Saturday, August 30, 2014

Human Nature

There is only one species on earth whose domination is so absolute that it can tame almost everything in its path - the human species. And it is the expression of human nature that has brought enlightenment and destruction to the world on an unprecedented scale. While human nature overflowing can express kindness to save the world, it can also harness the power of the atom to assure the extermination of all that is beautiful.

There are many characteristics of human nature that set us apart from others who share this rich planet with us. Humor is certainly one them. The ability to recognize and derive pleasure in a nuanced way that no artificial or natural intelligence can replicate, is unique to the human experience. It is also believed that when we see our reflection in a mirror or in water we instantly recognize ourselves. Animals lack this awareness and that is what differentiates us from them. Another salient feature that differentiates us, is our ability to inflict violence not just on the other species but our own. Human nature has developed intricate and diabolical methods to impress mental and physical violence that never ceases to surprise. From racism, rape, terrorism to genocide, humanity has used its awareness and ingenuity to oppress, strangle and dominate its own kind with a high degree of precision. A quick study of human history would validate this point with repeated consistency. Today while large swathes of people on the planet live in relative peace, violence is always round the corner. And therefore the idea of peace is often advertised as something important to cherish for human prosperity. But then again the idea of peace would not exist, without the idea of war and violence.

So what drives humans to commit violence? Is it inherent? Is it part of our DNA, that can only be suppressed by living in a coded society? Or is it something else. It is certain, that when humans see no hope and have no future they turn on each other. Poverty and destitution can turn humans unpredictably violent. When Mahatma Gandhi proposed the idea of Ahimsa (non-violence), he wanted humanity to achieve the high ideal of refraining not just from violent action but more importantly violent thought.

The recent Ebola out break in Western Africa has been pushing an already desperate people ravaged by war, over the edge. The rapid spread of this virus in this day and age has shocked many and its far reaching consequences have left many nations on edge. While stories of men, women and children dying and nations struggling to get a grip on the situation has disturbed many, an incident that took place in Liberia recently shook me even more. Earlier this month an Ebola quarantine center in Liberia was attacked by an armed gang and looted. The patients who were taking refuge and receiving treatment had to scurry and the looters made away with blood stained sheets, mattresses and medical equipment increasing the chances of further contamination and spread. Whether the center was looted out of frustration and anger for Ebola being brought to Liberia or for personal gain was unclear. But the desperation of a people and the loss of humanity in this instance was starkly disturbing.

In other news from the continent of Africa, the plight of the majestic vegetarian animal, the elephant, was again at risk. Human poaching of elephants for their ivory has pushed their  population further to the brink. 35,000 elephants have been killed annually since 2010 and the forecast is that if this rate continued the elephants would vanish from the wild in less than a century. Another reflection of humanity's desperate need or greed that leads to shocking brutality.

The killing in the middle east has been horrifying people around the world for more than three years now. From Syria, Libya, Iraq to now Israel and Palestine it seems relentless. UNHCR this week declared the Syrian tragedy "the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era". Three million Syrians are in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and North Africa. 6.5 million are displaced within Syria and the killing goes on unabated, as a abominable dictator holds onto power and a terror group called ISIS fills in the vacuum as it unleashes unspeakable violence against anyone in its path. From beheadings to summary mass executions, ISIS has pushed the limit of human violence on human to another level. With a warped vision of creating a state ruled by fear and mass murder, they have shown yet again that an extreme ideology can spawn extreme violence that can attract sizable support. Much like the Taliban in Afghanistan, the death squads of Indonesia and Pol Pot's killing armies in Cambodia, ISIS is a threat not only to global security, but to human conscience. While the tribal wars within that region see no end, the emergence of an organization this extreme, that is attracting faithful fanatics to join its ranks from America and Great Britain, is sending shock waves. The west seems incapable of drafting a compelling response to this threat, and by the time there will be one, countless lives would have been lost. Much like the delayed response to Hitler and his demonic vision saw the extermination of defenseless and innocent Jews by the millions and the slow response to the Rwandan genocide caused unprecedented murder, humanity is once again failing the Syrians. 

Humanity is no monolith. Humans have egos and egos separate us from each other with far reaching consequences. Egos create dictators and power hungry leaders who can whip up violent ideas of nationalism and fascism without much effort for personal gain. Vladimir Putin in Russia has proven himself very adept at this. With public support most democratically elected leaders would kill for, he has turned one of the largest nations on the planet into an authoritarian state. As he pushes into Ukraine, testing the west's resolve, he is behaving like many past leaders with visions of regaining lost empire. 

Empire building through out human history has been a cause of death on a massive scale. Colonization and slavery in the last two centuries has seen the decimation of many indigenous peoples across continents. Wars as recent as the one unleashed on Iraq by America, were driven by underlying ideas of empire building causing death on a massive scale and inadvertently spawning groups like the ISIS which threaten the very idea of being human.

When Mahatma Gandhi famously said “the world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed”, he had traveled the world and had acquired a deep  understanding of human history and human nature. But even he could not have foreseen
how uneven the world would become in its evolution. The wealth gap between nations and neighbors has never been so wide and is only rapidly expanding. Technology in some ways brings people out of poverty, but in other instances concentrates wealth at the top. The rapidly shrinking middle class in America, is a stark reflection of this phenomenon. Global warming poses other challenges whose ramifications are barely beginning to be felt and the forecast is not promising. Yet humans seldom can agree on remedies even when their own survival is at stake.

It is in human nature to have hope, as without hope there is no future. But if hope becomes a privilege of a few, and a future becomes a prerogative of the wealthy, then humanity will fall victim to its own progress. It is what it is.