The Fragility of Human Civilization
We might not be aware or willing to admit how fragile our civilization has become. It seems that with the smallest ember a big fire can break out. With our current so-called development, we are on a collision course on mutual destruction. It seems very important, at least to me, to understand what we mean exactly by development, and whether that means prosperity or perpetual war.
Many crises have broken out in this century. The climate, the non-stop wars and humanitarian crises, the general breakdown of human psychological health, and the pandemics. Although we as human beings might worship order, we have created chaos in the world. It might seem that the many crises are separate, individual cases, but if we could see where they form at the root, we might understand that they are not different, but similar.
What is development? We want our economies to keep growing, and what exactly is growing? We want our physical safety to be guaranteed, but do we feel safe? Or is there always the looming threat of war, failure, catastrophe? How are we developing, not only in the globe, but also in our mind? We are conditioned by this paradigm of growth, and we seem to think that growth can be infinite. Can growth be infinite when our resources are limited? And what exactly is growing? Is it money? Is it self-worth? Is it the market? Is it the power of demagogues and politicians? Is it the power of authorities?
Growth is really an interpretation of the world. We tend to think that growth is good, and decline is bad. This is a deeply conditioned response to reality, maybe because of our survival instinct as animals. We always want the plentiful, the abundant, but is this what happens? Or do we necessarily encounter decline when we desire growth? This seems to be a fundamental reality of life and nature that we refuse to admit, that with growth necessarily comes decline. Nothing can grow forever, because everything dies. The market might disintegrate. The house might be burned down. The market value might evaporate overnight. The country might be no more after prolonged warfare. There is no guarantee of abundance. Abundance is a wet dream. It is a nice saying. It soothes a worried mind. But that is its only function. It is only a fantasy for the mind to escape reality. It might be hard to confront this fact of impermanence, but no matter what the mind can invent, either a cinematic masterpiece or economic theories, impermanence does not change. So, development has a fundamental error, that it thinks it can have any impact on the impermanence of life and nature.
In this sense, it is no longer important to desire permanent growth, to want abundance. It is rather important to understand how to face reality as it is, no matter the form, no matter it is abundant or poor, ecstatic or melancholic. We have put enormous effort into securing our abundance, either as nations or individuals, but our approach to life might be totally wrong. It might not be important to keep anything at all, but rather to see if it is possible for a human being to face any circumstance. Impermanence cannot be affected by the mind, and the mind is also impermanent. What can be done to face this impermanence? This might be the much more important question.
And also, development is about securing abundance, and any abundance attracts those who wish to have it. Human civilization is organized on this principle of the rich and the poor. Human civilization is this movement between the rich and the poor. It is conditioned to always pursue what it thinks is rich. It has no respect for poverty. And it is no wonder why theft, murder, war happen, because we are always searching for richness, either in money, power, houses, or spiritual matters. Because of this principal and deeply rooted contradiction of the rich and the poor, human society is perpetually caught in conflict. Nations want to become more powerful, so they try to accumulate richness in resources, build military offense and defense to either take or protect resources, and conduct espionage, sign treaties, negotiate, and so on in order to perpetuate their richness. It is the same way in our so-called private life. We all desire the more, and the cunning ones desire the less. It is the same movement, the more and the less. The less is only the more in disguise. We want bigger houses, more beautiful and successful partners, better lifestyles, more freedom, and so on. And in this very process, we are in conflict with each other, because we only want what other people have. We never want what we already have. To want what we already possess would amount to wanting nothing. But this isn't the case in our daily life.
And, how do we develop? How do we grow? We must do so at the expense of others. We must grab, possess, take, plunder, compete. In this very process, conflict is unavoidable and growing. So, what is actually growing? One could say it is only conflict that grows. The more things we accumulate, the bigger potential for conflict to break out, and the wider the scale this conflict might become. Extraordinary inequalities, in whatever forms, such as wealth, power, rights, result in extraordinarily bloody conflicts, in the forms of revolutions, world wars, genocides, and so on. The more we as a human civilization are attached to securing our abundance, the more and bigger conflicts we invite and brew. Our development paradigm is fundamentally flawed, because we accelerate our own demise and destruction by securing our richness exclusively to ourselves. That very exclusion invites war. That very exclusion brews the conflict which takes away the richness, only to establish another exclusive domain of richness for another group of people. So, this conflict never ends.
This is why human civilization, through constant so-called development and growth, has become tremendously fragile. A tiny bit of incitement might result in catastrophes one would then call “shocking”. There are not actually any shocking catastrophes, when we understand that we have been digging ourselves into a deep hole this whole time. Only when we are unaware of our digging do we exclaim in shock at the end, how did we end up in this hole.
When we insist on development, conflict persists. When we insist on growth, war is our lifestyle. We are constantly at war with each other, either subtle or bloody ones, and also at war with ourselves. We dislike our own images, our bodies, our psychological states, and tries to transform them into something pleasant. The way of war penetrates deeply into our life as human beings, not because we are naturally this way, but because we have been conditioned by our tradition to take and protect. Resilience isn't persisting conflicts, because conflicts only destroy everything in the end. Resilience is the ending of attachment. It is rather important to understand attachment, and by understanding it, we go beyond it. When we are no longer attached to our houses, power, money, prestige, happiness, either as individuals or nations, we are resilient, because we are then able to face whatever circumstance that arises. This is truly indestructible. Fortification will always be destroyed. High walls have always fallen. Defenses have always been infiltrated. Rather, that which faces everything, that which welcomes everything, no matter the danger or sweetness, sorrow or elation, cannot be destroyed. This is the beauty of utter vulnerability, the formlessness which is all forms.
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