by Mindo Milerbender

Towards Progress
Taking a closer look at the progress of civilisation is a sobering matter. As I began this item, news was still coming in of the Christmas Day earthquake in Iran which claimed over 20,000 lives.

We have colonised our planet, but controlling nature is an illusive goal. There is only so much possible with concrete, steel and technology, no matter the will. The ocean beds are largely the last remaining unexplored terrestrial territory.

Control of and the need to understand our own nature are things that the majority of us are taught, be it in school or by the rituals of some established tribal law.

Tribal law differs from civilised practice in that basic survival is of a much higher priority and the fear of possible threats from strangers often leads to pre-emptive strikes. This can occur independently of any greed-driven motive, where greed is defined as the urge to own or control something used by or belonging to others, or the urge to control someone else to self advantage.

Whether we choose to admit it, we are still very much caught up in the transition from tribal survival into true civilisation. That is the nature of progress, be it viewed from a Darwinian or any other perspective.

Acknowledging that fact puts the observer in a position of some knowledgeable advantage regarding just what is going on in wider terms in the world today. It may not be a wellspring of advantage, but it is still an important one. None of this of course has or can have any bearing on natural events such as disasters.

Our world is one of differing layers of human strata. Though the underlying theme may be common, the view from each strata differs. Having explored the differences, the common thread is the simple one of human touch. Like music, it is all embracing and crosses all barriers of language or creed. Touch remains the same in any language and is something we all crave, regardless.

Our progress as a species may be as constrained as the sand in a glass egg timer, but we as individuals have the option of exercising our own beliefs and feelings and so ultimately our individual actions can and will affect the whole. Perhaps that is the reality of progress.

Take the day I was sitting on the banks of my local river spending the day fishing when along came a stranger who set about telling me that I knew nothing of what I was doing without the benefit of being aware of what I did know.

It suited this individual's narrow mind to believe in such a smug self superior position and after fruitlessly attempting to start any real communication, I began to regard him as a fool whom I wished would just go away, which he eventually did, none the wiser for anything other than his own edifice of illusion.

The only rational explanation for such behaviour is that this individual felt driven by some personal inner agenda or target to match up to, coupled perhaps by the belief that failing to do so would leave him somehow insecure or inferior. There was certainly nothing to gain beyond the confines of his own thought processes by his attitude.

This encounter serves well to illustrate certain social difficulties as it is by no means as rare an event as might be thought.

Personal agendas can be among the most notorious to shuck and can be very damaging to self and to others.

Five unemployed young people once walked into a taxi office in South London and requested a taxi to take them to the local unemployment exchange a few miles away.

One of the waiting drivers led them to a car and a short drive later they pull up outside the exchange in a busy south London street. Before the passengers have time to open the doors and get out, several uniformed and plain-clothed policemen appear, the driver is yanked from the taxi, arrested on the spot and bustled to a nearby police car and quickly whisked away. As the car sped off, the arrested man has time to see his abandoned fares standing in the street and looking perplexed.

The taxi-driver never discovered what happened to them, whether they had to walk back to where they came from or if they stumped up the cash for another taxi. I know, I was the driver.

I won't explain why it all happened as that is not relevant. I chose the incident as it perfectly illustrates an aspect of unknown cause and resulting effect.

The five passengers became caught up in the effects of a cause into which they had injected no real input. They were simply innocently and unexpectedly caught up in events that were beyond their control.

The incident illustrates how the parallel action of the police and the preceding actions of the taxi driver became incidents of fate to the five passengers, producing circumstances they would probably remember for a long time and luckily circumstances that resulted in no real harm.

We are all every moment of our lives subject to incidents of unknown cause and effect. In the same way, our own actions can produce unknown cause resulting in unexpected effect on others.

Two strangers pass each other in a street. One is feeling almost suicidally depressed while the other is simply thinking what a nice warm day it is. Their eyes cross, nice warm day smiles and says ‘nice warm day’; suicidally depressed says ‘aye’ and tries to twitch the corners of his mouth into a semblance of a smile. Then they have passed by.

Nice warm day soon forgets the exchange as he stops to cross the road but it lingers in the mind of suicidally depressed, who then accidentally bumps into someone.

Because of what he was thinking, suicidally depressed says something he might not otherwise have said to the person he collides with, which as a result led to a continuing friendship that soon erased the depression.

So unknown cause and effect become important. The above parable illustrates a positive effect but every positive has its negative too and that must be remembered even if it cannot always be quantified. The threads of consequence might not be visible and might be way too complex to intelligently unravel, but they are there and because they are, it is incumbent upon us to mind what we do. That is, if we care about the results that our actions might have.

Of course, achieving such a state of awareness requires the elimination of egotistical thinking. It requires the replacement of patronisation with condecension-free equality.

But most of all it requires honesty, humility and respect. If those are absent, the consequences of any action can simply be dire.

[related pulp]

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Mindo Milerbender writes