“Among humanity love is the natural force that defies the natural law of entropy.”
– M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled
“WILL HUMANITY GET ITS ACT TOGETHER?” cries a discussion group on LinkedIn’s Philosophy Network. The author is dismayed at the world we live in: we are a mediocre species – he bellows – our leaders are corrupt, we have no goals and we are killing the environment.
The last couple of weeks have not been great on the humanity front. The terrorist attacks in Kenya, sectarian violence in Pakistan and Iraq, the shootings in Washington D.C. One could argue that devastating news has not just been pervading our consciousness for the past few weeks, but rather months, or even years.
The world does seem to be a scarier place, doesn’t it? Acts of terror have mutated to such forms that there are no depths to which fundamentalists will not go to to achieve their goals. States and corporations have us under constant surveillance, increasingly invading our privacy. The economic crises leave us in a precarious state of anxiety: pensions being eroded; high youth unemployment; the end of jobs-for-life. Our planet is dying: we are heating it up; killing eco-systems; and endangering habitats and species for our own greed.
It’s a very natural response to ask ourselves, “What is the world coming to?” and to think that it’s all downhill from here. Yet, as depressing as it all seems, I believe that the world is getting better.
In his book The Science of Fear, Dan Gardner makes a strong case for the fact that we are living in a much safer world than we used to. He claims that since we tend to act more immediately from our gut instincts, we perceive risk more highly, and unrealistically. He gives the following example of terrorism:
“The safety gap is so large, in fact, that planes would still be safer than cars even if the threat of terrorism were unimaginably worse than it actually is: An American professor calculated that even if terrorists were hijacking and crashing one passenger jet a week in the United States, a person who took one flight a month for a year would have only a 1-in-135,000 chance of being killed in a hijacking–a trivial risk compared to the annual 1-in-6,000 odds of being killed in a car crash.”
He doesn’t dismiss gut instinct, but he does call on us to use our heads, to think rationally and to remember the bigger picture. He writes, “Put all these numbers together and what do they add up to? In a sentence: We are the healthiest, wealthiest, and longest-lived people in history. And we are increasingly afraid. This is one of the great paradoxes of our time.”
In The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck argues that whereas natural law should determine that we go into decline, we are going against such law and we continue to evolve as better people. He writes back in 1978:
“The notion that the plane of mankind’s spiritual development is in a process of ascension may hardly seem realistic to a generation disillusioned with progress. Everywhere is war, corruption and pollution. How could one reasonably suggest that the human race is spiritually progressing? Yet that is exactly what I suggest. Our very sense of disillusionment arises from the fact that we expect more of ourselves than our forebears did of themselves. Human behaviour that we find repugnant and outrageous today was accepted as a matter of course yesteryear.”
If we look deeper, we can see that things are getting better. Bobby Ghosh at Time Magazine claims that 9/11 was the beginning of the end of islamist terror. Al Shabaab’s barbarity was one of desperation, not of dominance. The Prism scandal has the European community calling on the US to be held to account. We are becoming more concerned about our carbon footprint, about where our food and our clothes come from. The economic crises are forcing us to be more creative, to become entrepreneurs, and become less greedy. We realise that our planet is precious and that we do not have a blank cheque to do with it as we please.
When the world seems a terrible, dark place, we have to look for the light on our doorstep. We have to remain committed and faithful to all the good that happens in this world, which the media doesn’t have the time to portray: the young woman who suffered from depression writing letters of love to strangers, the Malay man who runs a shelter for stray and abused dogs (dogs are considered filthy in Malay-muslim culture), the rickshaw driver who donated all his earnings to fund the studies of poor students.
As I returned to my flat last night, a book entitled ‘All You Need is Love’ was perched on my doorstep. It was left by my neighbour, as a parting gift. We did not get a chance to say goodbye. This act of kindness touched me.
When we feel that sometimes all seems lost, we must never forget the humble, loving, everyday acts around us. They are the living proof that humanity is getting its act together.