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The Maturing of Humanity

The Maturing of Humanity

A lot can happen in 13.8 billion years. Would you believe that several trillion of the protons, neutrons, and electrons blasted out at the big bang all those eons ago would have wound up in our bodies today regulating everything from the growth of our fingernails to our thoughts, emotions, and motivations? But here we are, with the same ancient atoms either the peak culmination of that enormous subatomic dispersal process or just one of the many forms of life that have come and gone since all those primal particles coalesced into stars and planets.

There are now two fundamental questions concerning our human species. 1. Are we the only intelligent life form in the universe? 2. How is it that after all these millions of years of human evolution the vast majority of Earth’s wealth is tied up in an endless array of weapons that we use to kill each other?

At the current rate of our astronomical research and space exploration, we might have the first question answered in a few years. The quest to find other life in the universe is on-going and some of the finest minds on Earth are involved in the search.

The answer to the second question has a different set of challenges. Whereas the understanding of stellar nucleosynthesis and the formation of habitable planets generally follows the basic laws of physics and we can come to logical conclusions about it, understanding how our minds think is still baffling us.

Of course, we understand that through our evolution from animals we inherited many of their aggressive traits. Carnivorous animals must kill other animals in order to survive. To a large degree fear and aggression ruled the lives of many of the animals that were our distant ancestors. The question is not where we got our aggressive tendencies, but why after all these years of evolution and the growth of human consciousness, have we not been able to grow out them or get them under control? Why do some of us still think it is necessary to kill other human beings in order to survive?

It is not as if we have not tried to rise above our primate mentality and become a more peaceful species. Nearly every religion and philosophy we have ever created has admonished us to love our neighbors and live in harmony with others. We think so highly of this great human ideal we call it the ‘golden rule’. It makes sense that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We are kind to others and appreciate it when they are kind to us. That idea is simple and easy to understand. And most of us try to live by it…unless we are selfish, greedy, and lack any semblance of empathy for our fellow human beings. And, unfortunately, many of us are that way as our history and daily news constantly remind us.

The idea of treating others as you would like to be treated transcends all of our religions and philosophies from the plethora of gods dating back to ancient Egypt, India, and Greece, to the Enlightenment views of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant right on up to today’s modern humanists. It is our oldest and most universal guide for human empathetic and compassionate behavior. Without this deep-seated rule coming from our innate sense of morality and caring, we probably would not have survived as a species. We learned early that we needed to work together in symbiotic, cooperative communities in order to survive in a hostile environment surrounded by predators.

But while we revere our golden rule as our standard for good relations, it seems to be our most ignored advice for human harmony. Crime, greed, and selfishness are part of the everyday lives of many of us. It is a frustrating situation. We know we can do better for ourselves and each other, but many of us don’t bother. The good news is the fact is that, in spite of what we see in the daily news, most of us continue to believe that we have the wisdom and the desire in our hearts and heads to achieve a higher level of human cooperation and harmony than we now have. We believe we can do better, yet we seem unable to bring our little spark of wisdom to fruition in many of our hard hearts. We are not fulfilling our human potential.

This frustration was expressed eloquently by Immanuel Kant when he wrote: “One cannot suppress a certain indignation when one sees men’s actions on the world stage and finds, beside 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.”

Anyone who has a rudimentary knowledge of human history knows that, in spite of the wisdom that appears here and there among individuals, our obsession with folly and childish vanity has brought us a great deal of suffering and death. And it is still going on now all over the world. Even looking at the situation geographically paints a sad picture. There are few acres of habitable ground or navigable ocean where some sort of bloody conflict has not taken place in our history. We are a warring species.

Is this the meaning of life? Is this why we exist…just to keep on fussing and fighting? Have we really failed that miserably in the implementation of our most revered dictum…our golden rule? The fact that many centuries ago we came up with the idea of a golden rule indicates that most of us have an inborn sense of morality deep in our minds that directs us to rise above our primitive animal aggression and treat each other fairly with empathy and compassion. It simply acknowledges the fact that we should treat each other with kindness and respect and no longer live by brute force.

It is time in the evolution of our consciousness to replace brute force with human honesty and kindness. Seek the morality that influences you to have compassion and empathy. Each person’s sense of morality is an innate urge to have each of us become a person of integrity and to help improve the lives of other individuals, families, cultural groups, and human society world-wide. Our inborn morality admonishes us to end harmful antagonism, conflict, and war and replace them with symbiotic cooperation.

Our sense of morality came about through parental love for offspring, which some scientist believe is related to dopamine released in the hypothalamus when a parent gets pleasure from interacting with its offspring. The idea that a parent would nurture a child and fight to the death to save it from harm goes back far in our evolution to primitive mammals, which unlike insects or most reptiles, produce only a few offspring at a time and develop an emotional attachment to them.

From this parental love, our human morality grew over the years and has become a strong trait in most of us. As we began to live in communities, the concept of love spread from love of kin to love of other members in the group who we enjoyed being around. Allowing our morality to guide our actions is the most obvious evidence of our maturity as human beings.

We all want to be happy. The pursuit of happiness is a universal human right, yet it requires a higher level of maturity and responsibility than some of us realize. Our pursuit of happiness can easily be perceived as selfishness if the activities we participate in to make us happy conflict with the activities of other people. And as history shows us, some people’s pursuit of happiness can even be destructive and dangerous.

The highest achievement of a person is to be happy with one’s self and to do his or her best to help others to be happy. Proceed with thoughtfulness and compassion. Do not participate in activities that will distress or cause harm to others.

While you pursue happiness always be mindful of the need to grow in maturity at the same time. Understand that a pursuit of happiness that brings on belligerence and antagonistic selfishness are signs of immaturity in individuals and in our species as a whole. Do not allow your immaturity to harm others in any way.

As your consciousness expands and you mature into a person of integrity and honesty, be mindful that you can make a positive difference in yourself and others around you; you can become a model of sanity and kindness in a confused and hate-filled world. It makes sense that if you are friendly to people, most of the time they will be friendly to you. There are exceptions, of course. Among the eight billion of us, there are many narcissistic people who want their way regardless of what others think or do. But be patient, and know that an open hand and a friendly handshake will always win more friends than a clinched fist.

With some stubborn, narrow-minded people there is not much to do but stick to your attitude of kindness and friendliness and let antagonistic people rant on. Do what you can to help them understand that they are able to be much happier and can help other people be happier if they show kindness rather than animosity. Some of us are like toddlers who refuse to share their candy with their playmates. But toddlers grow up and childish minds mature. The message we are giving ourselves is that it is time to put away our childish selfish behavior and strive to be a more mature person.

It is ironic that some people call aggressive behavior ‘manly’. What is manly about pouting like a three-year old when one does not get his or her way on an issue whether it is political, social, or religious? In today’s society, some people who lack impulse control childishly resort to profanity, manufacture false information and hate, or even use violence to get their way. That kind of behavior shows weakness and immaturity instead of manliness.

Another sign of weakness is that it is easy for some of us to follow the crowd in order to get a quick fix on our conformational bias. The problem with too many of us is that analyzing facts and coming to the truth of a matter takes time and brain power. Maturity is taking the time to think.

The mature response to any opinion or point of view is to seek the evidence on which the premise is based. It is not manly but childish to accept someone’s opinions at face value without looking beyond the rhetoric concerning the information being presented. And it is important to consider how our actions will affect other people. What does your conscience tell you about your opinions and your actions, and beyond conscience, do you let your innate sense of morality guide you? Will your actions enhance happiness in yourself and others? Or are your opinions and actions so disruptive as to cause distress, or even death and destruction?

 A challenge to understanding ourselves is that our minds are very complex. Thievery that is judged to be harmful behavior by most people might be seen as a legitimate way to earn a living by someone else regardless of how it hurts or distresses others. Most peoples’ brains operate under logical rules of ethical behavior, but some do not. Some people who get pleasure from controlling others believe it is alright for them to manufacture lies or false information in order to achieve their political or economic agenda. Others think it is ok to scam gullible people out of their life savings and leave them sad and economically stranded. These cruel people have managed to fight back their sense of morality to the point that it no longer has any influence over their lives.

These are people hardened by a rough life or have psychological disorders who have taught themselves from an early age to become oblivious to human suffering. It becomes easy for them to justify everything from a telephone scam to a deadly armed invasion. Their brains develop to the point of animal aggression and then stop. They fail to reach the point where their sense of human morality surpasses their aggressive animal instinct.

For millions of years our animal ancestors had to act first and think later.  The actions were controlled by fear. If a predator threatened, an animal had to fight or run. Fear was our first and still today is our strongest emotion. Fear helped our hominin ancestors survive through natural selection when many of our animal companions did not make it.

The emotion of fear remained strong throughout our evolution and determines many of our actions today. We do not encounter predators as much as we did years ago, but we do encounter lots of information. If we see or hear information that is presented in a threatening way, we do not always take the time to check the facts before we draw a conclusion. Fear is instantaneous; fact checking requires effort.

It is interesting that writers and film makers have learned to capitalize on fear. Mystery stories and scary movies bring in millions of dollars to those who would exploit some people’s need for a frightful emotional catharsis.

But in spite of our fear, often we don’t even bother with the facts. In his 1939 book Voyages and Discoveries, Robert Keith Leavitt wrote: “People don’t ask for facts in making up their minds. They would rather have one good soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts.” Like our hominin ancestors who had to react immediately to a potential threat, some people react emotionally to things they see on television or read on-line before getting the facts. And since a good bit of the news today is negative, quite often the first response to an opinion or allegation is fear or anger.

There are so many different influences bombarding us that demand our attention. We see dozens of advertisements wanting to sell us a product. We have a plethora social causes and political factions wanting our support and loyalty. Even the doctrines of some religions can be twisted around to make them more palatable to would-be converts. It is easy to get confused and make a bad decision. We’ve all been guilty of jumping to conclusions and regretting it later.

So many people want us to believe their rhetoric and become a loyal sycophant. Some could call these bombardments opportunities. Some would call them intrusions into our privacy. Either way, it takes a mature person to sort through this congestion of opinions, information, and computer click bait and make a rational decision. It makes being an adult a real challenge whether you are twenty years old or one hundred.

We learned to believe in things thousands of years ago. When we gave up tying to figure out ourselves and the world around us, we began to listen to shamans and priests who had ready answers to our existential questions. The quick answer they gave us was that the world was run by spiritual things we could not see. These gods made us and knew everything about us. They made the stars, and the sun, and the rocks, and all of the animals. They would save us from ignorance if we would believe in them and turn our lives over to them.

We fell for it, and the idea of believing in what we were told became part of our mindset. Serving a god, a king, or a priest gave some people a meaning to their lives. And that attitude of submission has been with us for many years. It is easy to be obedient.

We are fortunate that most of what we see and hear is true and factual and we want to believe it. The problem lies in the fact that in today’s propaganda-filled world not all of the information that comes to us is true. Like the snake oil salesmen of years past, there are people who thrive on selling shoddy products and false information. It is essential that as we scroll through TV channels, newspapers, or on-line news casts that we closely analyze everything we are seeing and hearing.

Think before you buy, or believe, or join, or become a loyal follower. Think about the circumstances that brought you this point in your human journey. You have been through good times and trying times. Where will you be five or ten years from now? Will the decisions you make today stand up to the test of time? Or will you regret that you gave in so easily? Don’t let your emotions control your logic.

Of course, emotions have served us well for thousands of years. We would certainly not have survived without love between individuals and compassion between members of a community. But emotions are coins with two sides. Love brings us together. But fear of someone with a weapon makes us shun that person and keeps us separated.

Perhaps instead of jumping first and thinking later as our animal ancestors taught us, we Homo sapiens must teach ourselves to do just the opposite, that is, to think first before we jump into a situation that might not be beneficial in the long run. We need to learn to use our fear of being misinformed as a type of cautionary guard against jumping to erroneous conclusions or giving our loyalties over to any charismatic person, any cause, or any set of dogmas.

Our minds are too valuable to be tossed around mindlessly. We need to keep them in tact and under no one’s control but our own. Do not give your mind away before weighing all of the options. It has taken us millions of years and a great deal of toil and suffering to get to this point in our mental evolution. We should not allow anyone to stifle our progress or set us behind with such atrocities as crime, war, or false rhetoric.

We have become too intelligent to give ourselves over to any cause that does not promote harmony and cooperation among all peoples everywhere regardless of religion or political affiliation. Today the eight billion of us are too factious and too well armed for any of us to advocate any point of view that encourages discord instead of concord. We want to move on from the chaos of the many egotistic politicians and theologians who claim to have all the answers to our problems yet who do little but increase our confusion and distress.

Perhaps we are beginning to feel as if we have had enough of the old order that keeps cycling the same old problems over and over again. In many areas of the world, we are currently experiencing a transition in which we are moving away from the superstitions of our past as well as the same old fiery rhetoric that leads us into wars. We are replacing these old behaviors which created conflict with a more humanistic morality that promises to globally unite us. We do not want our future to be controlled by the worst of our past behavior.

But the change is taking time, and change always brings on a certain amount of anxiety, a level of anxiety currently manifested in many ways from drug use, to the paranoiac need for gun ownership, political bickering, and other signs of social turmoil.

Another sign of our level of anxiety is the world-wide rise in authoritarianism. Many in the world are latching onto politicians who demand total control of our thoughts and loyalty. This 1953 quote by psychologist Rollo May helps us understand why so many people today feel the need for strong leadership:

“Authoritarianism in religion and science, let alone politics, is becoming increasingly accepted, not particularly because so many people explicitly believe in it but because they feel themselves individually powerless and anxious. So, what else can one do…except follow the mass political leader…or follow the authority of customs, public opinion, and social expectations?”

– Rollo May

Our challenges are an indication that we must pursue a higher level of maturity in ourselves and put our anxieties behind us without having to turn ourselves over to any higher authority whether spiritual or human. One sign of maturity is letting go of any authority that keeps you from being mindful of your moral sense and your responsibility to other people. Allow your innate human morality to prompt you to be kind and work with people rather than stirring up controversy and ill feelings.

For many centuries we were awash in our array of beliefs and dogmas which affected everything from our art and our literature, to our reasons for going to war. It is not easy to give up a strong mindset about your very existence that is pounded into your brain from birth. Many believe, even today, that we were created by a particular god, whose methods and dictates depended on the cultural traditions of the region where one is born and grows up.

Every culture has its mythology. Although our old myths expressed certain truths about the human condition from heroism to the depths of our inhumanity toward each other, we have to put these ancient fantasies in perspective. They are not necessarily guides for modern living. The exploits of Gilgamesh or Zeus, for example, were created by people who needed narratives to express their relationships with each other, the behavior of their gods, and how to cope with the hazards of the world around them.

We are much better off today than when our myths were all we had to explain our lives. The knowledge we have acquired through strict research into physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology and a number of other scientific fields shows us that we were not created by mystical beings living somewhere in the heavens. Our galaxy, our sun, and humanity evolved though a long process and series of complex events that completely overshadow the simplistic tales told by our shamans and priests.

Our next step is to replace blind obedience to a religion or to a political entity, or a charismatic leader with analytical thought and a high standard of ethics. Giving ourselves over to people and ideologies has been a form of psychotherapy for millions of us for many years. We seemed to welcome any theology, ideology, or rhetoric which could assuage our fears and give us meaning and purpose or give us a worthy cause to devote our lives to.

But let us be aware of our shortcomings. Our problem always is that we acquiesce before we analyze. We are prone to fall for easy answers that do not solve our long-term problems. The thing to devote our lives to is a humanistic approach to life in which we are kind and caring to others without the intervention of dogma or a set of rules other than the innate sense of morality found in each of us.

In spite of all the bad news and pessimism we are blasted with lately, the good news is that our intelligence, our will to live, and our inner morality will get us through this anxious period in our evolution. These are three basic human traits we have to work with. A fourth important trait we need to further develop is maturity, especially emotional maturity.

It is imperative that we put aside the emotional props that we believed gave us meaning since we first had enough introspection to gaze at the stars and wonder about them. We turned against our humanity seeking solace and answers outside ourselves. But now it is time to throw off the shackles and reclaim ourselves as human beings.

One could say that our increased maturity and sense of cooperation are coming at a good time since we need to work on two existential problems that currently face us. One problem can be eradicated and one can be mitigated. But both require our best and most sincere global cooperation.

The one that can be eradicated is the disposal of our numerous weapons. Poet Robert graves pointed out that concerning our ability to create enough weapons to kill ourselves many times over, our technological maturity has far outpaced our emotional immaturity. Our weapons rule us. Several nations around the world spend more on defense than any other expenditure. Nearly every nation has an army, and at this time nine nations are armed with nuclear weapons. No one knows how many conventional weapons we Earthlings own. From pistols and rifles to tanks, it is in the millions or even billions. These weapons are a sad commentary on our emotional instability.

Is it possible that we could talk our way out of this problem? Negotiations have often helped solve disputes in our past. But the enormity of the situation calls for the absolute best of our abilities as well as our most sincere and honest efforts. There is no room for hidden agendas or surreptitious deal making. The future of every nation is at stake.

Can you imagine how much better off we would be if we could spend on such things as cancer research, space exploration, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and other challenges the hundreds of billions we currently spend on weapons and war? To say that we have our priorities wrong is a gross understatement. Our fear of each other and the lust for power some of us have is holding back human progress. We should be establishing colonies on other planets now instead of killing each other in turf battles.

This situation is a blatant example of our need to mature as a species. We act like children playing games in the back yard. Except, as adults, we use real bullets. The games are the same, but the results much deadlier. And why do children play battle games? Is it because of what they see on television or learn from their parents? Or is it the ancient animal fear we evolved with that makes us innately antagonistic?

If so, how do we overcome millions of years of evolution that taught us first fear, then aggression? How do we replace or at least attenuate those traits with the emotion that came later in our evolution that we call love?

Love. The most overused and misunderstood word in the English language. From “I love chocolate” to “Let’s make love” to “the gods love me” we toss the word around to the point that it has too many meanings or none at all. But when we get right down to it, love is what we humans need to rid ourselves of the existential threats we face. To some people love is corny, to some it is silly, but without it our species will not last much longer. We must take a mature look at love and use it to save ourselves.

Love leads to cooperation. It is obvious that we need a great deal of cooperation to get us beyond the nuclear weapons and climate conundrum we are currently in. World leaders must cooperate, politicians must cooperate, citizens of the world must cooperate. Deadly weapons and climate issues are global problems that will take a great deal of global cooperation to solve.

Maturity, love, cooperation: three down-to-Earth human traits that make the world a safer and more comfortable place for us and our descendants. But with eight billion people with eight billion outlooks on life, is it conceivable that we could all agree to take the steps that would bring us together into a more harmonious global citizenry? As Japanese politician Ino Toshiro put it, “The security environment of the world is becoming the most complicated in history.” Are we able to cooperate well enough to wind our way through the complexity and end this current security crisis or will we continue to be stuck in this same old destructive pattern until we annihilate ourselves?

Ironically, one way to establish peace on Earth is to get angry. If we get angry enough at ourselves for perpetuating this murderous folly, we might do something about it.

But where do we start? The United Nations comes to mind. It is a noble organization but has not prevented a number of bloody conflicts in its decades of existence. Too much bickering and posturing and not enough political influence. Adherence to the high ideals laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has not proven to be stronger than the same old greed, aggression and lust for power we have suffered with for thousands of years.

The tools for the thoughtful people who want peace are words and emotions. The tools for the power hungry are words, emotions, and bullets. Because of this, the power hungry have won the debate so far. Obviously, the words and emotions of the peacemakers have not been strong enough to convince the armed factions to refrain from belligerent rhetoric and saber rattling.

It seems that reason and logic and even the danger of total destruction are not enough to quell the lust for power and domination over others that some people have. Some of us kill others as if murder is just another way to eliminate obstacles that get in the way of reaching our goals. To some, human beings are just another expendable commodity.

So maybe the problem comes down to the respect for human life. Most of us have it, but many of us do not. So, has that always been our dividing line…not ideologies, religions, political affiliations, or any of our human-to-human connections other than how each one of us regards the value of a human life?

Killing in defense of ourselves or family members is not intentional murder. Killing for most other reasons is murder. Political leaders send men and women to war in order to kill. Greedy, power-hungry politicians are the killers; the soldiers are merely their tools. But we citizens elect our politicians or allow them to rise to power by becoming their sycophants. In that way, all of us are guilty of being killers directly or indirectly.

So as long as we are willing to be complicit in murders, we will suffer the consequences. We will continue to have wars, crime, and have our property destroyed. To have a safer, happier, more cooperative, and more productive world, whether we are powerful politicians or ordinary citizens, we must completely give up the willingness to kill other people.

Yes, even the seemingly innocent are guilty to a certain degree. In many ways we are all still wild animals. Lizards eat insects, snakes eat rats, lions eat antelopes, and many other animals must kill to survive. But we humans would like to think we are no longer wild animals and that we have outgrown the need to kill in order to survive. We do not need to continue killing each other and it is time we stopped doing it.

Again, it comes down to maturity. Are we mature enough as a species, which is much more intelligent and introspective than any animal, to give up our animal behaviors? What keeps most animal species going is the fact that their killing ability is limited to the weapons on their body…their teeth, their claws, or their venom. Their limited abilities keep their numbers sustainable.

We humans, with our many weapons, are much better at killing. We don’t need to bite or maul each other. With artillery and missiles, we can kill from great distances, and that makes us more dangerous than any animal. Our animal instincts coupled with our human technology make us lethal. Our emotions must catch up with our creativity or we are going to keep on creating enough technology to end us.

In closing, here are a few do’s and don’ts. Do get your emotions under control. Do be kinder to everyone, even people you do not like. Don’t align yourself with sleazy autocrats who would just as soon lie to you as tell you the truth just to get your vote or approval. What kind of person do you want leading you or your community?

Don’t believe everything you read or are told even though it may sound wise. Do learn to analyze information before you act on it. We all want quick and easy solutions to the myriad problems we face. But look and think before you jump.

Grow up, mature, be a person who others will know is a person of integrity and honesty. 

Ted McCormack

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