For the Philosophers:

Human self-awareness seems to be at odds with itself.

ON THE ONE HAND, we laud the higher qualities of nobility, compassion, ethics, and critical thought- things which seem to set us apart from animals or demons.

Let us win the war within,
where blood is shed, the knife drawn in,
let us be the Lords of men
where starlight slips beneath the skin.

Along with this lauding of greater things, is the tendency to shun their antitheses: savagery, cruelty, carelessness, and stupidity.

Demons let us sear and slay;
keep them from our human way.

In other words, we hold ourselves to a higher standard of existence than what can be considered common animality. This is evidenced in the philosophies that currently form the basis of many legal systems, governments, sciences, and art.

Our corrupt we reformed,
our wretch’d transformed.
for knowledge transcends
our ancestor’s sins.

We are either striving to evolve, mature, or to transcend a lower nature or stage of development. We seek to manage ourselves and our societies with these concepts in mind, and rail against the excessively harmful qualities.

We are relatives of God,
and the foes of magog.
The prophets say should,
and we turn from Thamud.

YET, ON THE OTHER HAND, we self-select our communities based on social qualities like cooperation and favouritism, regardless of whether or not cooperation and favouritism are actually detrimental to ourselves and others.

Our enemy’s divisiveness,
our walls fall away.
Let us make you a brother and,
turn the rest away.

We are attracted to those who do not threaten our sense of identity, or our desire to evolve. We enjoy the presence of those who are “tame” in our company, and willing to be with us as we are with them. Willing to tolerate our negative qualities, and yet have enough positive qualities for us to gain by their friendship. Willing to put up with and excuse our narrow-mindedness, even if it would be better for others that we were called out.

Let us act like comrades
and act like men;
pretend, pretend,
pretend, pretend.

For, if folks are on our side, not matter what our side is, we feel empowered and safe. To be challenged, (even if the challenge is to elevate our ethical standing or to re-think our interests), we tend to react defensively.

Et tu? Et tu?
But I will not ask
to see this through.

The result is that over the recent centuries, human groups have slowly carved out their own personal echo-chambers to include those most amiable to their self established point of existence.

I chose my family,
as my family chose me.
The rest be damned,
if damned they be.

Where most societies began (before the echo-chambers, and before the Good versus Evil dichotomy) humans existed in village communities (made up of families), where vastly different characters all had to deal with one another (both socially and genetically) with similar frequency: the trickster and the elder, the child and the adult, the teacher and the trouble-maker, the farmer and the bandit, the shepherd and the warrior…they all broke bread.

The trickster is up to his tricks again.
A bear steals the fish from a friend.
A bluejay knocks an egg to the ground.
I love me, I love me, this world that I’ve found.

The interactions that occurred between the different characters coloured human imagination as well, and so are the earliest spirits and heroes conceptualised with similar diversity. In that other past we relied much upon that which we did not choose (we did not choose many things, such as our families, our villages, our personalities), to teach us about ourselves. In many village derived cultures, that which contradicts us is seen as a blessing, to teach us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Tease your friend, forgive your fiend.
Live with the lion, live with the lamb;
we are all too fleeting to have our own land.

Nowadays in “modern” and “developed” societies (to use controversial terminology), we see a departure from that diverse village mindset. Folks tend to reject (harass) family members who think differently, to gravitate towards those with the same interests, and to interact with those with similar spiritual, political, and ethical leanings. For every interest, there is not only an app, but a whole specialised community where the interactions only go as deep as cordial bonding.

Firm or soft, a cordial shake;
friend or not, I’ll attend your wake.

Even in the age of great connection and technological communication, instead of using these tools to broaden our horizons and engage in more diverse examination of ourselves, people are often inclined to use these tools to narrow social circles to increasingly self-reflecting points of view.

Me and me were talking to me.
But You and Who?
That just won’t do.

The result is an almost complete departure from the village model, with a sort of “tribalistic” tendency of highly specialised groups to compete for dominance or recognition within societies. To gain recognition, they must prune those who do not “fit in”. In our democracies we call some of these “factions”. The idea of a faction is that there exists enough diversity that folks can be in several “faction” groups simultaneously, and no single faction would become a true majority.

Factions are good and factions are great,
till factions become all that we relate.

These factions were meant (in the sense of democracy) to balance one another out, just as the diversity of a village population holds a kind of balance for the community. However the factions (or special interests) have instead become so concerned with validation that rather than act as a form of societal balance, they supersede our human experience. The factions, in other words, tend to dominate the colour of people’s life and identities, just as religious factions tend to monopolise their devotees (by asserting that you cannot be both Christian and Muslim, for example, or by asserting that a Buddhist is one type of person with one type of belief system). Once you could be many things, as a village was many things; now, less so.

I walked upon a sandy shore, and there my feet never grew sore.
But now I walk upon the glass, and in my heel I find a gash.

Our special interests (including political factions, but also industries, mental health characteristics, demographics, hobbies, and more) seem to be taking on lives of their own. They speak for us, and we are loosing our ability to be more complex by relying on our echo-chambers and factions to repeat, repeat, repeat one “acceptable” version of our humanity.

One is won,
and two is done.

But, they are more limited than a human being, and cannot capture the whole breadth of the human experience. We are aware of this, yet we still we use our “categories” and “groups” to reflect us in our best light- a light to which we halfheartedly ascribe the aforementioned higher qualities.

An Angel, a ghost, a fallen star.
We wish and climb, and don’t get far.

Thus, we portray ourselves in a way that contradicts how we are actually acting and shaping our societies. We are, in effect, relying on our faction dominated experiences to colour what it means to be human. We are doing so with such focus that we rarely look outside of our experiences to check if we are being harmful to others. And in fact, if one were to suggest this to us we are more likely to grow defensive, than to evolve our point of view. Yet at the same time, we seek to be seen as somehow higher or more evolved than our caricatured counterparts. To be higher is manifested when we step on others. We strive to be human, but we forget who else is human. We aim to be validated, but forget who else is valid.

We kill the lion, and trap the lamb.
We’ll build and build our very own land.

riverleafautumn

Essay, rhymes, and Photo by Saying Sooth, 2019.