Submitted by William Elder.
Bone deep, psyche deep— we know we love ourselves first and foremost. No big surprise there, it’s how humans developed. Coming to recognize ourselves, each one of us by his or her own distinct definition, to be a separate, sentient, self-aware being is the foundation necessary for developing ego. Ego is likewise the necessary foundation for perception and thoughts, for our organizing ourselves and our world around us, with us in it. Developing ego is where and when we began to try and earn our self-arrogated reputation for ourselves, Homo sapiens— “wise guys.”
With self as our original defining model, it is no wonder how fond of it we have grown over the millennia— each one for his or her own self— how it has shaped everything we do. Self is our half-mirror through which we view the rest of the universe. True, to a certain degree, if usually very short-term and highly selectively, humans have learned to be selfless— as parents, patriots, heroes, or martyrs. But for most of us, most of the time, for most purposes, that person we regard ourselves as being IS what we are— what we do, how we behave, what we believe, how we act and react. Ego even cuts across what we regard as our major human divisions. Early on, we divided ourselves into families, clans, tribes, nations, along geographical boundaries. With learning, invention, improved transportation and communications, many of these grew old-fashioned, less limiting.
Two that largely remain are sex and race, the two divides that dominate contemporary discourse. Superiority of the white male model, as well as the values that have been established around it, are assailed on all sides, not sniped at, but assaulted frontally.
As any commander— of whatever sex or race— ought to tell you, if he or she knows their business going in, frontal assaults against entrenched opposition are messy, confused, deadly, unpredictable undertakings. Militarily, they worked at Yorktown, failed at Agincourt. Socially, they worked during the October Revolution and failed at the Paris Commune. In staging one, if you fail, you will have a mess to clean up, excuses to make. But if you are successful, you have it possibly worse. You have a new order to come up with, new values, new rules expressed in new language. New ideas to voice. These will not be universally understood, appreciated, or even accepted. As proof, after this apparently successful assault on authority we have recently witnessed, I offer a few.
Based upon the long development of our species, we are all— each one of us— both sexists and racists. Admit that, please, to ourselves and to others. Accept it. We deeply like who and what we each are— male, female, black, white, other— and what that identity represents to each of us, how that shaped us, continues to shape us. OR, through learning and real life experience, we can move beyond our natural inclinations, build beyond that built-in ME to a learned WE. We can try to act like Homo sapiens, come together for the common good, or we can embrace our angry old instinctual selves, continue to let gender or mere skin pigment— it’s just melanin, for God’s sake— continue to divide us into warring tribes. If we do that, not only shame on us, but pity on us. For suddenly embracing “niceness” is neither the aim or point here— humans are contrary, hard-headed creatures after all. Rather it is recognizing that our common problems have grown so deep and so serious, whether we are blind to them or not, that we need the skills, talents, best thoughts and efforts of everyone, each and every one of us on this planet, to address them, regardless of our petty differences. Important? Nothing less than the survival of our species on Earth is at stake. That’s all— believe it or not, at all our peril.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.