The Centre Will Hold. It Has To.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.

-William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

 

 

To a large extent, this blog has been an exercise in finding reasons to be hopeful about humanity. I’ve written about finding perspective even during periods of death and loss, about finding commonality even during times of war, about reconciliation after conflict, about the evolutionary unity of humanity, about the logic of cooperation, about altruism in other species, about the complexity and flexibility of human biology and behavior, and the fact that we are not fated to war and conflict. I even tried to cling to the idea of truth at a time when some are promoting discord and confusion.

I have to admit that it’s hard to find much of that optimism right now. As a kid, I used to think that the world would always get better. Previous generations were racist, held slaves, and committed genocides, but they did those things out of ignorance. My generation was more enlightened, integrated, and tolerant. Then as a young adult, gay people started to gain more acceptance, and it seemed like progress was inevitable. With the rise of the Internet, I thought greater connection would mean wider sharing of views and greater empathy and tolerance, that those anonymous strangers “over there” would become real people who weren’t all that different from ourselves. I thought the best ideas and truth would rise to the top. It seemed inevitable.

Now I think I was profoundly naïve. I see a world succumbing to division and the intentional, cynical fomenting of hatred. I see people putting selfish interests that hurt the many for the benefit of a few. I see cruelty and malice being portrayed as virtues. I see vulnerable people being disregarded, left out in the cold, and painted as the scum of the world. Children are being thrown in camps.

Powerful people don’t relinquish their privileges easily, and they often prioritize private profits over the greater good. They sometimes deem people expendable, including entire groups of people. Now I see the Internet as not inherently bad or good, but a tool that can be manipulated, either bringing people together or splitting them apart. White supremacist movements, including neo-Nazis are growing around the US and Europe. Inequality has grown. It is all pretty depressing. I haven’t given up hope completely, but things seem pretty bleak right now. Keep fighting the good fight, everyone.

samwise

 

 

Optimism & Adaptability (“life starts anew for us with each sunrise”)

“The future is inside of us. It’s not somewhere else.”Thom Yorke

 

My advisor from graduate school, Mike Little, retired this year and donated many of his books to his colleagues and former students, including me. I owe Mike a lot in terms of my education. Now I also owe him a box of books.

I was flipping through some of the items he sent and one of them was “How Humans Adapt: A Biocultural Odyssey,” edited by Donald Ortner (1983). The prolog was written by the late microbiologist René Dubos , who struck an optimistic tone about human plasticity, and how we adapt to – and also shape – our environments.

He wrote that all organisms…

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In Spite of Everything

This seems relevant.

“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.

It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the sufferings of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

Anne Frank

Friday, July 21, 1944

Related Posts

On Finding Optimism (July 2013)

Nature, Not Always Red in Tooth and Claw (January 2013)

On Optimism and Human Nature (April 2011)

Ancient Ethnic Hatreds

This photo from a BBC report on the ongoing fighting in South Sudan made its rounds on the internet today, showing refugees being segregated by ethnicity at a UN compound. As of last month, an estimated 93,000 people had been displaced by the conflict, indicating the scale of the crisis (source: reliefweb).  

Signposts in Bentiu camp

Sign at a camp in Bentiu, South Sudan, segregating refugees by ethnicity. (Source: BBC)

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On Finding Optimism

(Dec 31: Here’s to an optimistic New Year, and that as individuals and societies we can learn from, and possibly even get the chance to rectify, our mistakes).

Some days, it’s harder to find optimism than others. But it’s always there. “In any event, it is the only way we can live.” 

From Bobby Kennedy:

“There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember—even if only for a time—that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek—as we do—nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

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A Conversation with Soo Na Pak

Earlier this week, the writer/ documentary filmmaker Soo Na Pak and I had a conversation about anthropology, which she transcribed and posted on her blog. She emailed me after finding the post I wrote on the loss of my brother titled “Life is Beautiful,” and asked if we could talk about some of these things more in depth on the phone. The discussion was a lengthy one that spanned a variety of topics, but I think the main themes were about how we can find some anchors in science which provide optimism, resilience, and hope under difficult circumstances. We also talked about the evolution of humans as a biocultural species, plasticity, and whether some of our more powerful emotions – like grief and love – can be considered adaptive. There’s also some personal stuff in there too. It was a fun experience. Thank you, Soo Na.

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Link: http://soonapak.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/were-all-cousins/

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