UNIVERSAL DHARMA

This Too, Will Pass ~ SOME BASIC HUMAN PROBLEMS

AN ESSAY BY CLYDE O. DAVIS, USA

THE PROBLEMS OF HUMANITY that will be discussed in this essay are problems resulting from human beginnings and changes that have occurred since some of the human crowd became more or less civilized. The problems result from ignorance, misuse of the uniquely human brain, the genetic residue from our long existence as pre-humans, and the con-sequences of uncontrolled human population growth. These are obviously interrelated. This will be an outline rather than a full discussion, calling attention to where, in my opinion, the human experiment has failed and may soon be ended by further failures.

When the hominid line split off from the anthropoid ape-line several million years ago, the hominid genome was already full of genetic material appropriate for the survival at that time of this new species of wild animal. Brains, once they began to evolve, evidently developed slowly. One bit of fossil evidence of this slow development is that from the time these earliest hominids first began to use unmodified stone tools until the tools (hammers, cutting-stones, etc.) show evidence of having been shaped or improved, a million or more years passed. In any case, several million years passed before there is much evidence that the slowly evolving human brain got much use. During the very long hunter-gatherer phase of human evolution (which still persists among primitive tribes in several countries) there was minimal intellectual progress. Primitive people were as ignorant as all other wild animals. Our newly-brainy primitive ancestors had to rely heavily on imagination and emotion in their reactions to life and nature. And many present-day people are similarly dependent on imagination and emotion. Use of reason and intellect are neither encouraged nor required in many current societies.

There are many reasons why homo-sapiens, the only brainy animal, has for at least hundreds of thousands of years resisted learning to use the unique human brain. The first reason is that habits of living and behavior acquired during millions of years of pre-human existence have become instinctive and resist interference by reason or thought. Among these instinctive behaviors are the following:

(1) Most humans prefer to follow a leader, and there is a tendency of many leaders, intoxicated by the power of leadership, to embark on programs harmful to others. Many political, religious and military leaders have been responsible for destructive and pointless wars, including attempts to destroy entire populations, cultures or religions. Or they have become powerful dictators, harmful to the populace they controlled. A strong propensity for war rather than peaceful solutions to problems is a primitive and still-current human failing.

(2) Human males have always desired to dominate, control, own and rule females; few societies have advanced very far beyond this primitive instinct. Religions have sanctified, and laws been passed in support of, the male prerogative.

(3) Fear of strangers, suspicion of things unfamiliar and unknown, unwillingness to co-operate, compromise or seek peaceful solutions in relation with foreigners.

(4) Tendency of all human societies and indigenous groups to believe that they are the preferred creation of their God or Gods and that all others are inferior.

(5) Greed, which drives economic systems worldwide, is another undesirable, or at least antisocial human trait, as is selfishness. The economic 'system' which we humans have allowed to develop during the past few centuries, promotes the accumulation of various kinds of 'wealth' by people who already have too much of it, and the giving up of more than they can spare by a great many others. The system is a world-wide endorsement of greed, selfishness and indifference.

(6) The discovery that people are merely one of the many varieties of animals that have evolved on earth has come too late to enable humans to take such steps as might now be taken to cut back drastically on the rate of human population increase and thereby save some of the remaining wildlife. When we still thought we were God's chosen, and that our future was not on earth but in heaven, we could not feel responsible for the mess we were making of earth.

The foregoing is far from an exhaustive list of some of the very troublesome instinctive behaviors of people who are unwilling, unable, or simply unaccustomed to using their remarkable brains to become truly civilized. The principle use of the intellect by humans to date has been to enable them to better do many of the nasty, unsociable and uncivilized things that they have been doing for millions of years. War, for example, has become the most perfected, most intellectually-advanced activity of the human species; our ability to kill each other in enormous numbers over vast distances in a very short time is by far our greatest technical accomplishment. And it represents our greatest misuse of brains.

Wild animals, lacking the kind of intellect that has evolved in humans, live by instinct alone. They are born, enjoy a frisky, playful infancy, learn how to survive as adults, become mature, do what they can to stay alive and reproduce, get old and die, or are killed before they are old. Death is the end of an individual animal so far as anyone knows, and ultimate extinction, if not metamorphosis into other species, has been the end of entire species during the past millions of years of evolution.

Humans, when they became able to think with their newly-evolved brains, soon decided that they were too important to live and die like other animals. So they dreamed up the soul, and an afterlife, available, originally, to everyone. Then religions developed, primarily to maintain proper contact with an imaginary supernatural realm, and religion decreed that only certain people were qualified for an afterlife. In most societies where strong organized religions developed, life on earth became less important than the theoretical posthumous life. So the thrust of religion, especially Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and even Buddhism, became how best to prepare for a life after death, in spite of the lack of evidence that human animals are different from other animals with respect to a possible postmortem existence. This important aspect of religion is now seen as simply human arrogance and hubris.

What this means is that whereas during the millions of years before brains evolved, people presumably were as well-adjusted and satisfied as other animals, with a life consisting of a happy childhood, a maturity spent in staying alive, raising young and doing whatever the family or troop did, with no thought of why or what or whence. Life itself was enough, as it is for all animals. But some time after human brains developed, the brainy ones began to consider life a mystery and to wonder what could be the ultimate purpose of these often difficult and unsatisfying years or even of highly-satisfying though brief years on earth. Needless to say, no satisfying answers have ever been found.

The religions of the world have all attempted to supply some purposes or reasons for being, or goals and values of life, derived from imagination, myths, experience and pure speculation. These are all now collapsing in light of what scientific research and study have begun to reveal about the human condition. Traditional religion seems totally unable to adapt to the view of life that is revealed by science. A new philosophy/religion is needed, based on and compatible with what is now known about life in general and human life in particular. Much will be learned in future years which will make possible revisions in the conclusions reached at this point.

Human babies and juveniles, like other young mammals, are not bothered by brains. They simply enjoy life, unless conditions of life are desperate because of poverty, adult misbehavior, etc. Life flows on happily into adulthood and often beyond, except for the few who are impelled by brains to begin wondering what it is all about.

The religious answers to questions about the ultimate value purpose of life are clearly meaningless; they were fabricated by ignorant but imaginative people who decided that the vicissitudes, uncertainties and disappointments of this life could be tolerated because a new post-mortem life awaited for at least some of them who accepted the religious promises. Religious belief is an antidote to brains; a rule of traditional religion is that no-one should use reason about religious matters but should simply accept, without question, whatever dogma or belief is offered. This solves the distressing problem of the human brain by requiring that people forget that they have brains and behave instead like brainless animals, such as sheep. This behavior is evidently not difficult for most people. During the past two millennia, a high proportion of the earth's population has faithfully adhered to one of the four or five major religions.

The control of population behavior by religion amply illustrates the fact that hundreds of generations after the evolution of brains, humans still do not know what use to make of brains in relation to the life experience. One reason for this may be that the variety of brain (from highly-talented prodigy to cretin) is extremely variable; many people are simply not very bright; the proportion of extremely-intelligent, talented and brainy individuals is infinitesimally small. The total number of people whose brains and abilities have made possible such 'progress' as homo-sapiens has made over the past 10,000 years is perhaps 10,000 in all parts of the earth, of the 10 or more billion who have ever lived.

The fundamental human problem underlying all the stupid and silly mistakes of humanity, it seems to me, is the failure to realize that what made humans different from all other life on earth was the human brain. Because we chose to ignore brains we have wasted the great chance we had to realize our full potential as a super species, or at least the only species capable of trying to avoid ultimate extinction, which to date has been the story of nearly all earthly life.

We have found little to do in life to make the few years of existence really enjoyable and memorable. The paucity of goals and accomplishments is really dramatized by the fact that for religious people, who comprise nearly half of the current population of about 7 billion, this life is a kind of sentence to be served while awaiting the promised post-mortem existence. Happy infancy, struggling adolescence, an adulthood devoted to adaptation to the norms, requirements and permissions of whatever society we happen to be born into, an old age that is often a sad, lonely, useless wait for the end, are not enough of life for creatures with human brains. Somehow, during the past 100,000 years, the entire species became misdirected and frightened; we continued to behave like the pre-human animals we have been for millions of years and failed to understand our new situation and status. We are now so numerous that our sheer numbers on this little earth are overwhelming the ability of the planet to supply us with the water, food, breathable-air and other resources needed to sustain life. And it may now be too late to learn how to make life what it should have become long ago after our wonderful brains evolved.

Knowing even the little we now know, namely, that much we have done to ourselves for thousands of years has been in response to our primitive instincts and almost total ignorance, we can already see much that could be done to emancipate us from the ignorance and superstition of the past. Getting rid of all religion would be an admirable though impossible first step. Religion is of interest primarily because it keeps reminding us of where we have been, how frightened of death and even of life we were, how anxious to have answers to unanswerable questions, how silly to let religious bigots and idiots, however well-meaning, take charge of all aspects of our lives.

A second step would be to finally understand that what we can do with life depends on what we bring to it. The most important thing we can ever do is to give every child the best-possible chance to find out what his/her interests, talents, innate abilities, etc. are, and to see that each gets a good chance to develop. This is because people apparently need to be active and doing things. The most satisfying lives are spent helping others, being skilled at whatever society values, or at what a person feels impelled to do provided it does no harm to others. All these are culturally determined, or permitted. A child born in the so-called Developed Countries has a far richer and more satisfying possible life than children in many Undeveloped countries, or than his/her parents and grandparents had 30 to 60 years ago. Thanks to the Renaissance and Reformation here in the West, which broke the stranglehold Christianity had for 1,500 years on human freedom to learn about life and the universe, we have enjoyed 500 years of increasing knowledge about ourselves and everything existing and accessible in nature. The resulting technology has greatly extended the range of what there is to know and do in life. Children of the computer-age have much more to challenge the mind and imagination than did children of the hunter-gatherers of a few thousand years ago, or even of farm children a century ago here in the U.S.

Where religion will permit change, people in the undeveloped countries will soon have access to all of the knowledge that science is accumulating, and their children will find life as interesting and great as ours increasingly are finding it. Provided, of course, that they have the religious freedom to limit population-growth to the point where they can afford to live decent lives.

[During my 1999 trip in the U.S., I had the pleasure of meeting and staying briefly with the author of the above, Clyde Davis, a thoughtful and humorous man of ninety who had spent his working-life as a chemist with DuPont. He presented me with a bundle of articles he had written in recent years— heart-felt writings about things he had long pondered on and regarded as important. In case he never gets to publish them in book-form, I asked him for permission to include something of them in this book, and was graciously given it. Thanks, Clyde, and your wife, Phoebe, too.]

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