The importance of Being Important: The Illogically Tempting Notion of Thinking Your “Better than That”
It’s easy for us to ridicule what we might call the foolishness or small minded behaviour of people down through history who believed in ideas, actions or other such things that turned out to be absurdly false or horrifically untrue. Our history is peppered with the actions of our species that we can look at (now) and scratch our heads in disbelief that anyone at that time would ever believe in such a thing. Like the Aztecs whom would make human sacrifices to appease a volcano god. Or the general thought of the majority of people at the time who were afraid Columbus would sail off the edge of the earth as he set forth to discover new lands. Most everyone in western cultures everywhere knows of the stories and actions of the people of Salem, Massachusetts whom would hang people for being witches and we could never imagine that in the world of today religious authorities would take such actions as they did when they burned Giordano Bruno at the stake for teaching that the earth went around the sun. And then there are the really big “lies”; the ones that resonate through our entire world, and act as a reminder to us all of the real deep dark places our species can go to in our thoughts and actions. I speak of things like the Holocaust and the other such actions of the Nazi regime. The ethnic cleansing that took place (and continue to do so in some instances) in the former Eastern Europe, and across vast regions of Africa. The Death squads of Cambodia… the jihad of a few that has blemished (in the eyes of many) an entire group of people, and their way of looking at existence… the list of the “lies” that populated our species seems endless.
When we look back on these now, in our (now sometimes self righteous ideas of a) higher thinking place of hindsight, most of us like to think we would have been on the side of truth and justice in all these cases (and those of us whom don’t believe some of these happened or were as bad as history states are seen as on the wrong side of the issue by the majority of us all).
But when I see the “lies” that perpetuate our world on a daily basis, I have to ask myself …Would we have?
What makes us think that we are so much smarter than those people who thought the witches were endangering their children or the world was flat or the Jews were a menace to society? It’s easy for us to know these things were wrong now, with the benefit of hindsight and when the people around us all agree that they were wrong. But would we have known it back when the problem occurred, if we were subject to the same influences as those who supported the false positions? If we had been raised with the same background, might we not have supported the same ideas? These “wrong” ideas were not supported by just (what we see as) madmen and maniacs - they were supported by mainstream people and powerful leaders. It could very easily be that you and I would have been on the wrong side on these crucial issues.
Perhaps we are on the wrong side of important issues today.
When I look at the world today, it seems to me that we often walk around with blinders on, thinking we can no longer fall into such traps. Many more “progressive” thinking cultures (and they like to champion themselves as being) seem to think that it could happen in other parts of the world but not here (wherever that may be) where we are so enlightened! This is exactly the complacent attitude that the misguided people of the past must have taken, and that so many people still take today. We have to recognize that we can be wrong, that we, too, can be fooled, and that the issues that are fooling us may not be as in our face as the blatant killing of another.
-Reliance on oil and what that drives cultures to.
-Free Market Globalization and the commercialization (commoditization) of everything.
-The Burgeoning Global Village and all the issues that brings with it.
-Ideas of existence (religious and so forth)
-Rights of different groups of people the world over in all ways in terms of this idea of “equality”
The list of things we can see that perpetuate “lies” is long and diverse, and we all fall on one side of these issues or another (in some ways).
And we all think we are right (and someone is wrong). It can be very difficult to know if a particular thing is true, such as whether a particular religion (or any at all) is true or whether a medicine is effective or whether a politician will do a good job. But it should not be that difficult to recognize when we do not know something. That it seems is the biggest problem with our species. Having the strength to simply say…
I really do not know…
More and more in our lives, we see that as a place of weakness and a place of (dare I say it) stupidity and an inability to lead. But it seems to me it is the smarter person whom can admit they don’t know… for it seems to me that is the person whom is more willing to really see, really open their thoughts and really want to understand the issue(s) at hand. Not just be sucked in by a tagline, quick fix thought or general understanding perpetuated by those around them.
I believe that people can learn this ability, but unfortunately our schools and our culture as a whole do little to help people develop it.
In our ever increasing world of entwinement we are now entering, the ironic thing that seems to be occurring is the more we become connected (through our technologies and the like), the more we are becoming polarized to a greater extent on many issues.
-One side of an issue appeals to us.
-We seek out facts to support this side.
-We get most of our information from advocates of this side.
-We feel superior for being on this side.
-We like the people on our side better.
-We trust the people on our side more.
-We believe advocates for our side without analyzing them critically.
-We distrust advocates for the other side.
-We feel the people on the other side have undesirable traits that led them to their wrong opinions.
-We jump on the slightest flaw in arguments made by the other side’s proponents.
-We find negative stereotypes about the other side very believable.
-When our opponents make negative references to us, it is further evidence of their bad character.
-Sources of information that treat us and our opponents almost equally must be biased, or they would recognize our superiority and the inferiority of our opponents.
-Rather than enduring such unreliable sources or listening to our opponents’ arguments directly, we learn of their misguided views and motives from our own trustworthy leaders.
-When an opponent is found to have done something unethical, it is reprehensible, but typical of what we expect from the people we oppose.
-When one of us is found to do something unethical it is not very important and possibly excusable if it aids our noble purposes.
-We are good.
-They are bad.
-The superiority of our view is so obvious that our opponents could not possibly be sincere. They are deliberately promoting evil, self-serving policies.
-They are our enemies, out to destroy us and our way of life!
-People like them should be ridiculed, stripped of power, silenced, punished, and perhaps even destroyed!
Sound familiar? Think it only happens “to someone else”, “in another country”, “not in my advanced culture and way of thinking”?
If we care about the welfare of humanity and we really want to see issues for what they really are, this is something that must change.
If each women or man could understand that every other human life is as full of sorrows, or joys, of base temptations and heartaches and of remorse as ones own…how much kinder and gentler would we be…
How much kinder and gentler, indeed.
(photo: Society: Bigger Fish Eat the Little Ones, Anton Semenov)
Moving On/Turning Back…. The Global Collective and Humanities Misunderstandings
Recently I was reading a piece entitled “Whose Sovereignty?”, and it got me to thinking about a topic and area of thought that I think will become more and more prevalent in our world as we move forward in our evolution…
In the new “Global Community” we are fast creating (now more through the ideas of economic development, but hopefully that will change as we progress and see that there are much bigger issues to this global connection we are creating.. .but I digress), how much do states actually have the power to be sovereign over themselves anymore?
Like in many different ways in the past year to eighteen months, Greece, due to its financial problems is a great example to highlight this new “international collective” idea of sovereignty we now seem to be developing and/or forwarding in the world. Like it or not, whether it was the right way to go or not, the aid that the rest of Europe gave to Greece is the perfect example of a cooperative agreement where various groups/parties enter into and negotiate something with the others’ interests in mind. It was not solely designed by Greece itself, indeed it was designed more by the rest of the union and that leads directly to one of the biggest areas of this erosion of the so-called state sovereignty… that is… “When a country participates in the collective life of the international community, the said participating state implies bearing other in mind, and when necessary, giving up certain prerogatives of its own sovereignty”.*1
Take the WTO as the prime example. When a country joins the World Trade Organization, it cedes sovereignty by accepting the rules and regulations of the WTO. Countries do this to in exchange for something for themselves. You could use almost any international treaty signed between two countries, or group joined in conjunction with others…like NATO, OPEC, APEC, The WHO….The United Nations (in some ways), even international aid groups like UNESCO, or UNICEF… the list goes on and on. No matter what a state does when signing a pact with another state (or group of states), that state gives up something in order to get something else… In doing so, while the main goal of giving up some self determination is advantageous, they are, at the same time, relinquishing control over certain internal matters. In a way the globalization of our species is shifting us from a unilateral to a cooperative decision-making world.
If we are indeed becoming more of a cooperative decision-making world, this does not seem (at least on the surface) such a bad thing to be occurring as it forces us all to look at the big picture of our species, not just ourselves as much, so, that being said, the question now seems to be… Is sacrificing sovereignty really such a bad thing in some ways if it serves the greater good of ones people and the world as a whole?
That is the question up for debate. This shift, whether it is a violation of sovereignty or not, depends on how one sees this concept of such an idea. As pointed out in the article, John Stuart Mills (in his writing “On Liberty”), used the “harm principle” to express the view that a person’s individual liberty could be limited only in order to protect others and avoid harm.
So the debate now seems to be… How do we define “harm” to others? It would be easy for many (and indeed that is the debate that is now going on) to say that many of the new globalizing organizations (like the WTO), are harm inducing as they are only concentrating on certain areas of the collective idea and ignoring, downplaying or not seeing other areas that they deem not as important and all encompassing. But is it good to just get rid of said organizations because of these things, or, are we, as a species only at the infancy stage of our development as a collective community and are groups like this, while flawed in many ways, only the first step (one may say needed) for us to take the next step in our evolution as a global collective?
The other debate now being played out is the one around the meaning of what we consider “domestic” matters. Depending on the focus and emphasis, humans need to understand that we are moving towards either a “global” dimension or a “national” dimension to sovereignty. You can’t have it both ways and still participate in the new globalized world.
The birth of the information age was another big step forward in this (some may say) erosion of state sovereignty. Technology advancements are not going to cease, indeed they will continue at an accelerated pace for the (un)foreseeable future, and so with the advancements of our technology, the world will become closer and the idea of borders will become less and less an issue. We can see today through some of our social media networks that issues in one part of the world are being taken up in others and indeed this is planting the seeds of a collective mindset on social issues, not just financial. Are these movements also, in some ways a violation of ones states sovereignty to govern and deal with ones problems, or are we moving to a place where social issues are also a global liberty idea?
The EU (as it stands now) is in its conception, sort of a halfway point between the two ideas of sovereignty (global and national), and it seems that one of the big issues that has hit Europe (besides financial) is the increasing difficulty to determine the difference between purely domestic matters and those that require international collective action.
We are a more porous world. Policies (be they environmental, health related, taxation related, militarily related, dealing with migration issues and so on) can and are now having a direct impact on a wider scope of states than ever before. While now we focus on the economic side of these ideas, the future holds many more issues for us to look at than just that as we see that the need to broaden our scope of understanding of the global collective we are creating is necessary.
The world is changing. Recently the economy of Brazil surpassed that of the United Kingdom (in terms of GDP). China surpassed Japan and is on track to become the worlds largest. While still economic in nature, these types of changes have a much wider and further reaching impact and implications than just in money matters. The emergence of countries like Brazil, China, Indonesia, India (even Russia to some extent) the rise of the Middle East, and in the future places like Nigeria, Bangladesh and some other African and South American countries hold great importance for global governance at a time when the imbalance between existing problems/threats and the means available to states to guarantee their citizens’ safety increases.
So what are we to do? There are those that want to turn the clock back; to stop this globalization of the world and return to the days of more definable and understandable states of sovereignty. While I do think that at this point in our evolution as a collective there are many flaws, to go back would seem to show we are afraid to evolve and exhibits a lack of understanding of the change that always exists in our world. The world is a more complex and misunderstood place than ever before, that is for sure. And due to this complexity, generally we don’t really understand what is happening to our species in many ways. We have, up to now focused greatly on the economic aspects of this globalization. Now, as the world suffers through the economic pains that an unchecked march towards collectiveness has caused us, it seems the best time to begin the long, but needed tasks of putting into place organizations and structures of governance oriented towards responsible dialogue and aiming to mitigate abuses of power.. in all areas of our existence (be they social, economic and so on) and defend the global public interests. Citizens of all states need to feel they have institutions that govern them and take into account their interests and need, and allow them to be a part of the decision making process.
But perhaps, most importantly is the need for us, the human race to understand, or be educated as to the REAL shift that is occurring in our evolution.
We put ourselves on this path, and perhaps in some ways we gave the reigns to the wrong people, or to only a select group of people whom had only certain interests in mind. We need to get back to a place of allowing others besides businesspersons, economic majors, lawyers and the like to draw out this new collective. We need scholars, historians, humanists, scientists, environmentalists, sociologists… a wide and all encompassing collective of persons to be involved in this process. And so, as a species, we need to understand in our small corners of this globe that all these things are needed for the betterment of not only our own lives, but lives of everyone. We have gone too far (not only in our economic integration but in our technologies) to turn back now.
To take a quote from the piece I read, I think sums up the thoughts perfectly. The poet Jose Angel Valente might call this desire (to turn back) as…”to wait for History to wind the clocks and return us to the time in which we would wish everything could start.”
But, unfortunately, in the actual world of the here and now, the concept of sovereignty has already moved on.
*1)- quote from Javier Solana