Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What Has Man Wrought?

Throughout the ages, man in “civilized” societies has felt that he is superior to all other elements on this planet.  Man to put it mildly has been very full of himself when it comes to his place in the scheme of things.  Western man (which is to say followers of the Judeo-Christian tradition) even saw himself as being made in God’s image.

After all the millenia of hype, the question must be asked, has the advent of man on this planet been of benefit, either to the other elements of the planet or even to man?  What has man wrought?

Before the advent of civilized societies, the natural world functioned in a very symbiotic and pure fashion. There was nothing is this world that was despoiled.  Primitive man, up to and including the Native American Indians, had great respect for all the natural elements and lived in total harmony with them.

With the advent of civilized societies (at least Western ones; I cannot speak to the other early civilizations), and certainly since the industrial revolution, man has despoiled the environment, to a greater extent with each passing year.  “Progress” for mankind has meant degradation or extinction of the natural environment.

And what of man’s benefit to man?  At a minimum, that depends on which side of the power divide you’re standing.  

Some examples.  Starting with the growth of ancient civilizations, the powerful often dominated those they conquered by making them slaves.  Slavery as a business proposition had (and in some parts of the world still has) a long tradition that began before the start of carrying slaves to the new world.  Under the guise of “the white man’s burden” and “spreading God’s word,” European nations plundered and destroyed native civilizations around the world.  In our own country, the American government practiced what can only be called genocide against the Native American Indian.  Certainly, if man was benefiting man, it was only the strong benefiting themselves.

“O.K.,” you may say,  “all of this is true but look at the incredible progress that man has brought to mankind.”  Man has always touted the concept of progress, of an ever-improving life with each technological innovation.  Remember G.E.’s slogan, “Progress is Our Most Important Product” or DuPont’s, “Better Living Through Chemistry”?  The slogans are gone, but contemporary marketing makes the same case through manipulative images and ad copy.

There is no question that man is better off materialistically than he was in the past.  But is he happier?  Is he better off spiritually than he was hundreds of years ago?  I would argue that the answer is probably, “no.”  As he moved from the land to the city, man lost his connection to the land, his feeling of belonging and purpose.  He lost his roots and it has been getting worse with each generation.  Life may have been very hard, but there was a spirituality (not religiosity) to man’s life which provided a feeling of self-worth and an innocent happiness.  

Modern man, whether living in a major city or in the country, is totally a creature of modern culture.  He is manipulated as to what he thinks, what he wants, what he buys.  Whether it’s politics or business, it’s all about marketing, selling.  And because of our culture of competition and consumerism, we are manipulated to always want more and not be satisfied with what we have and who we are.  We have lots of stuff, but also lots of debt.  It is a system which fosters frustration, dissatisfaction, and depression.  

This is not to say that man (and of course in using this term I am including women and children) did not suffer from depression and frustration in earlier years.  But the breadth and depth of it in contemporary life is far greater.

Finally, there is the question of whether man has even benefited those closest to him ... his immediate family.  I cannot say what family life was like in ancient times.  But as man moved from primitive communal societies to “civilized” societies of a non-communal and later capitalist nature, man became an insecure animal, left to his own devises to fend for himself.  

As I argue in my book, Raising a Happy Child, insecure people raise insecure children and the cycle is never ending.  Thus we find ourselves today in a world filled with insecure people.  Regardless how powerful or rich someone may be, deep down that person is typically very insecure.  And whether in the family or at work, insecure people cannot develop strong, healthy relationships.  Certainly not ones based on unconditional love and trust.  Their insecurity has a powerful impact on how they view themselves and the world around them.  That is why our world is so dysfunctional, whether you look at family relationships, the political landscape, or the relationships between nations.

And so, the answer to what has man wrought is much degradation and misery.  We seem to be an evolutionary experiment gone awry.  Although we have advanced in many ways over the millenia, our brains (as opposed to our knowledge) have not advanced or evolved.  We are still functioning with a brain that nature developed for primitive man 150,000 years ago.  And that brain is not equipped to handle the changes that have occurred in human society over those years.  Our ability to think has unfortunately not made us better human beings.

Is there a way out?  A better way?  Yes.  In my book, Raising a Happy Child, as well as my various Buddhist books, I try to present a cohesive, positive answer for my fellow man.