Posted in Uncategorized, tagged america, citizenship, culture, discrimination, england, family, gay marriage, humanity, idealism, politics, positivity, religion, science on November 18, 2013|
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I am proud of my national identity. I am English by birth, and also American by citizenship. I experience the same moment of delirious elation as many others when England’s soccer team scores a goal, the same heartbreak when the team subsequently suffers the ignominy of being eliminated from the World Cup in a penalty shoot-out. I experience immense pride and satisfaction when it is an American who wins a Nobel or a Pulitzer Prize.
But do I believe that England or America is ‘better’ than another nation? Are we morally or culturally or intellectually superior to the Iranians, or the Japanese, or the Congolese?
My answer to this is a resounding “NO!”, for Humanity is not comprised of nations, or of religions. We are people, each and every one of us, none more ‘human’ than another. America can – and often does – make a case for superiority based on its military muscle or its financial strength, but that doesn’t make David Brennan from Little Rock any more an exemplar of the species than Hidetoshi Yamagata from Sapporo or Abdul ibn-Aziz al-Rashid from Riyadh.
I am also white, male and heterosexual. Does this mean that I am more deserving of any form of recognition or respect than someone who might be black, or female, or gay? Again, “NO!”. Not in the slightest. Each of us is a shining jewel to be treasured and cherished, equally able to contribute to the betterment of our species as a whole.
It seems unfathomable to me that any subset of Humanity is considered ‘lesser’ than another in this day and age. In America, women have made immense strides toward equality over the hundred years since being granted rights which men had long taken for granted, and yet are still often perceived as inferior by some. Similarly, black Americans have made significant progress over the last half century, but still feel the sting of the ethnic divide. The LGBT community is even now struggling for many of the same rights for which women and African-Americans fought for so long. How is it possible that in the twenty-first century we are still discriminating between members of our own species?
This is not to say, however, that these differences do not matter. They matter immensely. Your gender, you ethnic and religious identity, your national origin and your sexuality are all parts of the recipe which makes you uniquely you, worthy of being celebrated. These traits may afford you a degree of insight which the prevalent majority may lack. Coupled with your intelligence, your creativity and your education, these all put you in a unique position to contribute something of immeasurable value to all seven billion of us, and I for one will celebrate alongside you as you do it.
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“As a citizen of humanity, you have the right:
To pursue any occupation or field of study, regardless of your gender.
To be considered for any opportunity, regardless of your race.
To quality education and health care, regardless of your income.
To share the whole of life – including marriage – with the person you love, regardless of your sexuality or gender identity.
To worship freely, or not worship at all, regardless of your beliefs.
To feel safe in all of the aspects of yourself described above.
These rights are yours. Should anyone deny them to you, challenge them. Ask them not by what law or power or threat, but by what right they deny you that which they claim for themselves.”
“Do not tell me that we are all the same, do not encourage me to ignore that which makes us different. Tell me instead how we are different, show me all that which makes you uniquely yourself, such that I might celebrate you as fully as I am able, and invite you to celebrate me in turn.”
Though they are my words, those have quotes around them because my hope is that they will in fact be quoted. Not because I want my name on them, but because I want the sentiments to reach as many ears as possible.
Please, if they resonate with you, use them. Pass them along. Type them in front of a stock photo in 18pt font and share them on your Facebook timeline, your Tumblr blog, your Pinterest boards. Let me come to discover these words shared by people I don’t even know.
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There is a remarkable phenomenon I’ve been noticing intermittently for much of my adult life – one which is doubtless well known to serious students of sociology and anthropology but still baffles me.
The vast majority of us, I would think, are good people. Give me five minutes to talk with a small group of people whose language I can speak, and I will likely emerge from it having found a great deal of common ground, and quite possibly with a new Facebook friend or two into the bargain. However, all manner of ills appear to come from larger societal institutions.
I think this is why it is often possible for a person to hate on Republicans or Mormons or Texans, but it is much harder to hate a random Republican or Mormon or Texan should you happen to find yourself in conversation with them.
So why does this happen? This isn’t my usual rhetorical question, the opening for an internal Socratic monologue, but an actual plea for deep and considered insight from my readership.
Why is it that we can get swept up into such giddying whorls of baseless hatred, if we’re all good people?
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The physicist Enrico Fermi once said “Where is everybody?” – specifically asking why, if the universe is filled with civilizations, we have yet to confirm or even detect their presence in any reliable fashion.
I’ve given the ‘Fermi Paradox’ a lot of thought over the last few years, and ironically the best answer I can come up with owes more to Star Trek than to astrophysics.
In the eighth Star Trek movie, First Contact, the human race is first contacted by another spacefaring civilization when we are finally at the point of developing faster-than-light (FTL) travel (in this case, warp drive). Indeed, until we have such a thing, any kind of cultural intercourse we could have with any extraterrestrial civilization would be one-sided. The ability to venture forth into the black in search of new horizons and new life is a necessary step to becoming part of any interplanetary community.
On a deeper level, it seems to me that the ability to build such a wonder would require a unification of purpose between the various races of humankind, since no single nation is likely to have the resources to build and operate a space station and interstellar vehicles by itself. Thus far, we have yet to advance sufficiently as to effect such unification. We engage in petty squabbles over post-tribal god-images, we scrape and claw at each other over abstract numbers which provide a mass illusion of wealth, we divide ourselves against each other over ideological differences which would be dwarfed by our unity of reason if only we allowed ourselves to see the latter.
Were you a member of a hypothetical alien race, would you look upon us as a species worthy of moving into the neighborhood?
In all likelihood, the first impulse we would experience upon contact with intelligent extraterrestrials would be to try to destroy them out of fear.
Is it any wonder that we have heard nothing?
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Most of us evince a certain mistrust or even shock at the notion of a unified human culture; we hear much about the evils of globalization, we react with horror at the notion of a quaint little town in Somethingstan seeing the opening of a McDonald’s or Starbucks, we worry that if we completely accept another culture, we will be dominated by it to the exclusion of the conventions we hold dear.
I have come to wonder of late, though, whether a global culture would have to be this way. Is it necessary that we abjure our ethnocultural ‘soul’ in order to embrace the culture of another, or can we allow them to coexist?
History shows that the greatest motivator to unity is the presence of a common enemy – a ‘them’ to our ‘us’. I have little doubt that if we were to discover intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, we would rapidly cease to be French, or Jewish, or black, becoming merely different flavors of ‘Earthling’. Even if the extra-terrestrials showed no hint of a threat, a large number of us would choose to see them as an enemy solely based on our primitive fear of the unknown. In the face of this perceived threat, national boundaries would become obsolete and religious differences would largely die out as our fear of the poorly-known was set aside in place of this greater fear. Few would suggest, however, that we would lose our individuality. Just as African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and Caucasians manage to hold onto their own beliefs and values while forming part of an integrated American nation, we would under this hypothetical scenario consider ourselves Islamic-Earthlings or Australian-Humans or other such designations.
So… if we would be able to make this transition when faced with extra-terrestrial life, why are we so convinced that we can’t do it on our own? We can put aside the comparatively small fears and choose to instead understand each other, learning from the richness of each other’s cultures. A Christian can learn from a Hindu, a Kazakh from a Paraguayan. I believe that this would enrich us rather than lessening us.
We have had the phrase “the human race” in our lexicon for many decades now – perhaps it’s time there actually was one.
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