The human race hasn’t improved one bit–ever. It hasn’t gotten better, and it hasn’t gotten worse. Its motivations and behaviors have remained unchanged since it began keeping records of itself.
I can only assume that prior to that, it was ruled by the same forces of greed, lust, envy, love, hatred, cruelty, kindheartedness, compassion and tribalism it still serves.
We pick and choose from that list of traits and decide as a society which combinations and degrees of them are good and which are bad, and that becomes right and wrong until the next society comes along and mixes everything up again.
If I remove a wasp nest from my grill in the spring, another one will be built by other wasps in the same place the next year. And they’ll keep doing it over and over again because that’s what they do.
If I kick over an anthill, they’ll just rebuild, because that’s what they do.
If a heavy rain washes out a beaver dam, they’ll rebuild that, because that’s what they do.
We’re like that too, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing–it just simply is. At our core, we are the same as we always were. Everything around us has changed, but we haven’t.
You might feel as if you’re living in extraordinary times, but you aren’t. This is all business as usual for the human race. We’re cavemen with iPhones and self-driving cars.
When insects or animals are part of groups whose interests conflict with other groups of animals, violence ensues, and the victor wins the dispute. So it is with us, when our self-constructed systems of belief clash with one another. Everybody who doesn’t think like your tribe thinks is “evil.”
If there’s any sort of “message” in Effugium and its sequels, it’s that when it comes to technological innovation and social structure, the sky’s the limit. We, however, remain the same–just one step removed from barbarism.
We have our own set of instincts just like any other life form, the only difference being that we can choose to deviate from or adhere to them as we wish.
That’s why certain individuals are singled out for praise or remembrance–they deviated. They rose above. That doesn’t mean we as a species have improved. That just means those individuals have come up with something new or delivered something old in a unique or refreshing way.
Anshar, the outermost Galenian colony world, practices slavery. There’s no moral quandary, it just is. They’ve convinced themselves its an acceptable practice.
We think we’re so far beyond these kinds of practices, but we’ll do anything everyone else is doing.
That’s because right and wrong are whatever we say they are. If murder is socially acceptable, it’s no longer considered “wrong,” and people convince themselves that this is true. We set these boundaries for ourselves with good reason, but they’re always malleable. People you think are “good people” can be persuaded to embrace what they might have previously regarded as evil. “If everyone else is doing it,” they reason, “then it must be right.” Either that, or they go the extreme opposite route and don’t trust anything. Often this is to their own detriment as well as that of others who are forced to put up with them. Others fall in the middle somewhere.
We think people who do things differently than us are evil. They think we are evil. All of these opinions and values we hold dear are necessary and require some sort of solidarity in order for a society to function.
Invariably, though, all of our attempts at the perfect society are doomed to failure. Every continent on this planet has had a chance to rule the world at some point. The crumbling ruins of once-mighty fallen empires the world over will attest to that.
Still, we keep trying. We keep doing what we do, because it’s all we can do. And that’s okay. I guess.
Good food for thought. In general, humans really are much the same as we’ve always been. It’s just that some specific details that have changed. I tend to see that in more optimistic terms. Kindness and self-sacrifice have been part of human nature from the beginning, too, and there are plenty of examples of that throughout our history. But it would be foolish to ignore our bad qualities.
Yeah, the full range of inclinations and behaviors have always been there for all of recorded history. I was just musing on how people view current events as some kind of aberration, but it’s really not. It’s pretty normal.
You’re right, it really is. People keep saying these are weird times, but I feel like I’ve been living in weird times my whole life now. Weird times are normal.
The way I worded that, btw, I don’t want to give the impression I’m downplaying slavery. I’m just saying that it doesn’t take much for people to convince themselves that things like that are acceptable. I saw some Nazi salt and pepper shakers with swastikas on them at an antique store once. They also had little miniature flags and flyers and buttons for various civilian activities. You look at that and realize, this was just status quo for these people. It was normal to them. To us, it’s ghastly. I just find those kinds of fundamental differences in perspective fascinating.
It’s almost like we have a finite amount of clay from which to shape ourselves, and we can either make something nice or make something crap, and we do both.
I’m sure there are things we’re doing now that people in the future will all agree are ghastly. It’s easy for history to tell the difference between good and evil. It’s harder for those of us living in the moment.
I didn’t get the impression you were downplaying slavery, but since you bring that up, I think it’s a good example of what you’re talking about. I tend to think slavery is still with us. It’s simply rebranded itself as sweatshops, migrant labor, etc.
Yes, exactly. It’s like we have a finite amount of clay to work with, and we can either shape it into something great or something horrible. Get several different sculptors all trying to do something different with the same piece of clay at the same time, and then it turns into a big lump of nothing.
And just the way we approach making a living is almost like indentured servitude. You just get to choose your own master. Don’t choose one, no health insurance. They literally hold our lives in their hands. Not much different than Pharaohs sitting around eating grapes and getting fanned with palm leaves while poor people sweat and die building the pyramids for them.