It appears that insecurity born of the survival mechanism is responsible for the notion that life is sacred, primarily that human life is sacred.
For those not familiar with what I call the modern application of the survival mechanism, allow me to explain. It is my rather un-scientific view that a communication between the core human brain and the relatively newer sections like the frontal cortex, results in sort of hybrid behaviors that involve a duality of ‘thinking’, something like analysis pressed up on something like gut-reaction. The survival mechanism likely constitutes more elements than I plan to consider here, but suffice it to say that self-preservation involves sensory input to the brain and a number of directives the brain sends to the other bodily systems, in an effort to monitor and react to the situation, the surroundings, the possibilities. The nature of the situation has been transformed in modern life, whereby survival for many has become more of a metaphor than a literal task; it is still possible to become quite dead in an instant, but as much from thrill-seeking as from disease. In an era of volunteer armies, antibiotics and industrial agriculture, you can still be drunk without a seatbelt, have sex in a dark alley or wear a yarmulke to a skinhead rally. But for the most part we’ve done all right by ourselves. What I mean to address is that we still possess the apparatus, the humorless focus of the nervous house cat, yet with some degree less traditional application for these energies. The modern application of these reflexes is what we call insecurity.
But despite our relative success, there is still rampant worry. I concede that one should be concerned with hungry predators, should they be salivating in the tall grass or salivating outside the girl’s school. But the worry we encounter is so extreme and ubiquitous that I worry about it. If we have an enemy in this world, over-reaction is a contender. And primarily I am concerned about the insecurity that has led to the myth of the creator and the odd notion that we have descended from this divinity and further, that our lives are sacred (except when they are not.) It is clear that the powers that be knew early how to use fear in myth-making and manipulation, whether by moral decree from those in power, by those who’s advise was somehow sought, or by those seeking to damper opposition to their whim. But this is not really the focus of my inquiry.
With regard to the common hypocrisy, that is, a proclamation of the divinity of man, except when we must eliminate someone for a (good, for god’s) reason: It may be that the instances of blatant hypocrisy to this doctrine inevitably overshadow the instances of quiet adherence. And then arrives the situation in which the actions of churches or governments that are so obviously hypocritical, seem to prove that life is not sacred; so when they kill they have to engage a department of justification, to plea self-defense.
What would be a sacred life form?
It’s bit easy to noble-ize the savage when thinking of the ancient man’s reverence for the lower animals, but any modern ‘naturalist’ in the study of the subordinates will usually express more marvel in storytelling than go on about his conquest over the beastly. This indicates a truth in experience as when a generation of bigots finds their children erasing xenophobia by schooling with the previously ‘sub-human’. If you spend time with the details of the earth and it’s creatures with anything like an open mind, you may construct many more apple and orange comparisons with the life forms you encounter there rather than reinforce pecking orders. But the Mr. Muir type experience requires a diminished need for the spoils of the earth and is doubtless dependent on a granted survival arrangement. As the human population swells, the currents of exploitation will dominate, and as I often proclaim: environmental concerns are often in the end, a privilege of the affluent.
The question is whether modern man could ever even partially adopt a ‘balanced’ understanding of his place in the scheme of things, what (may never have existed in reality) ancient man may have come to know as man’s interdependence in or on the wellness and balance of something ‘natural’, whatever that might mean. Despite the hippie-ness of this ambition, such a ‘paper good’ strikes me as impossible given our expanded and expanding numbers.
There is a procedure by which people determine when and how to take action, some biased toward the alarmist and some preferring denial, the panic of the last minute. Without deeply diverting this discussion into questions about over-population and depleted resources, I merely suggest that no one can really hold that any earth creature besides humanity is sacred, un-expendable, un-exploitable, because there will always be a tension between the interests of man and the interests of the others. To kill an animal, however magnificent, is always justified if it is perceived to be in the interest of man. No animal can prepare a statement on its behalf. No one seems to speak for a silent defendant without major fiction, and is mostly received like Jerry Garcia would have been, should he have appeared before congress to testify on behalf of the decriminalization of drugs.
So then the creature with the power of self-contemplation announces that it is divine. In relation to the other predators and the lower food chains, man has achieved a domination, a dominion. Man points to achievements, the construction of towers and the power to bring them down, the flying in space, the diving of seas, the melting of ores, the writing of thoughts, peering into cells, the delay of death. But then man weeps at the volcano, yells at the weather, begs at the doctor, pleads with the seed to sprout. Man is prone to over-compensation, a bloating akin to the puffer fish, the expansion of the baboon chest, the dawning of a mask to hide the worry.
But why the need for such proclamation of divinity?
If one has not suffered, one may not have asked of the sky: Why, oh creator, why do I suffer, why do you make me so? I suppose many have died before me trying to arrange relative control of earthy things, so that the future may be easier for those who follow. Without utter desperation, it is curious that we are so insecure as to need this seemingly artificial prop that is to mount the summit of a hierarchy we create, so as to be at the top of something. But to simultaneously to create the myth of god and our second place status, a notch below, strikes me a false humility. When we often appear so blatantly pathetic, so human as we say, I suppose just declaring ourselves divine without the caveat that we are (merely) divine chips from the block of real perfection is of course a step too far; this man is a Hitler, a Jim Jones, an O.J., a narcissist. If god is a leader, then what is more natural than an intermediary, un demi.
I can understand, after a lifetime of observing the behavior of pets, why equality (as opposed to hierarchy) is not an attribute of our evolution – for a creature unable to transcend the obsession with feeding and access to sex, getting to the top of a heap will still resonant and guide our behavior, and also influence our analysis of our position in the universe. Most of our grandparents or other practical thinkers who think they have insight to a properly-lived life, may still suggest that these are mostly the items deserving of attention, despite the evolution of our brains, the lofty preoccupations of youth.
It is worth mentioning that if we include science in a group of the world’s cults, as the traditionally religious would want, at least the activities of science have as many instances of marvel and humility as there are celebratory cocktail parties to distribute the accolades of cleverdom. And despite our achievements in the realm of destruction, we’re hardly the apex of destructive force (yet) in our immediate environs and we’ve hardly mastered the summit of much else. It would seem initially that we are ‘creative’, carpeting the planet with cement or filling the sky with flying aluminum tubes, but in a geological blink the vines will penetrate our roads and buildings and we’re well on our way to insuring that most of us couldn’t grow a potato should we be hungry in the coming famines.
My point is just that it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to think I am god’s chosen stooge or that I belong to a divine species. I still get up in the morning, or at least at some point and attempt to accomplish something marginally useful. The fact is that we are totally insignificant in the universe, we all make horrible stench in the bathrooms we visit, and we will all shudder in complete anxiety in the face of death, needn’t keep us from living, loving, or longing to reach our goals. And it’s OK; reality needn’t be different.
It is possible that for some, suffering just cannot be understood or reconciled. I can say this from my current position of relative health. There is evidence that some who suffer can emerge from it with a new appreciation for a following period that finds them comfortable. The cliché is that one is more apt to remain un-phased in the face of conflict, tension or injustice. It may seem harsh to describe those who one might call chronic sufferers, particularly unlucky or worse, unable to learn the lessons of their quandaries, or even incompetent. And it may well not be the place of an outsider to tell such pain-holders that their fate could be ‘handled’ better.
But it is not so obvious why we are so quick to the “Why me?”, when anyone with marginal experience in the world should more likely come to why not me or further to calculate the always present odds of decline. But I’ve always been accused of being negative. Forced smiles or inaccurate descriptions of the world do not transform reality beyond wishful thinking. Does meat really taste better because you didn’t have to watch the animal in the pain of death?
Children come to learn the mantra - we all must die, watch their elders suffer and disappear, and if they were not shielded from the death and renewal that is everywhere, they could easily grasp the reason in the cycles of life and death. The reason in the seasons, the duality is everywhere, everything is born and then consumed and especially for us - the endlessly exploitative, with our eye fixed on how every spec of plant, animal or rock can be used as our item. Only a separation, a notion of divinity, can keep us from the reason that we ourselves should be integral to this cycle, that we are pieces of a universe. And further, the nature of the survival mechanism itself; life has substantial need for a heartiness and organisms need to fight demise with every effort. The heart needs to be stubborn to stop and therefore the pain of death need be intense.
I’m basically talking here now about the education of children. Something that parents do or don’t do, promote or suppress anxiety and esteem. Why don’t we fair better at it? It is discussed in terms like not everyone can be president or in terms like anyone can be president, but neither comment produces a confident, respectful majority. There are merely more instances of leaders and followers, narcissists and the vacant. Is this just a matter of intellectual capacity? Are most merely dogs, standing and whining when the bone is lost under the couch? Why, oh creator, has the bone been lost? What have I done to deserve this fate? Why do you make me suffer so?