Monday, February 8, 2016

Science of Peace

I'd like to make two observations that make a great difference in my worldview.

We are star stuff and we care about each other.

The second one is simpler, but relies on the first. I’m going to accept that we care about each other as truth without providing an explanation because the explanation is complicated and relies on assumptions and is ultimately un-provable. Call it an assertion if you want, but I call it an observation because I observe it in myself when I see any kind of story from a commercial designed to tug at my emotions to any of the great and timeless theatrical presentations or novels you might want to name.

It is not necessary to explain it, because “it” explains our mere existence. The complex organisms that we are don’t survive very well without a lot of nurturing. The first few years are literally impossible and to be anything other than an equal to any other animal in the kingdom takes several more years of attention and intervention of the natural tendencies we have to get ourselves into trouble. Anyone who has engaged in the simplest conversation with a child, who asks “why”, knows how frustrating it can be to deal with all those parts of the brain left over from earlier stages of our evolution. At some point in that conversation the adult starts to wonder why they are bothering to continue with it.

It can be logically concluded that we would not exist if we didn’t care about each other on some level that is so basic we can’t explain it with logic. At best, we would be a minor species, slightly more adaptable than others, a little better at hunting, but still vulnerable to the larger carnivores and always vulnerable to natural disasters and just as unaware of the age of the universe or its future as any other animal. We certainly would not have vehicles running on fuels or universities or grain storage or an understanding of invisible things that can poison our water. Life would be idyllic and without worries part of the time for some and a living hell for others the rest of the time. Large populations would disappear and no one would know why or for that matter, would have ever known about them it all.

We can despair in the fact that there are people who live in horrid conditions, that despite our knowledge of the universe and our ability to affect our environment, we still allow that to happen, or we can notice that we are the ones who care. We can feel small against a vast and mostly inhospitable cosmos circling above at speeds we can ‘t comprehend or we can feel big enough to do something for someone on the other side of this one little planet. We can get whatever sense of satisfaction that might bring even if that feeling is brief and only makes us more aware of the enormity of the problems that there are to solve. We can be thankful that we get to feel at all, that we have the luxury of grieving for another while we sip our coffee before heading off to whatever meaningless work we have to do for the day.

It is those moments, whether they are spent alone or with others who feel the same that bring the meaning to those day to day tasks. If you are composing a sonnet to rival Shakespeare or sending out a memo about some obligatory training session, your words, your expression of who you are, is fleeting. Very few people are remembered beyond a century and even those are not preserved well. It’s unfortunate that we hold those memorable moments in history above the moments that we have with each other. It is those moments with each other that build the foundations that give us the reason to have a history in the first place.

Civilization did not begin with some great person telling us to care for our children. It did not begin with someone providing a list of rules to live by and the need to enforce those rules because people did not understand that they needed to care about each other. By time we started writing down rules, we had been raising families and defending our way of life against others for a long time. We had run into the problem of peace through strength a long time before that. We developed any number of philosophies and rituals to deal with it and we continue to muddle through the problem today.

By any measure, by the number of weapons we possess, the number of people experiencing chronic starvation, the quality of our leaders or the number of safe neighborhoods in the world, we are still a caring and peaceful creature. We have managed to not blow ourselves up and to rebuild after disasters, human caused or otherwise. I could try to recreate one of the great observations by Sagan or Neil Degrasse Tyson about how amazing it is that we are here and can reflect back on what it took for us to be here, but they do it better, and it takes me too far distant from the things that actually matter to me and keep me connected to the ground that is a part of that larger thing.

It is enough to be able to look back on my own ancestry, up to the point that I can no longer name them, and then look at where they came from, the culture, the environment, everything that was needed to keep them alive, and see it is exactly the same things I need. And those things are pretty close to what every other living thing on the planet needs. And to see the larger forces like gravity and energy from the sun are needed just to hold the planet together and provide a place for life to get the whole thing going. If all of those resulted in me, and I’m occasionally able to feel happy about that and connected to it, that’s enough for me to want to figure out what I can do to keep it all going.

That’s enough for me to use that simple ability of reflecting on whatever is around me. To look up at the stars and wonder how they got there and if there is another creature somewhere looking at my home star. To see an old man walking with a child and be amazed at the years it took to create that moment. To then apply every bit of data I know and every bit of reason I have to determine what I can do right now to continue to create moments like that in the future. If those moments are fleeting, if they are just moments, that doesn't bother me. I still have those moments and we still have each other.

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