I published this article recently. All comments gratefully accepted.

Arnold

WHEN  WILL HUMANS  BE  HUMAN?

BY

ARNOLD  A.  McMAHON

We have traveled to the moon. We can email anywhere on the globe and it will be there in a millisecond. We can fly almost anywhere in the world in 24 hours. Medicine can now save lives that once would have been lost. We have smartphones, computers, self-drive cars.

Yet, are we more human? Are we more kind, more generous, more wise? Will we be an inspiration to future generations?

Every day that we wake up, in every corner of the globe, in rich countries and poor countries, we hear of wars and famines and rapes and murders and thefts and all manner of human atrocities, both large and small. In 2012, at least 437,000 people were murdered by their fellow human beings - an average of 1,200 per day,  50 an hour, almost 1 every minute.  Every day, how many acts are there of unkindness, selfishness, meanness, stupidity, slaughter, suffering,  how many lies, how many acts of cruelty?

Yes, there are many acts of kindness, of bravery, of treating each human being with the dignity that each one has. We may never know whether the daily acts of goodness outweigh the daily acts of evil, but even if they do, there are far too many of the latter in this world. Will the day ever come when there will be no unkindness, selfishness, meanness, stupidity, slaughter, suffering, lies, cruelty?

Or will such a day never come? Are humans inherently flawed? Is it a hopeless quest?

One thing is certain. If we believe it is not possible, then it will not be possible. On the other hand, if we believe it is possible, it may never happen, but at least it leaves open the door to its possibility. The mountain is steep, the valley is deep, but without hope, we will never conquer that slope.

This then raises the question of what lies at the heart of all these brutalities, and then, the question of how do we make sure that such brutalities do not occur.

It is not easy to compress the answer to these questions into a few lines of prose, but that does not mean that we should not start to think about what we can do to make this a better, happier, more peaceful world. I suggest one starting point here.

We have the ability to reason. I do not mean the rationalization of a bias, but the ability both to form a clear set of rational principles and the ability to follow them. For example, does each person, however flawed, possess an inherent dignity that should never be violated?. And that if we do violate that inherent dignity,  are we undermining our own humanity? Is this something that should be inculcated in our children from the earliest moments in their lives? Is this the most important thing to teach our children, more important than math and science and technology?

The answer is clearly yes for a multitude of reasons - both principled and pragmatic. Is it to the advantage of the world to have children growing up to be mean, cruel, bitter, selfish, dangerous, murderous? History abundantly answers that question, and yet we fail to acknowledge and appreciate it. 

This training in reasoning has to begin from early childhood. Both in the home and in school, in society and in our entire culture.  It has to be the most important part of educating a child. In our rush these days to educate children to get jobs in the technological/scientific/financial/medical/legal world, the emphasis on reasoning in all areas of life often takes a distant back seat or is even non-existent.

Put another way, ethics has to be at the core of all education. Without it, disaster looms in all sorts of ways. For example, as scientists knew that the creation of nuclear weapons could destroy the whole of humanity and the planet on which we live, they should have said to politicians that they would not make such instruments of death. Instead, we now have a nuclear stockpile in the world that can destroy the planet 100 times over. So, if we do not get it right the first time, we still have 99 more chances to do so.

“It will never happen” we console ourselves. Yet history abundantly teaches us otherwise. At the end of the 19th. century, the “civilized” world thought that war was a thing of the past. Yet within a few short years, the first brutal war of the 20th. century erupted because an archduke was assassinated. And it was the so-called “civilized” countries that tore each other apart. In the Cuban missile crisis, we came very, very close to a nuclear confrontation. There are many areas of conflict in today’s world where a nuclear conflagration could erupt and engulf everything.

The grounding of all human beings on certain fundamental ethical principles is the biggest single weakness in our current global educational system. All human beings possess an infinite worth which can never be sacrificed on the altar of material progress. We have a precious little planet, and we are blessed to be able to live our lives on it. Let us not destroy this gift.

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I found this to be a very interesting article that raises a wonderful question,  What are the minimum standards that qualify us to claim our humanity?  Simply having a human body does not satisfy the condition.  The author implies a certain ethical standard is necessary to claim to be human.  These are important points and of paramount concern.  Maslow said only one in a thousand is a self-actualizing human being.  Thoreau said only one in 10,000 is a real human being?  What are the minimum requirements?

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"ethics has to be at the core of all education". Well said. The whole of humanity would seem to be in need of a kind of re-education. We've wandered far, but like you say, if we can remain mindful of the potential to progress, we have a chance to correct the course.

I enjoyed your article. Thanks for posting it.

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Mr. McMahon's article is moving and poignant. It raises fundamental questions which should be uppermost in our minds. But the issue of how to properly educate our children in ethics is a complex one, for many reasons.

Plato taught that virtue cannot be taught. It can be exemplified certainly, but all of us are aware of how it can also be pretended. We often act to appear virtuous to our fellows or to our children, but what is the motive?  "No action can be considered moral," said William Prescott, "where there is no free agency. Where the routine is rigorously prescribed by law...the law, and not the man, must have the credit of the conduct." Theosophy teaches that motive is the crucial question in deciding whether or not an act is truly moral, truly in accord with karmic law, or not. This cannot be determined by externals.

Many of us were raised Christian and even went to Christian private schools. We had the ten commandments drilled into us and the sacrificial life of Jesus, who died for our sins, graphically displayed and spoken of repeatedly. Yet, as H. P. Blavatsky pointed out, the fundamental teachings of Christianity actually undermines ethical conduct. The doctrine that a new, separate soul is born with each life and a single life determines our eternal salvation (or damnation), along with the doctrine of vicarious atonement, actually encourages a fierce form of selfishness that we see operative in Western civilization. If we believe we are separate, we shall act for the separative self. If we believe we can confess our sins and be absolved of our wrong doing without consequence, we lose a sense of responsibility for our actions.

In the Key to Theosophy, H. P. Blavatsky states that it is only the teachings of Karma and Reincarnation and their underlying doctrine of Unity, that establish a proper basis for ethics. These are teachings which even the uneducated multitudes can readily understand because they are in accord with our innate sense of justice. The soul rejoices when they are taken up as objects of study, says W. Q. Judge, because they accord with the truths of Nature...which is our inner nature. At the same time, their deeper metaphysical aspects and corresponding philosophy will give the greatest minds their widest scope. 

As Judge also pointed out, the deeper we see into the truths of nature, the more our actions will want to be in accord with that perception. Moral and ethical sensitivity differs from one man to the next and can and should evolve as we evolve. Ultimately, no written code of ethics will suffice to guide. The intuition and the voice of conscience must be awakened so that each may be a light unto themselves.

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Thanks, Kirk, for your thoughtful and reasoned reply.

1. Yes, ultimately, the teacher has to be genuinely ethical. Ones words must flow from and match who one is. That does not undermine the claim that ethics are objective. For example, it is never right to molest a child. If one abides by this law only out of fear of being imprisoned, one is acting according to what is ethical but one is not being ethical.

2. Yes, selfishness is incompatible with being ethical. We are of one warp and woof. We are all in the same lifeboat together. This puts an incredible task on our shoulders. We should always be aware of how far we have to travel to reach that goal of being completely ethical. If any readers have reached that goal already, please let us know.

3. Yes, the good news is that there is an ethical dimension to reality. That makes reality truly wonderful. It is my contention that our educational system (family, formal, etc) must see that this is the most important thing we do and teach.

A long way to go - but let us keep trying.

Arnold

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Nicholas, thanks for your comment. It provokes many thoughts. Briefly:

1. Is the new born baby good or bad? I agree with you that it is good.

2. Is the new born baby ethical or unethical? I would argue that it is neither at that point. One only becomes ethical or unethical based on the decisions that one makes.

3. A key question is how do we get people (including oneself) to be ethical. Any thoughts on that?

Arnold

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Nicholas, do you have any thoughts on the following.

If our buddha nature lies at the heart of reality, some ask how such a peaceful entity can be at that heart, given, for example, the explosive force of such things as the Big Bang. They say that a lot of violence exists at the heart of the world.

P.S. Something to think about. If earth was condensed to the same level as in a black hole, the diameter of the earth would be 7/10 ths of an inch. Then we would all be neighbors!