Reflections and Infections
No age has come without its dark side. We have always been a territorial species bent on conquering. In such regard, we are not all far from the apes that war in the jungles of Africa; this tendency for war may just be a deeply embedded trait carried along the eons-long river of DNA from an ancient and long-forgotten ancestor. As such, the tendency can be explained.
Joshua slaughtered all the men, women and children to take the land and resources of Canaan (at least according to the Bible, which condoned the genocide as the will of God). Step out of that tome into any other account of the histories of people and the same kind of brutality echos across page after page of human accounts. Syrians and Egyptians and Romans and Mongols and every other tribe and empire madly following even madder kings into war. Like a child who wants anything in the hand of another child, nations reach out to take whatever they can.
Perhaps there was a time when this penchant was necessary for our species to survive. Maybe it helped the shadowy ancestors just clamoring out of the hole of unconscious instinct to eek a competitive edge in the race to be the dominant species on the planet. Maybe we would never have exploded onto the global stage had we not carried this genetic puppet master obsessed with conquest.
But we are not required to follow that primal habit. Humans are not like the other animals, walled in with strict boundaries of what it means to be the creature we are. We are the most curious of all animals, exploring the world often without leaving the spot where we sit. Our minds contain endless worlds, virtual landscapes, safe laboratories. We imagine what the world might have been or what it could become. We figure things out. Some of our kind have realized that they do not need to fight their neighbor. Instead of war, one can avoid risk of death by simply accepting the neighbor. If we do not fight, we will not lose our sons and daughters in bloodshed. These realizations are the root of philosophers--lovers of wisdom.
Philosophers are not as common as the warriors and the kings. Plato, an ancient philosopher, wished that society had Philosopher Kings--strong enough to protect the people but wise enough to know that war is not the best protection for the people. Whether such a leader has come, it’s hard to say. Certainly, most leaders think they are wise by declaring their own greatness; those men are not philosophers.
Hitler. Stalin. Obsessed with conquest. In our age the demonic obsession with power and hate engulfed the entire world into wars that killed millions of people and scarred the hearts and souls of everyone else. Follow me or die. Follow me or you’re a traitor… Their megalomaniac fury for glory failed to accomplish anything good, leaving only ashes and smoke and tear-streaked cheeks on innocent children everywhere.
Humans are the best at learning in all the world. But we do not have great memories, collectively. Our kids do not remember the suffering of our grandparents. The myopia is a great risk for our children. They need to know what can happen when they let madmen get in control of the power. They need to know that war and conquest are not the only voices in our heads. There are other voices more worthy of our attention: love, compassion, wonder, acceptance, appreciation and cooperation are all there inside too. We don’t have to always listen to the xenophobia virus or the wholeheartedly selfish gene. We can also listen to a softer side of our hearts.
We need more reflections on where we want to go to cure the infection of hatred that offers to rot our souls. It’s time for everyone to love wisdom more than ignorance. Tyrants mock such sentiments because they are not wise. We should not follow anyone who is not wise. We should not follow anyone who does not embrace the path of life, liberty and happiness for all people across our planet. That isn’t a call to give up power. But it is a call to keep power from those who don’t have the wisdom to use it for the benefit of all.