Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dear Dad, A reply to my Father

The "slimes" Dam at the Cullinan Diamond Mine, outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. Could cleaning up sites like this demonstrate an "enlightened" and mentally evolved human race?

Hi Dad,

Thanks for your very thoughtful letter, I have to say I think you may have hit the nail on the head, but also there is always an undercurrent of social change that indirectly drives our scientific and material gain. The psycho-social development as us as a people seems to have lagged behind the "material" developments of our societies, yes. Though I think if we look into the history of the human thought and social change, we do see a parallel evolution of human thought that had driven, reflected, and been an intergral part of the material developments. I am thinking of those suffragettes, including the Mayor of New York's wife at the time, ready to stand and fight for their real role in society, and be judged upon that. I think of the social networks of people who quietly got on with a diversified life within the confines of Victorian England (think Sir Richard Francis Burton) or others like Galileo during the Inquisition.

So much of that evolutionary thinking, the development of a higher understanding and a high ability to understand and even empathize, I feel is tied to a more "enlightened" approach to human interactions. It is difficult to put into words, but the gist of what I am thinking is that our development as a species on the psycho-social front is inextricably bound to our human progress, and although it looks like the one lags far behind the other, it is only through discourse like this, and many other "high-level" empathetic interactions that we can raise the bar on it.

Here in South Africa, we often see the back and forth interplay of more animalistic notions like greed to the real "evolved" emotions of empathy, kindness and selfless giving. It is one of the defining charachteristics in this society where people are essentially ungoverned and un-policed. Everyone must look out for each other, and on any given day its possible to see the most babaric acts of horriblness, juxatposed next the most heart-breakingly giving acts of kindness. If there is anywhere that more tellingly illustrates the "war" between hatred and empathy, between evolved emotions and simple stupidity, and between the chance to add something positive to our social world instead of tearing it down, it is here.

Mix into that the natural human ability to judge upon looks, upon black and white, upon education versus ignorance, and all the potential trouble-making stew of personal grievances, past injustice and papered-over fissures, South Africa is one of the frontline states in the war for the future spirit of humanity.

I feel strongly that environmental stewardship, essentially good house-keeping, sits squarely in the "enlightened" camp. This is because only when we feel like we all have a collective future, that we are all responsible for the effects we have on our material and spiritual worlds, can we make the hard decisions that will take care of our children and our future selves. Saving money, planning to make our planet better and healthier, making informed choices about our bodies, our communties and how we want them to look, these are all part of the process of "enlightenment" that brought us electricity, social equality, and the end of slavery. They are a process that must continue. We must love our future selves, and that is sometimes a very hard thing to do, but we all got here by doing just that, to a greater or a lesser degree, and it's our collective responsibility to continue that process.


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