Page 11 - The.Ascent.of.Humanity
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2 THE ASCENT OF HUMANITY



oil slick, the strip mine, the toxic waste dump? Under the shadow of 

every Chartres Cathedral, must there be women burning at the stake? In 

other words, can the gift of technology and culture somehow be sepa- 

rated from the curse?

The dashed Utopian dreams of the last few centuries leave little hope. 


Despite the miracles we have produced, people across the ideological 

spectrum, from Christian fundamentalists to environmental activists, 

share a foreboding that the world is in grave and growing peril. Tempo- 

rary, localized improvements cannot hide the ambient wrongness that 

pervades the warp and woof of modern society, and often our personal 

lives as well. We might manage each immediate problem and control 

every foreseeable risk, but an underlying disquiet remains. I am referring 

simply to the feeling, “Something is wrong around here.” Something so 

fundamentally wrong that centuries of our best and brightest efforts to 

create a better world have failed or even backfired. As this realization 

sinks in, we respond with despair, cynicism, numbness, or detachment.

Yet no matter how complete the despair, no matter how bitter the 

cynicism, a possibility beckons of a world more beautiful and a life more 

magnificent than what we know today. Though we may rationalize it, it is 

not rational. We become aware of it in moments, gaps in the rush and 

press of modern life. These moments come to us alone in nature, or with 

a baby, making love, playing with children, caring for a dying person, 

making music for the sake of music or beauty for the sake of beauty. At 

such times, a simple and easy joy shows us the futility of the vast, life- 

consuming program of management and control.


We intuit that something similar is possible collectively. Some of may 

have experienced it when we find ourselves cooperating naturally and 

effortlessly, instruments of a purpose greater than ourselves that, para- 

doxically, makes us individually more and not less when we abandon 

ourselves to it. It is what musicians are referring to when they say, “The 

music played the band.”

Another way of being is possible, and it is right in front of us, closer 

than close. That much is transparently certain. Yet it slips away so easily 

that we hardly believe it could be the foundation of life; so we relegate it 

to an afterlife and call it Heaven, or we relegate it to the future and call it 

Utopia. (When nanotechnology solves all our problems. when we all 

learn to be nice to each other. when finally I’m not so busy.) Either 

way, we set it apart from this world and this life, and thereby deny its 

practicality and its reality in the here-and-now. Yet the knowledge that











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