Humanity is currently constituted in collectives as states. A state purports to define itself by adherence to a set of values, but ultimately it is defined by its territorial borders in relation to other states, and the power it can exert through networks of influence to secure resources.
Another way a large portion of humanity defines itself in relation to the cosmos is through religion. Every major religion defines itself not by physical territory but by ideology. Each religion commands authenticity via supposed doctrinal adherence to the teachings of its founder, a purportedly enlightened one.
The teachings are brought forth into the present interpreted by the religious hierarchy. Those whom the hierarchy judges as acting outside the boundary of approved ideology are considered not of the elect. They are ‘the other.’
This task is undertaken (it is claimed) to provide a reliable map through life, following which will yield proximity to, and ultimately ascension into, a state of grace, described variously as limitless belonging.
We each may have experienced such a state of grace as part of being human: not perhaps in church, mosque, temple or synagogue, but in nature; on a mountaintop, or at the sea—in deep prayer, contemplation, or meditation—anywhere, at any time.
Nation states once identified as synonymous with a particular faith. However even in antiquity this was never completely the case. ‘The other’ was always present, even if only as an enslaved presence.
In the West today, such practice is frowned upon as an impingement on individual liberty. Inclusion of ‘the other’ is seen as a hallmark of liberal democracies. Yet under pressure from mass migration due to climate change and war, the desire to close one’s borders to ‘the other’ is once again on the rise, melded onto authoritarian nationalism.
Counting states that identify by ethnic demography one must include India (Hindu, increasingly, under Narendra Modi), China (Han, as evidenced in persecution of Tibetans, Falon Gong and Uyghurs), the Shia and Sunni Muslim states (all theocracies tracing lineage to the family of Mohamed). These comprise a substantial portion of humanity, if not the majority. Israel, being the self-proclaimed state of the Jews must be counted among this number seeking purity along ethnic lines, along with Russia (Russian Orthodox, whose Pope blessed Putin’s invasion), Hungary, and of course the white supremacy movement in the United States.
Does adherence to a given faith, nation state, ethnicity or even a set of values accurately represent who we are? Is it capable of this? Does lending the majority of our focus to these signifiers blind us to the greater condition we share in being human? In thus defining ourselves do we cut ourselves off from deeper resources of being?
Over and over, throughout recorded history, whenever one group realized they possessed comparative technical advantage over another they found it convenient to redefine their values, to accept the subjugation of others in order to extract their labor and resources. The best values and intentions are hypocritically applied or systematically corrupted to achieve the desired end. Both within and between states, this has been the practice from ancient times even to the present.
In the current situation, however, humanity is confronted with a limit to this practice. Nature is offering an expiration date at some time in the not too distant future, which we see approaching ever closer while we ignorantly cling to the old definitions in our misguided attempt to continue business as usual.
If we accept, as we must, what science clearly indicates is our present and future as we proceed on this course, we must conclude that the ways we currently define ourselves are maladapted to our long term survival. Current conditions expose these seemingly solid blocks of identity as collective delusions, myths of our imagining; incomplete pictures of reality reflecting concerns at the times of their creation. They were no more real then than they are now, and fail utterly when tasked with forming the foundation for the cooperation necessary to meet our current challenge.
Is there a more fundamental, easily recognizable, readily available knowledge, around which to form a basis for such cooperation? The answer is, yes, but for this we must connect the dots to perceive reality clearly.
Can we appreciate what is? Can we learn to love what we already have?
The conflict in Ukraine underscores how dependence on fossil fuel drives conflict, reinforcing the status quo. In addition to stated security concerns, Russia, the #2 oil producer in the world, perceives Ukraine’s development of its vast reserves in the Red Sea and the east and west of Ukraine as a direct competitive threat to Russia’s dominant export. The embargo on Russia’s fossil fuel exports only forces Russia to shift its exports to supply the demands of China. Europe shifting its demand to Norway and US producers entails investing in multi-billion dollar LNG terminals, billions that will likely lock in fossil fuel dependence for another (crucial) decade, rather than being spent adjusting to climate reality. The conflict adds additional fuel (literally) to the armaments industry, perpetuating east-west conflict, undermining the potentiality of international cooperation on climate. (Another example of which is the AUKUS deal.)
Such conflicts reinforce the idea that we live somewhere here:
When in reality we live somewhere here:
The difference is not hypothetical; it shapes our thinking, our decision-making. Easy to observe in viewing Earth from space is that we live within a clearly defined limit. Our planet is a single object, a closed system, except for radiant energy and dust from space.
Looking up, the sky looks limitless, but the atmosphere is really a thin layer of gases, a few miles thick:
The relative composition of these gases determines whether we live on a green and blue planet, or collectively say bye-bye, joining the majority of species that have ever lived in extinction, as we leave the planet a barren waste.
Even if humanity were not under migration pressure due to climate change and war, the mere fact that we love to procreate means our numbers (till now at least) are ever increasing. More people, on the same amount of space (actually less space, due to climate change). Some inevitably conclude the grass is greener elsewhere and attempt to relocate, but in crossing from any one of those colored patches on the map to another they do not become a different person. If I visit Canada for the day or choose to move there, I am essentially the same. I have the same needs of food, clothing and shelter as I did before, as do the people where I have arrived.
Some regard this circumstance as threatening. In being encouraged to define themselves according to any of the categories available (white supremacy is popular in my country at the moment, but one could as easily substitute Han for the Chinese, Hindu for India, Buddhism for Myanmar, etc.), they can be pushed into a homicidal frenzy of fear, believing they won’t survive without murdering people (which, if history is any guide, is usually a counterproductive strategy). Thus we have Russians made to fear, invade and kill Ukrainians; the U.S. Border Patrol taking potshots across the border killing people on the Mexican side going about their business; a 21-year-old killing 23 people at an El Paso Walmart; an 18-year-old killing 19 grade school kids and two teachers in Uvalde Texas; ten days after another 18-year-old, Payton Gendron, published a 180-page manifesto online to explain why he was off to murder ten people in a grocery store in Buffalo, because their skin was dark.
How precisely is diversity our strength? … No one can give an answer.
— from Payton Gendron’s manifesto.
In this he was parroting Tucker Carlson, the most watched cable news host in America:
Why is diversity said to be our greatest strength? Does anyone even ask why? … No one can give an answer. — Tucker Carlson, Fox News, September 8, 2018
But it’s easy to give an answer: When you accept others, you have fewer enemies. You learn from others things you would never have learned by excluding yourself from them. The whole is greater than the parts. In refusing to accept diversity, you actually cut yourself off from reality.
If Tucker Carlson wanted to practice his professed Christianity, rather than ‘replacement theory’ he could frame the issue in terms of the “Golden Rule” invoked by Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Or he could refer to the meaning of Jesus’ parable of “The Good Samaritan,” which is, we are all each other’s neighbor, not just those from our own tribe; so love your neighbor as your self.
But Tucker has a problem with anything that exposes Christian hypocrisy. Rather than seeing it as something purifying the faith, he labels such attempts “anti-Christian,” exposing Tucker’s actual religion is hypocrisy.
Tucker finds support for the ‘replacement theory’ perspective in the words of Don Jr., son of the latter day prophet of the escalation of white supremacy in the American body politic, who at CPAC recently proclaimed “turning the other cheek” is old hat.
God forbid evangelicals get their wish, and their Teacher returns to call out their hypocrisy for choosing such venal amoralists as their standard bearers. I guess hypocrisy is their religion too.
Those in the Republican Party largely identify as Christian, but the teaching of Jesus was strictly one of love. The mantra of the Republican Party however is basically Fear— fear of others, generally: Muslims, Mexicans, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Chinese; fear the unjustly incarcerated; fear Democrats; fear Government; fear pregnant women; fear women in general unless they are under control (whatever that means, define it however you want); care for the unborn but f-you once you’re born. The Democratic Party’s agenda is somewhat different: Love those close to us; healthcare for all; child-care; a woman’s choice on abortion, more or less; student debt forgiveness; roads, bridges, love the planet with a green new deal; reserve fear for climate change, China, and Russia.
The latter is marginally more functional but most of this agenda is aspirational. The Democrats have yet to allow enough progressives into their midst to make the majority of their agenda an actuality, the current iteration possessing poison pills of the foreign policy variety that will reliably torpedo domestic gains in guns versus butter debates. As Lyndon Johnson is reputed to have said, “I’d love to stop this war but my friends are making too much money,” and so went his “Great Society.” War finds bi-partisan agreement—this we can afford. Other things, not so much.
In reality the major threat to the nation and human survival is climate change, but this coincidentally is also the major threat to oil company profits. Therefore, the major threat to the nation, as identified by Fox News (et al.), is ‘replacement theory.’ This philosophy of repellence of those ‘not like us’ is exactly the opposite of what’s needed to solve our dilemma.
The idea that shifting demography, constantly in flux due to population increase, climate change, war, and one could add trade policy in the case of the U.S. toward Latin America, is a threat to the native born of any polity is refuted by the performance of my home state, California. If the state of California were judged as its own economy on the global stage it would come in at fifth place, between India and Germany. It is also the state with the highest percentage per capita of undocumented workers. One is as likely to be hired into a business started by an immigrant as having one’s job displaced by one. If replacement theory were correct, the most eugenically pure states would be outperforming mulatto states like California and New York, but the opposite is true.
Though all are guilty of violating it, the “Golden Rule” is common to all major religions. It is time for every polity to practice a different kind of replacement theory: replace competition with cooperation, recognizing it is in our self interest to plan inclusively for the collective, rather than for the supremacy of one hegemon over another, which locks us into never-ending conflict.
Those determined to base their identity on color might want to reflect they are throwing away 99.975% of themselves, since only about five genes out of 20,000 are responsible for determining skin tone. If you need a transfusion the question to ask is whether the blood type is A, B, AB, or O, not black, white, yellow or brown. When an Imam requires a heart transplant chances are good his surgeon will not be inquiring into the religious belief of the donor.
But facts matter little in an emotional argument. ‘Replacement theory’ is directed squarely at the id, even while it goes against ‘the better angels’ of the religious definition subscribed to by those who adhere to it.
Nevertheless, the challenge before humanity is clear: hypocrisy is old hat. If we prove incapable of including ‘the other’ in our decision-making, of recognizing that none of us can prosper at the expense of another, we will self-destruct, in one way or another.
The task seems daunting, but consider: Each of us is already a colony. A human body is a collective of 40 trillion cells acting in harmony. There are nearly as many helper organism cells as there are human cells making up our body. Each of our body’s cells contains genetic wisdom from the beginning of life on Earth. While our senses reveal to us a four-dimensional universe, physicists have concluded we exist in ten, or more. This is reality.
When a cell in our body goes rogue, we call it cancer. Our global economic system, designed for unlimited individual accumulation at the expense of the biosphere, is unsustainable. In moments of stillness we sense our connection to something vast. Is it such a stretch to acknowledge we are each but a cell in the larger being that is our planet.
We will only function appropriately when we act in the best interests of that larger collective of which we are a part. For that we needn’t look to traditional concepts; rather where they were pointing all along— our connection within.
It is not something less, but something greater, that awaits our recognition.
It is ours if we want it.