Life is simple: You are born, you survive long enough to create offspring, you raise them until they are self-sufficient, you contribute to the welfare of your group – and then you die.
Live. Breed. Die. Not much to it.
Consciousness has complicated this for humans. Or to be more accurate: Consciousness has placed a veneer of complexity on life for humans. The basic process will never change, because that is how the process of life goes for all living organisms everywhere.
Live. Breed. Die.
We humans have created the story that there is more to it than this, but, honestly, there isn’t. All we have done is made each one of these aspects of life far more difficult and much more brutal than they need to be. In fact, the entire process could be a shit-ton of fun for every human that is born, but we have refused to allow that to be. We have refused this for one simple reason:
We think we somehow stand above the basic life functions of live breed die. Boy howdy, are we wrong.
Chipmunks don’t carry the burdens of “higher purpose” and so on, and they do just fine. Sure, getting eaten by a hawk or snake isn’t any fun, but they don’t rape each other, torture each other, slaughter great masses of chipmunks (or squirrels or owls) with horrible weapons.
Only humans have dedicated themselves to vast suffering and misery, all in the name of higher purpose. So, yay, thanks, consciousness.
I do not mean to suggest we reject consciousness or rationality. These are wonderful evolutionary developments, and we need to take advantage of them in a productive way. Rejecting them won’t fix anything. We need to make use of all the really good stuff our brains can do. We need to use our brains to do all that really good stuff that is possible, and do it for the good of all people.
And the way we get there isn’t by finding the right purpose, the right philosophy or belief system. We don’t make life good for all humans by finding a non-existent answer to “why are we here” or “what is the meaning of life”.
We do it with compassion.
Compassion is a simple thing. It’s caring about other humans enough to not want them to suffer. It’s not about happiness or shared prosperity or making everyone believe the same thing. That’s way too hard, way too off-target.
It’s just the desire to have all other people live without suffering. That means everyone has enough to eat, somewhere decent to live, a chance to pursue their own goals free from threat, etc. For some, that will mean giving up a certain amount of wealth and privilege – but that is wealth and privilege gained by depriving others of even the most basic necessities.
We do, after all, have more than enough of the basics for everyone as long as a few do not hoard vast amounts of everything. If one person can live in a $50 million dollar “house” while thousands live in hovels within a few miles of them, we can safely assert a lack of compassion on the part of the former.
What we are seeing in the current Black Lives Matter movement is a shift towards compassion, individually and collectively. White people are starting to recognize how people of color have long been treated, and it’s hitting them in the gut. They are learning to empathize, and empathy is the foundation of compassion.
The key is to take this moment, to let the compassion grow and become a fundamental component of both our minds and our communities. It’s not enough to hurt for those murdered by brutal cops. We have to hurt for the kids whose schools are defunded into uselessness. We have to hurt for their parents working multiple jobs and still living in poverty. We have to hurt for those humiliated in so many routine ways for no good reason at all.
We need to understand that we are learning compassion, that it is a good thing, and that it can change the world.
For the better.