The way things should be…

It is a common practice these days to look at the world and the things in it with a sense of disenfranchised self-righteousness. We look at all the violence and the pollution that humanity has wrought over the centuries and make every effort to distance ourselves from these negative aspects of our history.

It is quite common to find negative commentaries in which people approach the topic of humanity as if they themselves are not members of the species, but morally superior observers. While this practice of viewing your species from a removed perspective might be an interesting thought experiment, I think it should be obvious that habitually isolating yourself from the realities of your existence is a highly paradoxical act.

To me, one of the most problematic manifestations of this tendency is the idea of the human race as fallen angels. This idea is an understandable reaction to the horrors of the modern world, in which a person idealizes humanity in its early forms and implies that at some point in our long and storied history as a species, we made a wrong turn that sent us spiralling out of control.

In this view, there was a phase of human development in which we lived off the land in peace and harmony. Cooperation and love guided everything. There were no landowners, serial killers, no war, no nuclear bombs, no school shootings. Things were perfect.

Somewhere between the time of this perfect pastoral society and the insane violence, greed, and inequality of today’s society, humanity was poisoned by something. This moment of corruption is fictionalized in any number of different ways. Looking at our problems today, it’s easy to hypothesize some ancient origin for each one and demonize it as our great mistake.

Think capitalism and the resulting inequality is our biggest problem? Perhaps we can blame our situation on the first ancient human to claim that something belonged to them, rather than to the community.

Think violence is the biggest problem? Perhaps the first ancient human to kill another human is at fault.

As ridiculous as these oversimplifications sound, many people do get hung up on them, viewing some arbitrary, fictional event as the reason we seem to be trapped on a downward-spiralling path of decadence and depravity.

Putting today’s problems on some mythical fall from savage grace is not only terribly reductive, but completely irresponsible as well. It implies, among other things, that since we were handed an impossible situation, we have no responsibility — or even ability — to fix it, and can happily continue to abuse the planet and each other.

This idea can also be seen in the tendency to blame our parents’ generation for today’s problems. Surely it must have been obvious that fossil fuels would pollute the world. Why were they so greedy in their consumption? Why didn’t they find an alternative?

This, of course, is known as “The Blame Game,” something that we scold our children for partaking in, believing that our generational version is somehow less ridiculous.

Taoism, along with many other philosophies, holds that things create their opposites. For example, you could argue that the idea of peace would be nonsensical in a world without violence.

This could be taken to mean that, for all the deep scars that have been left on our collective psyche by humanity’s great failures, we have gained knowledge and strength from them as well.

The first people to burn fossil fuels could not have known the great threat that practice would inevitably pose to our planet. In fact, it was only the advancements that such practices made possible that gave us the abilities to realize the damage we are causing.

Capitalism, often demonized as one of the main forces eating away at our planet right now, also helped us to achieve unbelievable advancements in science and technology.

My argument, of course, is not that fossil fuels and capitalism are good things, but merely that they exist as a part of our world, and no amount of regret or disgust can change that. Realizing that these things, which once served a wonderful purpose, have outgrown their usefulness and are causing harm is an important first step in the growth of our species.

The point I am trying to make is that our world is the way it is. Every part of our history, even the hideous parts, went into creating the moment we are now living in. To ignore the the bad things and pretend that they were the fault of a few stupid or evil people is to let those bad things fester and spread disease. To accept them as one of humanity’s missteps and move on is to use them as a potent fertilizer for new growth.

The way technology is connecting us to one another is making our unity as a species impossible to ignore. It is becoming harder and harder to think of ourselves as lone individuals, separate from the rest of the world. We are undeniably connected to each other, to history, and to the planet on which we live.

So let us not deny our history and cast blame on some mythical ancestor who ruined humanity for the rest of us. There is no “way things should be.” There is only the way things are and the way things might be. If we spend our lives dwelling on the mistakes of the past we will only ensure that we step blindly into the future.

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