“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967
I don’t know the first thing about textbook psychology. Is that really a true statement? Well, I guess I know what has been absorbed into my brain from cultural references, having a roommate in college who majored in Psychology and, of course, sacrificing hours of my free time in the altar of the ‘Interwebs’. According to my understanding, Pavlov did an experiment with dogs, food and salivation, indicating that perhaps our brains are conditioned by external stimuli to behave in certain ways. Freud was all about pointing out how our repressed desires and unconscious mind shape our behaviors into adulthood. But what’s even more fascinating to me is that there are billions of little electrical neurons in our brains that electrical signals pass through which, when you calculate all the possible synaptic pathways, turns out that there are more such pathways than atoms in the universe. Or so I have heard.
With all of these possible ways for thoughts to be formulated, one would think that we would all be so drastically different that we could barely communicate with each other, let alone find friendship, love or hold a conversation. Yet we do. Also, as young humans we tend to see ourselves as the center of all existence (remember geo-centrism). Under this paradigm, our thoughts, feelings and wants are all that is and all that will ever be. The world exists for us in order to make us happy. While an educated person usually refrains from speaking in such absolute terms as exceptions to rules abound, the fact remains that as we age, we generally begin having empathy for other people and other living things. The reasons for this are clearly complex and stray from my present train of thought. We come to realize that the Earth has been here long before us and will continue long after us. This realization seems to happen slowly and imperceptibly. Maybe I am abnormal in the sense that I remember the specific moment in my life when I first felt deep seated compassion for a non-human living thing. It was on the first and only chivalrous day of squirrel hunting with my brother. Yes, we shot a squirrel with an air rifle, yes we watched it die, and after looking from the squirrel to each other multiple times, we agreed that we would never speak about it nor do it again. The squirrel was only trying to make himself (or herself) a living in my town, on my street and in my backyard. He (maybe she) was simply co-existing with me.
The path that got me from there to the present is unclear to me. At some point, I went from absolute self-centeredness to a state of complete self-meaningless (i.e. insignificance). Then, the best I can tell, I rebounded. To be honest, I do not know how much of it was a natural process (evolution?) of the human brain and how much of this has been experientially influenced through a combination of intention and random events. I guess at this point in the field of psychology, it is accepted that it is both nature and nurture that shapes or behaviors and worldviews.
Let me explain. As an atheist (I don’t know that God doesn’t exist, but in my mind there is nothing pointing to HIS existence), a spectrum emerged for me between existential dread and the bewildering awesomeness of life and its transitory nature. I slid around on this day by day, and trends emerged from week to week and month to month. These two extremes are not mutually exclusive and it seems to me that we all move around this spectrum during different phases in our lives. I believe that I emerged from the fatalism (not saying that I won’t again submerge) to the point where I wanted to make some part of my life in honor of the preservation of the amazingly unlikely and awesome Earth. I am in no way implying that I am enlightened, have had insights or revelations or have achieved what may be termed transcendence. But compared to the unreflective way that I saw myself as something separate from the world which I held at earlier stages of my life, I believe that I have come to an understanding, at my better moments, when I see us humans not as insignificant and apart from the universe but rather as of the universe. Carl Sagan put this much more eloquently when he said “We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
After Simpol’s founder offered to personally mail me some information on the organisation’s mission and philosophical underpinnings, after participating in a discussion in a message board on another site, I read up on it. It resonated with me as an idea that deep down we all know, in one form or another, is essential for the harmonious existence of humanity. Even before knowing of the existence of Simpol, I felt that a global governance mechanism is not only desirable but essential. The question in the manifestation of such a mechanism is dependent, I think, on whether our brains are capable of realizing that those people, “over there” in China and India, Africa and South America are really our next door neighbors. A few minutes staring at the sky on a clear night I think may be likely to drive this point home.
I can’t take back what my brother and I did to that squirrel all those years ago, but maybe I can take a lesson from it. As psychedelically induced as it may sound, we really are all Earthlings. We tend to forget this fact out of a rational fear. By this I mean that we often think that if we are too kind or too understanding or that if we widen our circle of compassion beyond ourselves or our families, we will be outcompeted and used. And I think that this fear is necessary for survival in the current global political system. We have the economic guns pointed at each other and thus no one wants to be the first to draw down. When these guns are drawn down simultaneously, however, neither needs to worry. And therefore, I think at the root level, Simpol is about dispelling the fear and paranoia which at one time had an evolutionary function within each of us. The possibility of dispelling some of the mistrust inherent in our global economic system is what brought me here. It is a latent idea that if we all collectively pressed for the same thing that none of us would lose out in achieving it. We could use a little less mistrust and a little more cooperation. Naïve and simple perhaps, but nevertheless true. We will see if the world is ready.
But I won’t drop my gun until everyone else does.