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9/11: 10th anniversary contemplations

September 11, 2011

Ten years to the date. I was serving as a full time missionary for the LDS Church when the planes hit the Twin Towers, unaware at the time that my own religious heritage bore the pockmark of faith-based fanaticism and violence (the so-called ‘Mountain Meadows Massacre’ oddly taking place on the same calendar day nearly 150 years earlier). I am left to wonder at the forces that deplete us of our sense of shared humanity, and cause the collective brotherhood of our species to stumble into a destructive, chaotic “us versus them” divide. Looking at our DNA, 99.99% of what is inside of you is inside of every other human being. Contemplating the long trajectory of our evolutionary past, we share billions and billions of years’ worth of common ground in becoming the upright, conscious species that we are today. The ideologies and dogmas of just a few hundred or thousand years seem so immovable and so rigidly intractable in the day to day shuffle of current events. But the cosmic telescope shrinks those millennia of cultural speciation to just a blip of happenstance divergence, when framed by the greater context of our wild journey into being. May we ever voyage together toward increasingly beautiful vistas of our human potentiality, and let the reserves of charity and benevolence latent in our Inner Voice guide our steps along the unfolding future.

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4 Comments
  1. Michael, you’re so eloquent. Mental images of rival gangs of chimpanzees engaging in violent battle over territorial resources marched through my head as I read. I loved where you were going with this but as I read to the optimistic end I have to admit I feel like I wanted more out of your conclusion. Not sure what though. :)

    • michael@positiveneuro.com permalink

      Thanks, Laron. Your comment is well-received. I do make it sound like I am implying that the origination of religious dogmas is the root of human divides. Indeed, as you note, tribal divisions and group alliance/hostility patterns dot the various primates. The cultural hostilities between humans are those yet-older, biologically ingrained hostilities peeking through. In that sense, religious tensions would be the agitators rather than creators of the tendencies for hostility.

      In terms of the desire for more substance toward the conclusion, I’m really made optimistic lately by learning more on the neurobiology of empathy. There’s something comforting to know that we really have hardwired in our system this brilliant capacity to feel feelings that approximate the feelings of others. I think that we’re just barely starting to understand how we can rationally design systems to help promote empathy. For example, intervention programs where grade schoolers watch a mother and a baby interacting and practice intuiting what the baby is feeling. Combined with programs like anti-bullying education, I think empathy is on the upswing in the cultural value set. And I think that a net increase in empathy would increase interconnectivity, etc. In short, I think that we’re in a positive feedback loop where prosocial values are being cultivated and assimilated into our societal systems.

  2. Nice post, thanks!

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