|Humanist Essay for January 2013
"Let's Keep Going"
[Reprinted from the HSNM January 2013 Newsletter.]|
If you are reading this newsletter, then we have survived another doomsday prophecy and must carry on with humanity. I'm sure that will not be a disappointment to humanists, though I do detect an air of hopefulness among end-of-the-world predictors. From religious doctrines about End Times, Armageddon, the destruction that must presage messianic renewal, to the secular offerings of Hollywood, we can observe a longing - if not to end it all already, then at least to practice the end.
Let's look at all those movies that are made about grand disasters. Aside from the entertainment value (if you're into that sort of thing) of meteor crashes, alien invasion, nuclear apocalypse, tidal waves, earthquakes, etc., these fictions give us a chance to rehearse our practical, ethical and emotional responses to dire circumstances. The screenplays typically suggest that the survival of humankind depends on the survival of a few exceptional individuals or small groups, while all the rest of the teeming masses may be swept away. Their lost lives are available for inspiration, motivation and dedication to renewal, while their high-maintenance physical presence has been conveniently eliminated along with the cancerous urban/industrial landscape.
Real life is a little more complicated than that and not readily reconfigured with the stroke of the scriptwriter's pen. The problems we face as a society ultimately boil down to the workings of human psychology, which is still driven in large part by fear, physical cravings and possessiveness regardless of how much security we achieve. Humanists may be inclined to wonder if our species can evolve fast enough, intellectually and emotionally, to achieve a genuinely fair and mutually respectful society before we blow ourselves up or poison the planet to the point that it will no longer sustain human life. Adherents to inflexible doctrines, whether religious, political or economic, may be more likely to indulge in a fatalistic wish to actually or metaphorically wipe it all away and start anew. As I write, Congress is contemplating "going over the cliff" and "taking the nuclear option."
Is Kaboom really our only choice? Sure, things get messy when you've got a lot of sentient life kicking around. Our methods for dealing with personal desires and decisions are murky; group consensus, if we can achieve it at all, is tenuous. So many things are beyond our control - all of history, for a start. So, do we exert such control as we have over the future through violent, destructive, irreversible acts? I suppose there is a comforting certainty to being wiped out, hitting rock bottom. One's priorities at that point have been greatly simplified and clarified.
Perhaps the urge to keep starting over, to back up or undo modern developments, is simply a failure of vision. We know what collapse looks like. We know what survival looks like. We also know what flourishing societies look like, and how they become corrupted. Do we yet know what sustainable success for our species looks like? Humanists are involved in imaging and pursuing that agreeable, sustainable future. We are not hurtling toward the end times but finding our way toward better times - with curiosity, creativity, caring, reason and hope.
Plus we have fun. Thanks for a great 2012, everyone. Let's keep going!