Thursday, March 13, 2014

Are we normalizing those aspects of humanity that spell demise, and not shared survival?

The mystery of the missing MH370, Boeing 777, somewhere north of Malaysia, and somewhere south of Vietnam, is almost unbearable for families and friends of passengers and crew (some 239 human beings), not to mention the officials from the operating company, the national governments and the airline producer, Boeing. Even when debris and oil on the surface of the water are spotted, we soon learn, neither has come from the missing aircraft. Both Malaysia Airlines and the 777 have, according to reports, an excellent safety record, and the fifty-three-year-old pilot had literally hundreds of hours of flying in his resume. Something is seriously missing from this story, and the world watches.
At the same time, the BBC Science section reports, based on the Journal of Nature that scientists have discovered some highly significant evidence not only of blue diamond rocks deep under the surface of the planet, but also that with a 1% finding of water in the mineral, there could be more water deeply buried under the earth than in all the oceans above the surface.*
Individual lives, of passengers and crew, members of families from some dozen-plus countries, are missing and now presumed dead, while simultaneously, using their skills, their experience, their  collaborative ingenuity and their deep and profound learning and comprehension of their lives, scientists may have unlocked one of the deepest of the world's mysteries, that hydrogen plays as important a role deep within our planet as it does on the earth's surface.
The co-mingling of death with new prospects of life, while never a specific theme of any news story, seems to jump at us, upon reflection from the many experiences each of us have encountered in our lives. And yet, humans, for the most part, continue in a single-minded and seriously flawed world view, either categorized as romantic (unable and/or unwilling to see the snakes in the grass) or tragic (unable and/or unwilling to see the miracles that are poking their tiny shoots through our consciousness every day. Comedians will do "gigs"  pointing out that science has not discovered a cure for cancer, but have discovered  'botox' which removes our frown from the worry about contracting cancer. However, writers of all varieties have been telling stories of life and death, in poetic tapestries for centuries.
News reports daily outline human tragedy in the skies, in the water, on the roads, and in apartments and allies around the world, in which some human beings are being shot, killed, maimed and terminated by other human beings and by the ravages of storms of various kinds, temperatures and durations. These numbers of casualties roll past our eyes, nearly unconscious, as do the daily numbers that denote our current 'fiscal health' in the 'stock report'. For investors and their agents, these latter numbers have a meaning and an import. For the rest of humanity, they are merely noise.
Similarly, the death tolls in Syria, along with the mounting tribe of refugees of the starving and the displaced and the homeless almost serve as a glaze on our consciousness, not to mention our conscience. "That is a problem for others to's not for me," becomes a kind of escape route for any pangs of pity or compassion or guilt or powerlessness that we all feel when confronted by the human casualties of nature, war and human vengeance. And yet, those people were once loved and revered and important in the lives of their families, their neighbours and their towns and cities. Today, they are, as the passengers and crew of MH370 will be in a few weeks and months, merely pieces of data on some computer that stores airline "incidents" and help those who analyse these events, both to prevent future occurrences and, for some of a different and more nefarious mind-set, how to inflict pain and suffering in a similar manner in the future, in order to accomplish some contemptible human enterprise.
Our capacity for detachment, while making it possible to survive and to carry out our individual lives, serves simultaneously as a kind of early warning against emotional and civic and global escape from engagement, and from putting ourselves in the shoes of those who suffer, both as direct victims and as support for those victims of natural disasters and human conflicts.
And because we have new and imaginative technologies that provide hours of pseudo-engagement with action of all varieties on screens and through joy-sticks, involving pseudo action figures, we can escape the front page disasters into a world of power and influence, albeit over merely digital synapses.
And while collectively we focus on the minutiae of our survival, our jobs and our traffic jams and our winter storms, we carry with us a capacity for suffering and for empathy and for identifying with others in danger that is too often minimized or ignored or devalued, and periodically we need to refocus through some heart-warming story of human support and care and tenderness that many consider "not newsworthy" enough to be included in our water-fountain chats.
What would our world be like if, instead of demanding and devouring and growing dependent on the stories of disasters, casualties, human inhumanity and violence and estrangement because some part of our human appetite craves excitement and experience 'on the edge' thereby identifying all of us with the adrenalin of being on the edge, we developed and shared that part of our appetite and emotional/spiritual need for experiences and stories of human support, and human care and human needs, together and not exclusively on an individual, competitive and survivalist scale? What if the latter category of story were to become our norm, and the stories of violence, revenge and hatred and deception were to be the exception, would we see a shift in our appetite for a different kind of action, a different kind of art and a different kind of human accomplishment, not based on competitive conflict but rather on collaborative methods and their shared accomplishments?
Of course, dear reader, the concept is absurd, (you are saying to yourself) because we have centuries of empirical evidence that demonstrates the human need for conflict, violence, war, crime and bestiality, and that also demonstrates that compassion and empathy and support and engagement are important in our hospitals and our schools and our homes, but are not the stuff of a real and authentic life.
"Business, the new religion, depends on a competitive will to survive, to grow and to eliminate all the competition," goes the conventional argument. We inculcate that competitive spirit in and through our politics, in and through our professional athletic/entertainment theatre, in our profit-making from the theatre and the film industries (where the business dominates the artistic, while simultaneously making it possible to exist), in our hierarchical and competitive hiring and promotional practices and "values" and in our academic and research libraries and laboratories.
And we celebrate its success when we idolize those who have climbed and 'wormed' and fought their way to the 'top of their pyramid of whatever their chosen field. And then, as if to attempt to balance that competitive instinct, we create "ordinary heroes' to feature on special programs in all public media, as if to remind us of our capacity to encourage empathy. And, once again, these are the exceptions to our daily diet of disaster, and our daily consumption of information that hardens the heart and deadens the soul and shadows the light of hope that only the sharing of human empathy and compassion and suffering with those whose lives are permanently in danger, permanently on the edge between survival and death can release.
We have so effectively merged our worst appetites, in our most elaborate and seductive packaging, both in supermarkets where processed foods are killing us, and in our bureaucracies where phony political correctness stifles and eliminates human truth-telling, and in our "protective" establishments where the exercise of power and protection are so compromised by the pursuit of personal and organizational ambition, through competition and a different kind of "killing" of our opponents, and increasingly in our hardened and detached and competitive and, from this perspective, insulting acceptance of 'war' and the "way of the world" when we know we can do much better than that, and have demonstrated that so many times both individually and collectively in the past.
However, resisting and risking whatever it might take to push back against the "tide" of competition and survival and destruction that we can and do see playing out in all human endeavours, we fall into compliance, and indeed complicity with what is considered 'norm' and rationalize our myopia by telling ourselves that the world is a nasty place, and our children have to be prepared to be able to withstand all of its natural and human inflictions of pain and suffering. So we keep bowing as sycophants to a hollow god of power and money and winning and we permit the erosion of empathy, compassion and  caring in our individual lives, and through them to the culture as a whole.
Sad, but too true!

*By Simon Redfern, BBC, March 12, 2014
A research team led by Professor Graham Pearson of the University of Alberta, Canada, studied a diamond from a 100 million-year-old kimberlite found in Juina, Brazil, as part of a wider project.

They noticed that it contained a mineral, ringwoodite, that is only thought to form between 410km and 660km beneath the Earth's surface, showing just how deep some diamonds originate.
Buried oceans
While ringwoodite has previously been found in meteorites, this is the first time a terrestrial ringwoodite has been seen. But more extraordinarily, the researchers found that the mineral contains about 1% water.

While this sounds like very little, because ringwoodite makes up almost all of this immense portion of the deep Earth, it adds up to a huge amount of deep water.

Dr Sally Gibson from the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the work, commented: "Finding water in such large concentrations is a hugely significant development in our understanding of the ultimate origin of water now present at Earth's surface."

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