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Humanity's Crucible

By Roy D. Follendore III

Copyright (c) 2003 by RDFollendoreIII

If we accept the notion that all human thought rests upon the foundations of ancient survival instincts then we must accept that our societies are expressions of conflict.   For thousands of years, religions and governments have attempted to establish tests that would help man determine when conflict is moral and ethical. The entire course of human history is strewn with tremendous failures.  The complexity within which humanity must continue to evolve is far more complex and sensitive to the potential of setbacks and self destruction.  Man's most essential moral and ethical values of truth, knowledge, wisdom, honor, loyalty, trust and rationality are under constant assault.  The question that this paper proposes is whether our understanding of what we have been and are becoming is enough for us continue to be successful survivors.      

To understand the discussion of a thing, one must first define it. Webster's unabridged dictionary defines a crucible as, "A test of the most decisive kind."  As a society, our ability to respond to our greatest fears remains our single most important survival strategy.  As the title of this essay implies, this Humanity's Crucible and it is our most decisive kind of test.  

October 31, 2003

Oh what a fragile thing humanity.  This fact is becoming increasingly apparent as we awaken from the successful strategies of our ancestors whom as survivors we too often forget were both the members of the class we call conquerors as well as members of the conquered class. We are all therefore the natural products of two very different survival instincts. With this idea in mind, it is not such a great leap in thinking that one would choose to evaporate as much of the noise that surrounds this essential foundation of our common survival philosophy. The premise of this paper therefore fittingly begins with the elegant fact that the very fabric of our psychology is based on fight or flight.  

The pathology of fight or flight means that the dark root which has protected us remains firmly based on the consequences of our reaction to fear.  To deal with our evolution as a society we must begin to examine the premise of this reactionary phenomena.  As human beings we are physiologically compelled to fear those things that we believe have the potential of doing us untold harm and in so doing we must respond by either fighting or running away.  Because there are generally far fewer winners than losers in a physical conflict, the benefits of doing battle requires the existence of conditions which would compel us to fight. 

Perspective becomes important here because the weight of ideas about the measure and existence of reality are felt by our reaction.  Those who would fight tend to view situations in terms of potential gain against potential of lose.  Those who would flee tend to view that same situation in the context with existing gains against potential of loss.   If we assume that these perspectives are acceptable then a conclusion that can be drawn is that we choose to run from those things that we fear will do us harm and in particular those things for which we have little or no control.  

The trouble with such assumptions is that a critical difference between fight and flight involves infinite intangibles that we can not predict. There may not be enough time to react and too often there may not be enough available information to make a rational situational decisions. 

Humanity's crucible is our attempt to remain rational beings in the presence of irrational situations. When it is impossible to rationally respond, our only alternative is to operate through predetermined, preprogrammed and therefore with respect to the moment, not necessarily reasonable reactions.     

Through this primitive act of reinterpreting our expressions of fear in terms of stereotypes we set ourselves up with certain advantages that could not exist entirely through reason. Appropriately reclassifying what we fear allows us decide to break away from danger sooner and by so doing avoid the known risks of confrontation. However, for this strategy to work, it must be used in situations where rationality makes little difference. In those kinds of cases, situational improbability is usually involved. 

Unless we teach ourselves to do otherwise, particularly in the presence of those things that we have stereotyped to fear, society's first instinct is to avoid the consequences of a fight and run from dangerous situations. The risk we take in accepting social fear as our crucible is that the situation that triggers our reaction is inappropriate and there is no real or present danger.  

As a society, we must also recognize that our instinct to attempt to fight something that does not in reality exist is irrational but that irrationality itself can be thought of in terms of a psychological form of flight from danger. With respect to fearing and running from fear, requirements for the existence of tangible enemies may be unnecessary.  This point has been a particularly powerful factor in establishing societal leadership.  As a consequence, societies have long used fear to both maintain and control populations as well as to initiate social action. Groundless societal fear exists because leaders use social fear to lead.  The democratic and republican principles of checks and balances within our American Constitution were created because of the intellectual recognition of this fear and humanity's need to overcome it.

Psychological reactions to fear is of course where the primitive concepts of religion first arose.  Witches, ghosts, goblins, vampires, devils and demons of Halloween exist because the belief systems of people and societies have required their existence.  In many religions God is an awesome entity to be feared.  These are real but intangible images of social fears that reflects the dangers of inhuman power based upon the relationship of death and immortality.  They are also the labels for our personal fears. By labeling them and then reacting against these things, we are able to individually and socially react. There then seems to be little need to rationalize such creatures to begin to believe that we witness their effects. Just as mankind locked its fears as a means to identify the unknown dangers that are outside, mankind also created our existing society from the inside.

We mark the otherwise intangibilities of our society's evil enemies as stereotyped faces so that they may be identified and we may flee from, or fight with them. As we do this it becomes just as important that we do not get too close and familiar, otherwise we may come to identify the nature of ourselves through them.  As a consequence, there is an appropriate and respectful distance that must be drawn in order to fuel our social anxieties and even in this we do not wish to see the reflections of our own hand in those marks.  But for these marks to work we must have created a line so the "evil doers" can stand on one side of the mirror and we "the righteous and good" are able to stand on the other. This is the ancient us vs.. them ritual; It is our deepest representation that "we are good and deserve to survive," while "they are bad and as a consequence should not survive." It gives us the sense of a correct moral justification to act (or not act) as we see fit.

The appropriateness of our decisions not withstanding, such justifications are then easily incorrectly rationalized to mean that there are no consequences as long as we are on the correct side. The mechanics of this wrong headed  rationality is essentially the inheritance of power through the notion of some mystical transformation of moral integrity through an amoral legitimacy.  Because such systems are so deeply embedded within our society, it is rare that we change our fundamental beliefs. Our beliefs are simply more easily reinforced than displaced by our experiences.  We see, "that these are examples of what we think," rather than seeing "things that represent true opportunities for possible differences in what we could and possibly should think."   Humanity is therefore handicapped by our limitations, which we have set for ourselves. 

This is why we Americans have become such creatures of the news. We allow television's images to label our personal variations of good and evil. We allow ourselves to think that we can really know the characters that we see on the screen.  We ignore that we can never really differentiate reality through short carefully staged segments of audio visual information. The segmented order of content can become reality because we are so willing to suspend disbelief. The news creates compelling visible masks to witness because our ancient righteous labels can be so vicariously applied. There seems to be no need to experience our world directly for we do not need to trust journalists opinions in order to witness "exclusively first hand" the tattoo of images and sounds that feed our deepest responses to our most ancient of fears.  Even the ancient symbols that once would have given us some power over our internal beasts have been easily overcome, adapted to new technologies and in doing has changed the nature of ourselves. Through the media our most basic instincts can be short circuited so that no one can easily avoid being affected and infected by the fact that it is possible to put any face any monstrous label. 

As technology continues to provide ever new capabilities for the creation and manipulation of reality, as well as for mutual self destruction, the fundamental ways in which we choose to internalize values becomes a critical concern for the strategic as well as the moral welfare of humanity.  We must come to recognize that wars can be initiated and then sustained by humanity's acceptance of labeled images without the reality of knowing truth. This has meant that those labels which humanity has traditionally attached to concepts that we fear most, produce and sustain the very situations which we originally most wanted to flee. Humanity's crucible has been with us all along.  In terms of the historical and collective process, the historical facts surrounding such notorious horrors as the Crusades, the Salem Witchcraft trails, and the Holocaust of World War II as well as the use of atomic bombs on Japanese civilian cities can be rationally deconstructed with respect to mans need to disassociate itself from these primitive internalized fears.  It is therefore possible to trace the greatest failures of humanity to our desperate need to create moral and ethical certainty in an uncertain universe and to our greatest fear that there is no where else to flee.      




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