If I could pronounce on average a number every 5 seconds I would have to count 1109.8 years to reach the number of people that are alive today. Ironically, by 3121AD that number will have increased so much that I would probably have to keep on counting thousands more years.
There is quite a lot of us. But who are we? What are we? Are we really that what we call ourselves? Homo Sapiens, the Knowing Man, The Wise Man? The taxonomy, scientist will argue, holds no attribution of traits to the current human species but rather a way to tell us apart from the other different hominid species which were unsuccessful, but it is hard not to notice the choice of words in this construction. Most of us beam with pride whenever the triumph of the Homo Sapiens species over all others is mentioned and deep inside, we do attribute ourselves this “sapiens” trait, sustaining the right to do so almost exclusively with our ability to master technology. With this great knowledge however, comes even greater responsibility, after all knowledge is power, a special kind of multifaceted responsibility that cannot easily be wrapped into a single word, but something that I see as being an essential part of the human construct: the spirit. By this, I am not alluding to any specific religious aspect, but rather to the immaterial connection between the human mind and it’s surroundings, the understanding of self within the context of all that surrounds each of us, our emotions, instincts, limitations and abilities. A very special human trait which lately made it to the endangered list …
Technology wise, we sprang ahead at an extremely fast pace. Hundreds of interesting and useful objects pervade our lives giving us more comfort and wealth that any of our ancestors had, so much so that our way of life would literally collapse if they were taken away from us, but most people do not understand the many faces of all these utilities. Most of us are using them the same way our ancestors used fire: they didn’t know what it was, but they knew how to make it and what it did, so why is this bad? The devil lies, as usual, in the details. Back then, the technological process of “having a steak for lunch” was as simple as it gets: catch an animal, collect or chop down wood, gather it into a pile, create a spark to light the fire, cook the steak and that was it. No additional obscure processes were involved which meant that the effort was dispensed entirely by the individual executing and very few natural resources consumed. Adding to this a very small population volume meant that nature had such enormous buffering capacity that it was acceptable to consider all these resources (in this case, wood and meat) as being limitless. I don’t believe it ever crossed their minds that it can be any other way, but in the abundance of those days and the simplicity of their ways this kind of ignorance was of no consequence. Today however, things are quite different. Both the meat and the heat source come with very complicated and resource intensive ramifications: animal feed must first be grown and processed, then the animal is raised in a highly industrialized manner, the meat is processed, transported, commercialized ending up as a consumer product in the supermarket where it finally meets the actual consumer (the hunter). The same is true for the heat source and all the technology that surrounds us. Whatever we consume or whatever we own, is a gigantic strain on the resources of the planet which, today we know, are not endless. This is why, it not acceptable any more to be ignorant of the implications of these end products, yet most of us are, because monetization of the resources shields the entire process from the eyes of the consumer behind a handful of coins. Currency however, is not a physical wall that literally hides everything behind it, but more a symbolic one which only offers an excuse for ignorance to the numb intellect. In the abundance of knowledge at our hands today where it’s almost impossible to avoid information, failure to acquiring it, cannot any more be a case of ignorance by circumstance. It is ignorance by choice.
On the other hand, spiritually, we have only taken very slow gradual steps. We abolished things like slavery, we don’t burn scientist at stake for saying anything else that we want to hear and have grown somewhat accustomed with variety around us, but we still have serious problems with discipline, self control, respect towards other people, nature or even our own bodies. All around the world we have examples with individuals inability to integrate into society, racism, oppression of the poor, disconsideration of women and intolerance in general, we use natures resources as if they were limitless, knowing full well this is not the case, not to mention an epidemic of metabolic diseases caused almost entirely by people’s disconsideration of their own bodies.
Considering these two aspects, our technological and spiritual development, it is obvious that we are seriously off balance, spiritually handicapped even. We have a blind spot, where all those things we don’t have time or don’t bother to understand, reside. We are children playing with fire, with no grownups in sight. We focus too much on the material gain, that which gives fast satisfaction, and invest almost nothing into the immaterial, because its long term slow reward mechanism is almost imperceptible compared to the sugar rush like reward of the former.
This imbalance is somewhat understandable when we think in terms of how different things engage people: technology, the material thing, provides easy access to it’s benefits. It can be passed from person to person easily, people do not have to understand its internal working and as long as they can learn how to use it, the rewards are just as big. Spirituality, on the other hand is quite the opposite. It is not easily transmissible, it can be taught, but it will come to us only when we understand and accept it. Instead of direct reward it often implies self restraint, discipline, patience, concentration, selflessness, broad vision, acceptance and sometimes even sacrifice for the possibility of an intangible future reward.
I often argue with my daughter, who never wants to sleep, afraid to miss out on something, that sleep is not wasted time. I tell her that the brain cannot do many things at once, so it needs a time when it doesn’t have to see and hear, to sort and store on little shelves all that which was seen and heard during the day; to make sense of them. Sleeping is a part of life. A different kind of activity that we must do on regular basis, and if we don’t then we will really miss out on things, because the brain will not be able to store them and we forget all that we have done the day before. It would be as if yesterday never happened. But this benefit, is very hard to grasp and it is almost impossible to enjoy. It is not a reward mechanism, it is a physiological one, meant to keep the body functional. It is only noticeable when it is absent, and then, in a negative way. This intangible aspect of sleep implies that thorough understanding and a mature intellect is needed to come to terms with it. But even then, it is hard to actually be happy about it.
Luckily for our health, the brain has a mechanism to tell us that we need to sleep, after a while it will put us in stand-by whether we like it or not. Sadly though, conscience, does not have this kind of power. It cannot force us to stop the rat race and make sense of all that we have done or we are about to do. It is our responsibility to educate this side of us, to invest time to make it strong enough to be able to dampen our impulses and give us back the power of clear sight. Without it, we may be “homo”, but we are certainly not “sapiens”. We are nothing but mindless zombies living in a continuous contradiction, without free will and without a future.