as exemplified by crude figures scratched onto cave walls and CGI. Compared to our distant parasite-picking relatives, the fact that we have long way in these and many other respects goes without argument. So how can it be that despite a host of clear signs pointing the way towards human advancement, the passing of millennia has put little distance between us and our more primitive selves?
Well, let us for a moment step outside of our humanity and look at history in the harsh light of logical objectivity. Let us put aside our predisposition towards the ego-gratification that 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 numerous to the point of being nearly incalculable. From the walls of Lascaux to the ceiling of the Sistine, the evolution of artistic expression is obvious. The leap from the abacus to the microprocessor is undeniable, and our knowledge of the processes of the natural world has come a long way from the beliefs in evil spirits that bring disaster.
No, it is not the advances of collective humanity that are at issue, but how these advances are applied that have rendered our existence stagnant. Our historical record has shown that there is no greater time of innovation than times of war. The classic struggle between the haves and the have-nots has escalated to a perverse degree, with advances in resource management and technology widening 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, but with the necessities of survival. Without so much as the slightest hint of deference for our planet, the life raft on which we float through the universe, we pillage our oceans and forests and landscapes with the abandon that only an overdeveloped sense of entitlement can engender, and all for the sake of jockeying our way up to the top of the heap. And although many groups have distinguished themselves through the level of aggressiveness with which have climbed the ladder, when I say “we”, I am not referring to any particular country, ethnic group or religious or cultural organization, but 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, it serves to support the idea of species stagnation rather than detract from it. One of the luxuries afforded to the kings of the mountain is the freedom to record events in a manner that propagates the idea that they are somehow more deserving of being there than the person that has been kicked off the mound. That perk alone is often motivation enough to rise above the rest.
But, one would argue, what other choice is there? Being at the pinnacle is, after all, a guarantee of freedom, is it not? Many 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 perceived wrong. The wages of freedom are often paid in blood – whose blood that may be is usually 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 so much as a 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 byproducts of the race to build the perfect weapon and advances in culture are often used as propaganda to tout the superiority of those in power. Advancement in its myriad forms also 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 advance of civilization is irrelevant to the stagnation of humanity. It may impact the magnitude of how this stagnation is expressed, but it is not the source of it. I suspect that our stagnation is due to a lack of evolution of human nature. In the tens of thousands of years of human civilization, 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 our collective advancement are pleasant side effects from an otherwise relentless pursuit to tame the world and everything in it. All conflict is a direct result of one person or group trying to control another and the other person or group fighting to maintain the control 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 exists to prevent others from gaining control. This drive often manifests in response to feelings of helplessness and powerlessness over one’s own life and the path it takes. The more helpless one feels the more they seek to control the forces around them that make them feel this way, like the school bully who suddenly finds himself at the mercy of the class wimp who just couldn’t take any more. Often times the bully holds no real ill will towards the bullied, he simply sees him as a convenient target by virtue of being smaller and altogether more manageable than the bully’s own abuser. The bullied student, however, pushed past his capacity to endure, delivers his tormentor an excess of violence in return for the sense of powerlessness that overwhelms him.
In a nutshell, the drive for control is actually the assertion of the right to self-determination run through the filter of an ego damaged by the sense of powerlessness inflicted on it by another. We want to feel, to know that we are empowered to stand at the helm of our own destinies, to look ahead with all the command presence and certainty of action of a Jean-Luc Picard and “Make it so” while having been erroneously taught the power to manifest that fate must be stolen from another. We want to know that our whim and will rudders our personal universe and not the whim or will of someone else, and so domination becomes a response to the misconception that any one person or group of people can actually usurp the self-control of another. In reality, no one can do anything to anyone else. Even if we allow ourselves to believe that anyone else’s actions can affect our lives, it is our choice, our investment of belief that makes those actions affecting and not the actions themselves.
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 the god that is responsible for them, 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 assert our dominance – Work, home, family, hobbies, etc. – and work to solidify our command over those aspects. We respond to loss of control in one arena by establishment or reestablishment 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 Darwin 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 that particular time in that particular place with those particular people 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. The evolution of self-control is the realization that we do have control and that the reasons behind our specific circumstances in life are our own. It is the ability to know that we are our own guides, that we have chosen our own paths and that we are always and at all times the creators and caretakers of our own fates. In short, from my point of view, the evolution of self-control is self-mastery.
So how does one attain self-mastery? 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 my investment of thought on the subject and then taking action in alignment with those thoughts has yielded some surprising returns, making my world a richer and happier place. 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 overactive 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 possibility is the foundation of all reality. All possibilities are attainable, though they are sometimes dependent on the types of advancements spoken of earlier. Realizing that whole of my world was a product of my choosing which possibilities to manifest within in, that it was entirely my creation, helped me 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 us all to this here and now. Perhaps there is some idea, some possibility contained within these words that will 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 event 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 offer here are simply my interpretations 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 that is told, 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 to the point of becoming droning background noise, but it isn’t until the right combination of words and inflections and phrases finds its way to our ears and catches our attention we begin to truly understand what is being said. In other words, I don’t expect that I have said anything that hasn’t been said before, but, hopefully, I have managed to put it in a way that it’s never been heard before, which, in a lot of ways, is probably better. If nothing else, it is a testament to the uniqueness of my individual, ever-evolving nature.
And, perhaps, that is exactly what it should be.