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Grow up or blow up

Grow Up Or Blow Up

Some of us are maturally challenged that is, stuck in overly emotional adolescence in which our decision-making abilities are limited and short-sighted. We often act before we thoroughly assess the long-term implications of our actions. And the more political power an individual has, the more widespread the damage that can be done because of hasty, irrational decisions.

For most of us the inclination is to make decisions that will help build the world rather than bring more sadness, killing, and destruction. But for some of our national leaders who we read about in all of our news casts, whether they be conservative, liberal, foreign, or domestic, the idea is to promote a political agenda without regard to lives lost or property destroyed. It has been this way for many years in our history, and it is time we grew out of it.

For many years we have been forced to live with the bad decisions of a few extremely selfish people. These people use others as their puppets and generally do not care how many people are murdered or how many homes are destroyed as long as they achieve a political goal. They attempt to justify their aggression with false propaganda that stirs up fear in the population. The frightened citizens then are willing to follow their leader into a needless conflict with other nations and other people who pose no threat to them. With their bombs, they risk blowing up billions of people, including themselves.

One wonders why every generation produces a few immature killers who never grow up emotionally in spite of the political power they achieve. For them it seems easy to ferment fear and hate among their followers to the point that the followers are willing to fight and die only because the leader said this is what needs to be done and the sycophants refuse not to believe in the leader. The leader basks in his or her glory and power. Then laughs behind the backs of his followers at their gullibility.

For the sycophants, it is much easier to mindlessly follow the leader rather than slow down and think deeply about the reasons for their leader’s asinine threats and saber rattling. And by allowing themselves to be manipulated, the followers become complicit in the leader’s deadly schemes and share the guilt when people die.

The threats and rants of those who obsessively lust for power are difficult for rational and thoughtful people to understand. Most people know that we do not have to live with these irrational threats. Why not a handshake instead of a raised fist? Why not productive discussion instead of unintelligible yelling and shouting?

But who is to blame for this mess we have gotten ourselves into? How is it that after all of these millions of years of human evolution so much of our wealth and livelihood is tied up in an endless array of weapons the sole purpose of which is to kill each other. Did we struggle through the haphazardness of animal evolution, the perils of natural selection, and the daily challenges of just getting through each day happy and safe just to put ourselves on the brink of mass suicide? Our greed, our selfishness, and our short-sightedness are killing us. Don’t we know we can do better than this for ourselves, for our children, and the generations to come?

In the 1940s when American scientists rose to the challenge of building a nuclear bomb before Nazi Germany, they knew they had unleashed a power that if not properly controlled could easily be used as a tyrannical weapon by both stable and unstable minds. And that is exactly what has happened. Nuclear bomb technology spread around the world and today has raised the stakes on warfare.

Ironically, the bombs are so powerful they have helped maintain peace around the world only because they are destructive enough that one of them dropped on a large city could instantly kill millions of people. And the nations threatening to use them know that in retaliation, their own cities could be devastated.

Yet, belligerent war lords keep threatening to use them as if they can act with impunity and that other nations would stand by and do nothing to retaliate. Of course, there would be retaliation. There are currently nine nations that possess nuclear weapons: Russia, United States, England, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, China, and Israel. A nuclear attack by any of these nations could trigger a conflict that would leave our global civilization in tatters. It is very unfortunate that we have come to the point in our evolution that the only way to keep from killing each other by the millions is to point missiles at each other’s territory and dare the other guy to pull the trigger.

Is this our modern version of the ancient “golden rule”? Instead of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, we now say: “I will not blow up your cities because I know you will retaliate and blow up my cities.” It is a ridiculous way to run a world. Yet, a few national leaders who obviously have little concern for human life, or much common sense for that matter, use the threat of these weapons to advance their political ambitions. People like this should not be in positions of power.

This kill or be killed attitude is an old and unwanted problem that we inherited from our distant ancestors. Do we have the right to pass it on to our descendants? We are already passing on a plethora of problems from pollution issues, to over population, to food shortages, etc. We should not burden them with a problem that we can alleviate if we make a strong enough effort to do so.

This situation is a sad a commentary on our species. Are we really too stupid to do something about it? Are we really that selfish, that greedy, that belligerent that there is no hope that we can change? This is embarrassing. We humans have got to do better than allow ourselves to be manipulated by the basest of our animal instincts.

Of course, we are a very diverse species with many outlooks, many biases good and bad. We live with each other’s idiosyncrasies. But using the threat of weapons that could trigger global annihilation cannot be justified under any circumstances. It is frustrating and disappointing that the billions of us who want to live in peace with our neighbors and with other nations, and be able to go to our jobs without worrying about crime or war, have to put up with the disruptive insanity of a few who, like bad apples in the bushel, spread their rotten attitude and misguided judgments.

For thousands of years, we have tried to figure ourselves out. Early humans started out with magic complete with incantations, spells, and curses in order to cope with our physical, mental, and environmental challenges. Then we tried a variety of religions each with its own set of gods, rituals, and holy scriptures. Many of us are still involved with religious activities of one kind or another.

For thousands of years, the wisest philosophers among us have tried to help us understand ourselves so that we could rid ourselves of the behaviors that cause crime and conflict. They have managed to point out our flaws and foibles, but their advice to do something about them has gone largely ignored. Most of our philosophy has proven to be weaker than the many of the emotional forces that govern human behavior. But we keep trying.

As philosopher Immanuel Kant put it: “One cannot suppress a certain indignation when one sees men’s actions on the world stage and finds, besides the wisdom that appears here and there among individuals, everything in the large woven together from folly, childish vanity, even from childish malice and destructiveness.” Kant wrote these words well over two hundred years ago, yet many of our national leaders are still obsessed with “folly, childish vanity”, as well as “childish malice and destructiveness.”

What responsible mature adult would want to be thought of as having a mind on the level of childish folly, vanity, malice and destructiveness except those whose lust for power obviates any semblance of human wisdom, not mention a sense of shame at being such a lousy human being? They act as if they are not fully developed. Although they have adult bodies, their minds are locked in immature biases, prejudices, and other foolish attitudes that keep them from becoming fully integrated human beings. They easily see others as either enemies to be overpowered or pawns to be manipulated.

The problem again seems to be our old nemesis, fear. We learned it early in our evolution when confronting predatory animals. The level of fear determines if we fight or take flight. A small amount of fear and we stand and fight; too much fear and we run. It was true a hundred thousand years ago, and it is true now. The enemies are different but the principles involved are exactly the same.

So, what have we learned in all these years? Sure, we need to fight off things like bears, and tigers, and wolves. But isn’t there a better way to interact with our fellow humans than being fearful of each other or attempting to achieve a slight edge of power over someone? Most people are not that way, but many of us are. While we cannot discuss issues with wild animals, we can with other people as long as they are rational and willing.

Which brings up an important point. And that is that the only means we have to correct our mistakes and interact positively with others is words…words that we hope will be listened to and thought about. We must talk. As physicist Stephen Hawking pointed out: “Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking.” Share ideas, share concerns, share ways to reach compromise and avoid conflict. Talking is the greatest tool for achieving a peace that is lasting. Keep talking! Diplomats and neighbors need to talk more than they are talking today. Perhaps the only ones talking too much these days are politicians whose level of wisdom and foresight are inversely proportional to the volume of their utterances.

But keep in mind that if only one party in the negotiation is rational and sincere, diplomacy is worthless. So, how do we define rational? If one group sticks to the premise that it is absolutely right and the other side is absolutely wrong, this is not rational negotiation. This is pure stubborn arrogance. Irrational arrogance does not solve problems, it creates them. Each party must want to find a common ground and avoid the use of weapons to solve a conflict. The essential premise in any discussion is that armed conflict is to be absolutely avoided.

Probing for a common ground for agreement is what makes us rational humans. Refusing to seek compromise is reptilian. We all have the old parts of our brain, such as the mesencephalon and amygdala that got us through evolution from primates to Homo sapiens. We learned what to be fearful of and avoid. But we have long ago made it through that part of our evolution. And although, each of us has developed a frontal cortex with executive function, it seems that in some of us the old parts of our brain which we acquired from our reptilian ancestors are still the ones used the most.

But can a person will herself or himself to become more mature. Are we able to consciously carry on where nature left off? Yes, people are able to change and become more settled and mature. You begin by thinking deeply about yourself, analyzing your behavior and admitting to yourself that you might have a problem such as chronic unhappiness, stress, quick to anger and other signs of an unsettled mind. You do not need outside help. Your human mind is strong. It can perceive a problem and work out a solution.

But many of us who cause problems for others do not realize we need to change. A problem that has haunted humanity for millennia is that many of those who have achieved success by exploiting or destroying people see their success as a sign that what they are doing is justified, that it is okay to exploit or even kill others if it facilitates reaching a political or economic goal. This is a mindset that has caused the deaths of many people and in the last few years and created stockpiles of deadly weapons in various locations from military installations to people’s homes. The vast stores of weapons in the world keep us anxious and frightened. It is a mindset that is eating us like a cancer. We must cure ourselves of this deadly disease.

Again, it comes down to our use of words. Praying to a plethora of gods does not seem to have helped us. We need to bring our supplications down to Earth, amongst ourselves where the problem lies. We have been fussing and fighting since we were not much more than animals. Had we been introspective enough thousands of years ago, then we could have analyzed our motivations and decided to be cooperative and helpful to not only members of our own group but members of other groups as well.

But we were not that introspective in our formative years. We allowed the territorial instincts we inherited from animals to carry on into our own evolution. We did not know better.

However, today we know better, yet we cannot seem to do much about it. We understand that the territorial instincts of our past should not continue to take precedence over our need for cooperating and living peacefully with each other. But, of course, it is distressing when a neighbor puts up a fence that is on our side of the property line or a nation claims a strip of territory on our side of the border. Lions, chimpanzees, and people fight over territory. Is territoriality an inherited trait that seems to be stuck so deep in our DNA that we cannot consciously change it? No, it does not seem to be an insurmountable problem

Fear, anger and territoriality were learned behaviors just like hunting and tool making? Hunting came naturally. We watched animals hunt and learned from them just like a child learns from its parents. Tool making developed as we evolved beyond the abilities of animals in technical skills.

But how far have we truly developed beyond animals in some social skills? We still fight over territories, resources, and, at times, even mates. Our evolution from acting purely on animal instinct into becoming fully thoughtful humans has been a slow and arduous process and is still on-going. We symbolically show our claws and fangs so often it seems that our evolution from aggressive animals has almost completely stagnated.

At times we seem even worse than our animal ancestors. Most animals will protect their territory but generally do not aggressively take over the territory of a neighboring group unless they are experiencing a food shortage and need more hunting area. Humans, on the other hand, send armies into a neighboring nation merely for political reasons, not because of the need for food or other resources. An ambitious ruler will make up an excuse to rile up his followers into thinking the other nation is a threat to their security, when it is blatantly obvious it is only an excuse to satisfy the ruler’s selfish pursuit of power. It has happened many times in out history, and we see the disastrous old problem repeating itself in the world today. We are stuck in a rut. We must think deeply about our motivations and figure out a way to modify our political ambitions so that lives are not lost and property destroyed.

So, regardless of our nationality, religion or no religion, political point of view, occupation, biases, and prejudices, and every other set of circumstances that makes each one of us an individual, we either set our minds to become more mature cooperative human beings or we keep at this suicidal arms race and war monger mindset until we escalate our conflicts from thousands killed to millions.

Most of us are moral people who constantly make moral judgments concerning our interacts with others. And we are all in this together. In our interconnected world, the behavior of a few can affect many others positively or negatively. For all of us the outlook is simple. We either grow up or blow up.

Ted McCormack

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