The global coronavirus pandemic reminds us that all of humanity is at risk, not only from the virus itself, but also from our human inability to live in equilibrium with the community on planet earth. There are more and more people who feel that humanity may not make it. In his book Beyond Civilization, Daniel Quinn simply says:
“If we carry on as we are, we won’t be around much longer – a few decades, a century at most. If we are still in about a thousand years, it will be because we stopped going on as we are. “
A historical perspective is often used to understand the bigger picture. Yuval Noah Harari did just that in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jared Diamond admitted that he said, “Sapiens addresses the greatest questions in history and the modern world.”
Says Harari: “The Agrarian Revolution has certainly increased the total amount of food available to mankind, but the extra food has not resulted in better nutrition or more leisure time. Rather, it led to population explosions and spoiled elites. “We are now at a turning point in history and our survival depends on how we understand the legacy of three men:
- Jean-Jacques and
The world according to Thomas
Thomas had an unfavorable introduction to the world. He was born prematurely when his mother learned that the Spanish Armada would soon invade England. He later reported that “my mother gave birth to twins: me and fear”. Things did not improve after he was born. His father was a quick-tempered pastor who fell out of favor after a fight in his own church and abandoned Thomas, his two siblings, and his wife.
Thomas had a lonely childhood. At the age of four he was sent to a church school and later to private schools. He eventually attended Oxford University. Like many abandoned children, he learned to survive on his own. As an adult, he dedicated his life to philosophy. Thomas was one of the first philosophers to argue that if we really want to know each other, we have to understand how our ancestors lived. A worthy ambition for a philosopher.
Thomas wanted to understand our hunter-gatherer past and what human nature was like then, and he believed he knew how to find out. He wrote:
“Read yourself. When you analyze your own fears and feelings, you will read and know what the thoughts and passions of all other men are on similar occasions. “
As he looked inward and applied what he saw to our human origins, he concluded that people in the past were free and could do what they wanted, and he concluded that the consequences were dire were. Human life in this natural state was according to his words lonely, poor, evil, brutal and short. His reasoning was simple: people are driven by fear – fear of others, fear of death. We long for security and want strength. According to Thomas, the result was “a condition of all against all”. Not a very nice prospect for humanity.
We live in a world where many, especially men, grew up with absent or abusive fathers and many see the world and human nature through this lens.
The world according to Jean-Jacques
Jean-Jacques also had a difficult early life and suffered greatly. “I was born almost dying and they had little hope of saving me,” he recalled. His mother died nine days after he was born of puerperal fever, which he later described as “the first of my many accidents”. He and his older brother François were raised by their father and a paternal aunt.
Even so, he remembers many fond memories of his childhood. But his social world was restricted by his aunt’s fear for his safety. He was not allowed to play with children of the same age and spent a lot of time with adults or alone. His father taught him to read and helped him appreciate the scenery. He turned increasingly to nature for comfort and companionship.
Growing up, Jean-Jacques had few friends, but an important one was Denis Diderot, a poor philosopher who had been arrested for making an unfortunate joke about the mistress of a government minister. Denis told Jean-Jacques about an essay contest that might bring him a little recognition and maybe some money.
Jean-Jacques thought of his friend Denis and saw the human condition in a moment of enlightenment. He realized that modern civilization is not a blessing but a curse. He sees that his friend and all other people “are inherently good, and only from modern institutions do people become evil.” He won the essay contest and became one of the most influenced philosophers in the world.
The world after Lhamo
Lhamo, like many in our world, grew up in difficult circumstances and had an abusive father who loved him but had an explosive temper. He was born in the small village of Taktser in Amdo Province. His full name, Lhamo Thondup, literally means “Wish Fulfilling Goddess”. The village stood on a hill overlooking a wide valley. The pastures had not been populated or cultivated for long, only nomads grazed. The reason for this was the unpredictability of the weather in this area. Lhamo remembered
“During my early childhood, my family was one of about twenty who made a precarious living from the country there.”
His father was a medium-sized man with a very quick temper. “I remember being pulled by his mustache once and hit hard for my problems,” Lhamo recalled. “But he was also a kind man, and he never held a grudge.” His mother gave birth to sixteen children, seven of whom survived. “My mother was without a doubt one of the nicest people I have ever known,” he remembers with a smile.
When Lhamo was two years old, the government sent a search party to find him and his life changed forever. When I met Lhamo Thondup at a conference in 1989, shortly after he won the Nobel Peace Prize, he was known as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.
The future of humanity will be determined by what view of human nature we follow
Thomas Hobbes, who lived between 1588 and 1679, still influences our view of human nature today. His belief that people are driven by fear, are in constant conflict and only a society led by a Leviathan or powerful male ruler can keep humanity in harmony.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau lived between 1712 and 1778 and developed a philosophy that was the exact opposite of Hobbes. He believed that our peaceful and positive past as hunter-gatherers meant that people were basically good and that modern society was destructive. He longed to go back to the past seen through rose-colored glasses.
Lhamo Thondup, who grew up to be the Dalai Lama, was born in 1935 and celebrated his 85th birthday on July 6, 2020. He is a completely modern man who is knowledgeable about science but has an ancient wisdom based on love and compassion for all living beings.
All three men faced what we would now call a traumatic childhood, but each grew up taking different paths for humanity. It seems we are at a turning point in human history. Which man offers humanity the best and brightest future? Our views about humanity do not depend so much on what happened to us as children, but what we do with what happened.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going with Lhamo. Here are some things he said that give me hope for our future:
- “Compassion is the radicalism of our time.”
- “Under the greatest adversity, there is the greatest potential to do good, both for yourself and for others.”
- “We have to learn to want what we have, not to have what we want, in order to get stable and steady happiness.”
- “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
I am looking forward to read your comments. If you would like to read more articles, please visit me here.
Was this helpful?
Sign up to receive my weekly article every Sunday.
You are in. Please check your email.