By Arjuna Seneviratne –
There is a joke that goes like this: If someone says “let me clarify that point”, it only means that the audience has understood that point a bit too well. My previous too posts on environment and development both come under that category. So, both as an apology and a giggly synthesis (not clarification), here is a sort of tying of threads.
The world is in a pretty serious mess. Have I said that already? Haven’t we all said that already? Like about a trillion billion times? A day? heh. Quit trying to regenerate and sustain the planet, just surviving today is a tough enough challenge right? wrong!
When the word “survival” has become the dominant daily thought in the minds of the majority of earth’s human inhabitants and the word “living” gets relegated to fashion magazines and lifestyle pullouts in the trendier newspapers, Houston, we got a problem!
The problem arises when survival serves only itself and sadly, that seems to be a very specific, very mean wall that the peopled earth has hit. Survival for survival’s sake is an animal trait not a human one. Any dumb animal can understand that. And the primary weapon of attrition of said dumb animals? You got it! Competition! What do they compete for? Not a lot actually. Just two, specifically. They compete either for food or for mates. In their world, there are only two types of critters. Winners, and losers. In their world, there are only two types of mindsets – the frightened and the terrified. With such a charming basis for existence, there is little wonder that all their talk is based on variations of hissing, spiting, barking, snarling, growling, roaring, shrieking and whimpering. All they can do is either pounce on food or get pounced on as food, or pounce on mates or be pounced on as mates.
Rather alarmingly, although not surprisingly, over the last four centuries, human beings too seem to have voted for this particular form of existence. In order to engineer this miracle of digression from human to animal, they have had to systematically weed out every single positive attribute that sets human beings apart from animals, enhance every single negative attribute that evens out that mind-power-skill differential between humans and animals and acquire as many traits commonly associated with animals as it is possible for a human body to grab on to, hold and internalize.
Animals know no better. We are supposed to. However, look around you. When was the last time a complete stranger argued a point with you with the goal of reaching a mutually rewarding third space? When was the last time a complete stranger hissed, spat, growled and roared in your face to ensure that her point was made? I can’t clearly remember any incident that falls into the former category but I see incidents of the later category on a nauseatingly regular basis. When we add the killing and the thieving, the lying and the cheating to the hissing and the spitting, the trampling and the winning, we have a pretty terrifying and seriously toxic social environment to live in don’t we? Yet, instead of knowing it for what it is… a poisonous, caustic rot that is melting away our flesh and eating away at our very souls… we laud it. We celebrate it. We scream in favor of it in every arena of real or imagined contention with fanatic fervor and gladiatorial zeal. In fact, from board game to war game, from bed room to board room, from street drama to street trauma, a very large percentage of global intellectual and emotional effort seems to go into actually creating the sort of environments where such dark activities thrive.
Over four centuries, empowered by the material sciences and energized by greed, these people, driven by an insatiable desire to control and to conquer, have acquired, through the exercise of supreme effort and the application of intense one pointed focus on survival, the right to struggle, the right to strive, the right to anger, the right to hatred, the right to jealousy, the right to fight, the right to fright, the right to suffering. In short, the right to being an animal. Through this process, they have gradually revoked their right to decorous treatment, the right to equitable sharing, the right to trust, the right to honorable engagement, the right to contentment, the right to happiness. Hallelujah!
Now, what is the upshot of this need on the part of every Jonah to be better than every Jones? What is the result of every crabgrass in the garden wanting to be an azalea? What is the end of everyone attempting to hitch their wagons to a star? The world’s end, that’s what. This planet is kaput and running on fumes because there isn’t much else to run it on. Most of its fuel is currently either in private holdings or in private banks you see.
Private, I emphasize. Private? I ask you!
How come a species whose very existence is defined by its requirement to collectivize, harmonize and mutually energize end up attempting to rationalize itself through a desire to privatize? The non-sequitur would be amusing if it were not so downright dangerous for the …you got it… survival of the human race.
I am not known for perspicuity but let me try to be less obtuse and verbose.
In order for the race to survive, individuals must stop attempting to survive.
This is indeed a tough call for most. 400 years of practice going the opposite way is at best, going to die harder than Bruce Willis. That practice will not go gently into that good night. Instead, it will rage, rage, against the dying of the light. The light is almost done but that night? It is a sure thing. Believe me.
The survivors have paid up in full through their thoughts and actions and this…this… unpretty Medusa is theirs for the duration of that very long night. There is no point in games of romance and seduction nor much use in engaging in nasty-tricksy shield play. There is no protection against either the darkness of the night or the deadliness of its iffy inhabitants. This outcome has a 100% probability. You can bet your entire estate and all of your numbered accounts on it.
Frightened? Oh come on you guys! You are not working hard enough. Be terrified, petrified, and atrophied. *laff*
A question should be niggling in your minds by now. Is there anyone… but anyone… who walks the path less trodden? Who amongst us, give’s a rat’s bum that the race should preserve? Are there any who have unhitched their wagons from the stars? Where can they be found, the non-greedy, the un-frightened? How do they fare, those amongst us who can still righteously claim to be human?
Well, for starters, they live. To do so, there are a few preconditions. A few provisos. A couple of quid-pro-quo.
They must be selfless, not selfish. They must be self-giving, not self-serving. They must subsume individual gain for collective good. They must both give and give-in. Each, among their own peers (and I don’t classify those who live life to survive as peers of those who live life to live) will always vote for the other’s view over their own view. They cannot be fans of raging against anything. Night is a word they know of only vaguely since they have never walked in anything but light.
“Even unasked, they state their own faults and if asked, they would state their own faults without hesitation, in great detail, with no omissions. They will not state another’s faults if unasked, and even if asked, they would state them with hesitation, with marginal detail and with many omissions. They will, even unasked, reveal what is praiseworthy in others and if asked, they would reveal what is praiseworthy in others without hesitation, in great detail, with no omissions. They will not state their own praiseworthy qualities unasked and even if asked, they will reveal their own praiseworthy qualities with hesitation, with marginal detail and with many omissions” (The Buddha – Tripitaka: Anguttara fours:73).
Where does this set of baselines lead a person who drives forward from that foundation? Well, they are rather amused by this populist theory of winners and losers. They are not competitors. Nor are they winners or losers. When they have shared what is on their plates with whoever wants it before feeding themselves, they do not feel like winners or losers. They simply feel like humans.
The question is “Do such people exist?” Short answer? Yes. In Sri Lanka, I know of 200 such. In the world, perhaps 50,000 such (roughly about 0.00007% of the earth’s population). Now, these beings, these humans living in human frames as opposed to animals living in human frames are very much a minority. Surely there are more out there? Well, not really. There are about a 500 million more who think that they are like the 50,000 but are merely hoodwinking themselves. These are the religionists who blindly adhere to the various factions contending for a monopoly on truth such as Science, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc. They are even more dangerous for the world in some senses than those who are in a proto-animal state of existence. That group of religionists is responsible for a substantial part of the belligerence swirling in a life-choking smog around the planet these days.
mmm…so, what now?
With such a minority rooting for the survival of the human race, do they have even a ghost of a chance? Of course they do. Such people exist at a very low level of energy and they tread light upon the world, down a path considered nutty by most. They have a unique and sustenance-critical ability: they can absorb high energy states such as those that are radiating from the religionists and proto-animals. The story of Lot and Sodom comes to mind whether true or not. “If you can find 10 people like you, I will save your city”. In a city of thousands, that’s all it takes. In a world of billions, a few thousand decent men and women can still keep the planet afloat. Knowing them personally, I know that they work, ceaselessly, night and day, without R&R, precisely for that.
Once, not too long ago, I watched a friend outline similar thoughts to a mutual acquaintance.
“You are abnormal. You are completely insane. You don’t fight. You don’t get angry. You don’t back-stab. You don’t do what it takes to get ahead. You are not selfish enough to survive”.
True. If survival is the reason for human existence.
He didn’t contest this take at all, merely telling her, softly, gently, “It is ok friend, I will continue to live an abnormal, insane life so that you have at least a fighting chance to continue to live a normal, sane one”.
A few months later, he gleefully informed me that this young lady hasn’t spoken to him since. I suppose, as Witgenstien said, “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen” (Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent) or as Russell apparently clarified, “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must not even whistle”. *smiles*