Monday, April 25, 2011

Artificial Barriers

“There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.”
Ronald Reagan

Optimists are those who take the credit for things that go right and blame external forces for things that don’t.

Pessimists blame themselves for what goes wrong and credit external forces for things that go right.

Both are necessary to an extent. Sometimes things happen just because they do. It’s life. Good and bad both happen and whether something is good or bad depends on our personal viewpoint. We can’t control world events.

Or can we?

I’ve been reading Marilynne Robinson’s The Death of Adam. It’s a slow read, and I had to pull my dictionary to my side (now, I have a good vocabulary but hers is apparently better) and jot notes while I read. It’s a book of essays on modern thought. Very intriguing for those who wonder why we are where we are these days.

One thing in the first essay, Darwinism, that struck me was the very loud and clear fact of how deeply influential writers can be on their worlds, and not only their small worlds but on the whole larger world. She argues that Nietzsche and Darwin and Freud, in their insistence that man is base and aggressive in nature and that our main object is self-survival (or survival of the fittest) helped lead to Nazism. At that time, she says, Europeans were growing weary of the Christian ethic of having to take care of their poor brethren and so the idea of survival of the fittest, that basically told them the weak shouldn’t survive, grew in leaps and bounds as these three authors spread the thought.

Modern scientific thought spread, since it made the intelligentsia feel absolved of the fact that they owed it to others to help care for them, and started to try to negate the “truth” of religion. They didn’t want the guilt that came from not helping their neighbors and so latched onto this survival of the fittest attitude. University professors were among them, and they took it to their students. It’s much easier to absolve yourself of guilt if you believe it’s nature and therefore the real truth that we’re meant to put ourselves first.

Of course, while trying to disprove religion, which they were unable to do, they also were unable to prove their own theory.

That hardly mattered. Anything that gives people the easier way out will spread easily and heartily.

However, what they didn’t count on was the rigid fight of people who refused to believe they shouldn’t help their neighbors just because it felt like the right thing to do. They stubbornly held onto their “love thy neighbor” Christianity.

I read someone’s question this morning as to what eggs and bunnies have to do with Easter, and for that matter, what Santa has to do with Christmas. Although I knew the basics, I did do some minor research real quick to support my answer. Santa Claus came from Saint Nicholas. American colonists grasped onto the giving and generous Dutch Bishop Nicholas rather than the English Saint George and followed his example by giving gifts to others. American writer Washington Irving picked that up, used some creative imagination, and turned him into “Jolly Saint Nick” in a story to help spread the idea of giving with glee. From there came “The Night Before Christmas” furthering the idea of the “bowl full of jelly” and the red suit to match his red cheeks. And from there, artists picked up the image and ran with it. Santa Clause comes from “Sante Claus” meaning “giver to children.”

So this time, writers were spreading the idea of giving and sharing and joy.

The effect of both sets of writers are still with us. Although people in general may not be aware of the scientists’ actual philosophies and their words that said it’s in humanity’s best interest for the weaker among us to be extinguished, the idea is still in our general worldly psyche. The weaker are still being extinguished. Too many among us still think it’s okay to sit back and let it happen.

There is a point to survival of the fittest to some extent, but how do we define “fit”? By the ability to create weapons and technology? Or by the ability to still love through the hate? Which is the more fit, the stronger?

There is still no proof they were correct in their theory, with too much of it left unexplained. And personally, I’d say there is plenty of proof they were not. If they had been, and if all through the centuries survival of the fittest was actually at work, then wouldn’t we stop making the mistakes of the past, stop fighting over theoretical differences, over religious differences? Wouldn’t we know by now which was the “best” way of building a society and wouldn’t more societies be so much kinder to their populations than they are? If the best, strongest, and brightest of us were the ones surviving, at this point, wouldn’t we be much smarter than we are? I don’t see that we are any smarter or more fit than humans ever were.

I do see that goodness and the innate love for each other has gone a long way in conquering the selfish “rid ourselves of the weak” attitude. I’d say it proves the “take care of yourself first” theory of man incorrect since we have whole nations of people fighting for the rights and safety of strangers and supporting that for no other reason except we are supposed to love our brothers, know them or not. And innately, we do. How else do you explain someone stopping to help a stranger on the sidewalk if he has a heart attack? Most of us would do what we could. Why? Survival of the fittest would tell us to leave him be, that he’s weak and deserves to die and there will be more resources for the rest of us. We don’t, though. We help. Whatever our religion, and even if we have no acknowledged religion, we would try to help.

The barriers to furthering the growth of love and kindness have been artificially made, in part by those spreading the defeatist attitude purposely. Their effect can be defeated. But to do so, we have to start by understanding the roots. We have to tear down the boundaries that we’ve created within ourselves and listen, pay attention, grow … instead of blocking out what we do not wish to hear and making things “easier” for ourselves which in turn makes things much harder for everyone.

Words do matter. What you spread matters. And it ripples. Using the excuse of “human nature” is a cop out. Identify the constraints within yourself, grab hold of them, and tear them down.

The simple fact that many of us have been able to break through boundaries and achieve is proof that all of us can. If we will. (paraphrased from Reagan)


Dorothy said...

You are so right.

LK Hunsaker said...


Liana at said...

If the best, strongest, and brightest of us were the ones surviving, at this point, wouldn’t we be much smarter than we are? I don’t see that we are any smarter or more fit than humans ever were.

Good point!