“What we think is ours alone, what we do affects us all.”[Caveat emptor: As we begin what will likely be a long-form essay broken up into three pieces, I am compelled to ‘frame ‘ expectations. To fairly warn readers about what lies ahead, be aware that while I might not be a religious man in the practical sense, I consider myself a deeply spiritual one.
I believe there is a higher power than man, I believe that nothing is random, and I believe that the magnitude of the universe is an incomprehensible expanse that the human brain cannot fully comprehend, let alone adequately quantify. Baptized Protestant and converted Catholic, I am well versed in the deeper meaning of the expression “walking enigma,” and it is only fair that I point out in advance that, having read the Quran and the Hebrew Bible (working, currently on my third run through the Christian Bible) I am unconcerned with the religious background, or lack thereof, that readers might bring with them into what follows. In fact, cribbing a piece of what I wrote in my first book, I’ll put it to you this way:
“There is no prerequisite here that readers ascribe to, practice, or even disavow any particular faith, religion, or dogma. It is important, however, that you accept as at least possible the notion that the universe, of which we are each little more than a microscopic part, is comprised of far more than what we can see or even possibly fully comprehend and that some things can only be taken at face value and in our own personal context and perspective.” In other words, put aside your quibbles with organized religion (if you have any) and accept the upcoming biblical references at face value; much can be gleaned about our species, our relationships with each other, and our interactions with the world around us by reflecting on the wisdom and experience of those that came before us, over the last five millennia, since the invention of the written word. ~ Poff]
Despite them being inanimate objects, words have meaning, and how they are used serves as many purposes as there are combinations of them. Ordered in just the right way, using just the right tone, nuance, and inflection, words can be used to convey ideas and opinions that can influence thoughts, feelings, and actions that might never otherwise be taken were it not for the effective use of them. Think about that, and superimpose this notion with the idea that people… Real live human beings… Can likewise have meaning and purpose yet can be just as easily manipulated under the right circumstances by the hands of just the right sort of person or groups of people.
I’m doing it to you now; you do it to me when I read your words, and we do this to each other day after day and all throughout the generations since the written word was invented. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but as we know from the teachings of humankind’s history, even the smallest amounts of malevolence can set into motion the deaths of millions of people and the collapse of civilizations, dynasties, and nations.
As suggested in the introduction to this series, I believe that “the Homo sapien is the quintessential paradox.” And, as it is that, on some level, we cannot survive without each other, it is also true that we cannot survive without some degree of solitude and self-isolation. The damnable part of this paradox, notwithstanding the oft-times inexplicably random flailings of our free will, is the practically insurmountable task of striking a balance between the competing primal imperatives of socialization and isolation.
Experts tell us that Homo sapiens began to establish sedentary communities as far back as 2500 BC, which, if you do a little simple math, implies that we kept to ourselves, our mating partners, and our small family groups (and did just fine thank you very much) for 270,000 years before there were enough other humans wandering around that we started tripping over each other and had to figure out how to get along with our neighbors. As an avowed Hermit, shamelessly not terribly fond of large swaths of humanity, I like to think of these prehistoric centuries as “the good old days.” There, I said it… Read it again if you need to, just to make sure you heard me right.
All smartassery aside, it can be fairly argued that it was only after we started putting together the early building blocks of what we now call “Collectivism” that the value, meaning, and purpose of solitude and self-isolation began to be challenged. And while certainly no professionally trained “-ologist” of any particular field of expertise, I couldn’t be more sure that the growing pressure from collectivism brought with it at least the rise, if not exponentially increased intensity, of our dogged determination and forceful exercise of our free will.
This is not to suggest that there isn’t value in the so-called collective, and I have written elsewhere that the existence of these sorts of social orders in a civilized society serves the fundamental survival imperative of each individual member… Strength in numbers and all that… And offer that we are naturally drawn to that collective, which promises to best fulfill our wants, needs, and aspirations. But when the leadership of the collective allows itself to be corrupted by personal ambition to ends that countermand the imperative(s) of some or all individual members, the usual result is the collapse of the entire system. And, to the extent this relates to human nature and our inherent self-preservation instincts, what do people inevitably do when their collective collapses? Why they turn inward, collect themselves, and regroup in their own solitude and self-isolation, of course.
It is my intention to keep these installments to roughly 1,000 words (and thank you for sticking with this as long as you already have), so I’ll bring this to a close with a quick mention of the biblical narrative regarding Moses and the 12 Tribes of Israel. Having squandered the Promised Land and allowed themselves to be subjugated and effectively enslaved by the Pharaohs, the Mosaic narrative exemplifies this notion of how terribly poorly things can go when you join a collective only to ultimately be consumed by it. The Israelites were quite cozy with one Pharaoh, but a few generations down the road, another one came along (corrupted by power and ambition) and stripped away the rights and benefits of those members in his collective that he deemed unworthy or at odds with his own ambitions. We know what happened next; with no home, no Nation, no resources, and a life or death struggle with the elements, the Israelites wandered aimlessly – no real sense of meaning or purpose beyond the fundamentals of basic survival – and had to collect themselves and regroup in their own solitude and self-isolation.
If you are starting to see a damnably god-awful recurring theme here, you are on to something. More soon.[Image source: The Pathway ]