Thursday, February 05, 2004

Man or Beast?

No matter how hard humankind tries to distance itself from the animal kingdom, the evidence throughout our history shows that the veneer of civilisation is very thin indeed. We continue to portray all the basic instincts of every other animal on the planet. We are territorial. We are driven by the instinct for survival. We are competitive. We want to dominate and we are prepared to kill mercilessly and often cruelly to ensure our own survival. The cruelty of humankind to humankind and nature alike, makes us the most ferocious, the most savage, the most harmful animal on this planet and possibly in the entire universe.

Intelligent we may be, devious even, but clever we are not. We have overpopulated our habitat, polluted our environment, and overexploited our resources. Two thirds of our population live in abject poverty. Eighty percent of the World’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of ten percent of the population. We face the same political, economic, social and religious problems today as the Romans, Greeks and the Egyptians before them. Despite splitting the atom and sending men to the moon, we are as incapable today of resolving the fundamental issues of our existence as our ancestors were, before us. We continue to revolve but the spinning wheel brings us back time and again to the same old conundrums. We appear no more able now to solve them than our forebears. Just when we think we are making progress, the animal in us will out.

We have been fighting, raping and torturing each other for hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of years and there is no sign of abatement. On the contrary, as we become more sophisticated, we find new ways of committing old atrocities. In this respect we resemble our close cousins, the chimpanzees. They too have begun to discover new uses for sticks and stones, new methods of intimidation. However, they pose no threat to our dominance. They are headed for extinction.

If the Hutus had their way, the Tutsis might have joined them on their journey to the end of the road. It took a matter of seconds for the blood lust to re-surface in Rwanda despite centuries of relative civilisation and decades of religious teaching. The barbarity with which the Hutu slaughtered 800,000 of their fellow beings in a matter of days, was a graphic reminder, that below the thin skin of sentient man, lies a savage animal. The veneer of civilisation still hangs on a thread, no thicker than the strand of a spider’s web.

Yes we pay lip service to the godly concepts of truth, honesty, integrity, mutual respect and understanding. Yes our leaders preach the benefits of freedom, democracy, justice and human rights. But when it comes to the crunch, they apply these values sparingly and in accordance with self interest.

We will oust a brutish dictator in Iraq, or a medieval regime in Afghanistan but for political or commercial expediency, we will turn a blind eye to a nine year war in Chechnya; where Russian troops continue to rape, torture and brutally murder tens of thousands of civilians. We will rout a barbaric rebel movement in mineral rich Sierra Leone but do nothing to help millions of Zimbabweans suffering horrendous brutality and genocide by starvation, from a corrupt and despotic government. We will act militarily to prevent genocide in the Balkans but dare not criticise China for doing nothing to help hundreds of thousands of people infected by HIV infected blood transfusions in government hospitals for fear it may result in the loss of economic benefit to western business.

We pay lip service to international law yet accord corrupt and brutal governments equal legitimacy and status in the U.N. Assembly as the law abiding democracies; thus legitimising these regimes and the brutality they inflict on their peoples under a so called agreement of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. What sort of people are we, that we sign an agreement that tolerates criminal barbarity carried out by states on its own citizens?

We talk of free trade but create protected trading blocks and impose tariffs on those outside. We preach globalisation but the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. We preach democracy but do nothing to help those whose freedom, dignity and lives hang on the whim of dictators. We talk about protecting the innocence of our children and yet we bombard them with sleazy media images of sex and debauchery, in magazines, newspapers, films and television. In the same vein, greedy corporations create a perceived need for endless fashionable products, children do not need and parents cannot afford. We talk of charity but seek to impoverish those who can least afford it by entrapping them in debt. Everyone is feeding off everyone else. We call this civilised but in reality, it is the law of the jungle, the concrete jungle.

Where is this justice for all? Where is the equality, the integrity, the respect for human rights and the law that supposedly sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom? Why should voters pay any attention or have any respect for those who preach these values but only practise them when it suits them? They are no different than the alpha males of any group or herd of animals. They are the manipulators, the hunters, marking their territory, covering their tracks, preparing their ambush, feasting on their prey, the top dogs in the pack. Politics and religion are the camouflage that hides the basic instincts of the human animal. They are the sophisticated tools we use to facilitate control and corral the sheep.

However, the sheep have belatedly begun to question their role and their place in this animal kingdom. They have begun to see through the hype and the hypocrisy and are less and less willing to submit to the will of the manipulators. They are taking to the streets more often and in ever greater numbers to demonstrate their displeasure. They want justice and a bigger say in how the World is managed.

The herd has begun to realise the true meaning of democracy and that without them the ram is nothing. They have begun to comprehend that it is not the ram who holds the power but the herd. Beware you rams that are slow to understand. The sheep will no longer be led where they do not want to go.

Are we man or beast? Are we a civilised and sentient species or are we just another animal living by the law of the jungle? We need to make up our collective mind and we need to do it quickly. Otherwise the animal in us will out, and humankind will join the chimpanzee in the annals of extinction to become just another fossil in time.

The real stupidity of humankind has been its failure to understand that by tacitly condoning that which we know to be wrong for whatever reason, we simply end up perpetuating and complicating matters to the point that the undoing becomes impossibly difficult. Until we understand, that we can never build a civilised world founded on self interest, deception, greed and hypocrisy, we will remain firmly entrenched in the animal kingdom with all that implies. Our future will continue to hang by a thread.

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