Thursday, 28 April 2016

THE SANCTITY OF LIFE

  While God, Nature, and too many humans, appear indifferent to individual lives, our species, along with several others, has exhibited, in varying degrees:  compassion, respect, love, curiosity, and awe while often unaware that we do cast off to die some 50,000 living cells daily from our individual bodies. 
What is the essence we strive to preserve?  What is the purpose?    We humans have inherited a complex organization of brain and body that produces a mind that is, we think, the rarest gem in the universe. But, with it comes awesome responsibility. The building blocks of life may be abundant throughout the universe and primitive life forms may have arrived here, fully formed, transported by meteorites, and God may be the universe itself, as argued by Sir Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wickramasinghe, and others.         Yet, it still took billions of years for us to evolve to where we are today.  It was believed that life on this planet was impossible before the lengthy bombardment of this earth, that created life-prohibiting temperatures, ceased. 
We have now found that fully-formed organisms able to photosynthesize and expel oxygen were here immediately after the bombardment eased to sporadic arrivals. This seems to allow insufficient time for elements to combine to form life in our earthly primordial soup. We do know that cells and genes can survive the rigours of space travel. Living organisms have been found in rock to depths of 1,000 metres, in soil frozen for 3 million years, and in 110 degrees celsius (230 Fahrenheit) seawater near sulphuric vents.     The elements that make us, and our earth, what we are came from the nuclear furnaces of exploding suns.  It could be our destiny now to go forth, in the name of life, to populate planets that we are beginning to find.
But first, a moment of reflection over the tortuous journey we have already mastered:

Years ago
Our planet formed: 4,500,000,000
Incessant bombardment ceased: 4,100,000,000
Earliest life found, eukaryote cells:    3,800,000,000
Photosynthesis: 3,470,000,000
Sexual reproduction: 1,100,000,000
New amino acids:                                900,000,000
Multi-cellularity:                                700,000,000
Jellyfish:                                             600,000,000
 Land plants:                                      400,000,000
 Land animals:                                   350,000,000
 Insects (arrived independently?):          345,000,000
 First mammals:                                  200,000,000
 Flowering plants:                               130,000,000
 Angiosperms:                                     120,000,000
 Bipedalism:                                         10,000,000
 Cognitive human intelligence:                    150,000


      To arrive at cognitive intelligence took not only the elements of time and a rare environment with just the right conditions for carbon-based units to evolve, but also the interaction of countless disasters, continental drift locations, and climatic changes to add the stress, the competition, and the mobility needed to guide our evolution. It has been an extremely cruel and painful journey.
Only a tiny proportion of the creatures born into this world survived long enough to reproduce. The vast majority were sacrificed as food for others. Of all the species that evolved (or arrived) only I% are alive today.  This colossal waste implies a cruel trial and error approach that lacks planning or conservation.          Our mobility and lust have kept us one species, but at the cost of untold hardships to our females.
We humans, on the threshold of populating other planets, must remain aware of our limitations and imperfections.  We dream of finding other life forms somewhere in the immense universe, but we have yet to  understand life forms on our own planet, let alone communicate with them.
The Plant Kingdom, while developing a slow chain of succession in a given environment, has not been as guilty of daily devouring organic life in order to survive. We of the Animal Kingdom have shown little understanding, care, gratitude, or compassion as we continue to abuse plants. A few of us are learning that plants can communicate with each other with chemical signals, that they can react to human thoughts even at a distance, and that they do recoil at sensing impending harm.                  Experiments indicate that primitive organisms react to messages from other creatures in the process of dying.  We now know that a foetus reacts to stimuli and is an intelligent being long before birth. We know that unhatched chicks in the wild can communicate with each other to time their hatching in order to leave the nest together, a survival tactic.
At least as far back as Neanderthals, who prepared their dead for an after life, we have believed that we  are composed of two parts: mortal body and immortal soul. The animistic belief that spirits inhabit both animate and inanimate forms still exists. An Inuit, on killing a seal, would open its mouth to give it a drink of fresh water as a treat to a creature forced to live in salt water. Then the skull would be opened to allow the spirit to escape. Christian Inuits no longer follow this practice.  Primitive religions abound with stories of a supreme being who created the world, only to leave it to be run by lesser gods who had to be placated and who had human failings.     More modern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam all preach lofty ideals, yet their practitioners are guilty of hundreds of years of mass murders and genocide. Even the renowned Charlemagne (742-814) enjoyed Sundays by slaughtering thousands of innocents whose crime was to have a version of Christianity slightly different than his own.
Long ago Hinduism revealed remarkable insight: all living things have the same essence and are part of the one God; souls migrate from one form to another; whatever god a person worships, Krishna answers; and its time scale comes closest to the Big Bang time scale and the repeating-universe conception. Why, then, have Hindus been guilty of gruesome massacres of Muslims?
Among people who cherish ethnic diversity there has been injected ethnic cleansing that often starts with a few ignorant malcontents who seize or build the power to incense, to rape, to plunder, and to murder that emphasizes the sap in Homo sapiens.          No continent has been immune to this senseless behaviour.
The terrifying danger now is that we have evolved to where we can reach out to space from whence we came, and populate it with humans that may not have the best interests of humanity, or other species, at heart.  We can also direct genetic engineering to who knows what ends?  We have the intelligence to do this, yet lack the intelligence to live peacefully together in harmony with Nature and other life forms. Some wolves respect the property of other wolves and will limit their population to what the environment will support.  Some of us do likewise.
Endless wars and disasters have sharpened our minds and technologies at enormous costs, but the time has come to call a halt.     The challenges the future holds should be enough to continue our evolution.  What is vital is that we ingrain into the masses, but especially into those who will direct and carry out our extra- terrestrial wanderings, basic ethics and values to ensure that our species will deserve the right to go forth and multiply within reason.
Yes, we have had, since recorded time, billions of humans qualified for the mission.  But, if we assess our dismal record in our relatively-recent migration from Europe to genocide in the “New” world, we should be convinced that we need to restrain our exploratory zeal until we erase the misdeeds still so prevalent among us.
   Priorities do dictate.

georgesweanor@comcast.net www.yeoldescribe.net









Monday, 4 April 2016

ADDICTIONS

Picture a pleasant valley with numerous shallow streams trickling down from the hills and feeding into a larger stream that winds temptingly into the distance.  Choose one of these streams and amble along, ankle deep, to the main stream.  There are many paths in, and just as many out, of this main stream, and so it continues as we wade along.  It can be pleasant in this stream so we may not notice how the banks are getting steeper as the stream becomes a river.  Smiling merchants sell us canoes so we can be carried along at a faster rate.  A few become uneasy and make for the bank to clamber out, a task that is rapidly getting more difficult.  The river now enters a gorge.  A few still try to struggle out and those who succeed are often disdainful of those who do not.  The many who remain are made up of those who are content and those who are not but are unable to see a way out.  Many have a vague fear of the rapids ahead, but need not worry now as they are in the distant future.  These tiny streams that lead to the Gorge of Addiction have a wide variety of labels that include:
  ALCOHOL:  Wine making has been with us for some 10,000 years, although proper storage containers entered the scene only 8,000 years ago, so for some 2,000 years the wine had to be consumed quickly which gave us our basis, and historical validity, for binges.  Wine and beer were such desired commodities that quantities had to be reserved to ensure the after life would be enjoyable.  The burial chamber at Abydos, Egypt, of King Scorpion I, (3150 BC), contained vessels that held 1,200 gallons of grape wine.
Lacking the gentile, moderate-alcohol upbringing of Europeans, North Americans have been addicted to excess.  The Vietnamese worked hard to kill 50,000 U.S. servicemen while drunken drivers killed 250,000 in  the U.S. in the same time frame.  Today, alcohol kills 2.5 million humans per year.  
    COLLECTABLES:  Many humans, and some birds and animals, love to collect things.  Fortunes are spent on items so numerous that it is impossible to appreciate single items.  A stamp collector, with tens of thousands of stamps that fill so many albums they crowd books off the shelves, still seeks more and more.  Countries are well aware of this and earn a tidy profit by issuing a steady stream of new commemoratives.  In the good old days of collecting, a country would issue three or four commemoratives per year, making the hobby interesting, educational, and reasonable so that one could collect the world.  Today countries issue scores per year, well in excess of postal needs and with high values that quickly empty a collector’s pocketbook.  In the race to keep up there is no time to glean knowledge and pleasure from each stamp.  Money is also a collectible.  The more one has the more one wants in spite of increasing problems of security, taxes, solicitors and heirs.  Guns are as numerous as people in the United States where addicts insist that the right to bear arms is theirs by law.  The crime rate reflects this with 1.5 million in jail and a death rate by guns of 10.54 per 100,000 people as compared to 1.97 in Canada, 0.23 in the UK, and 0.06 in Japan.  But that compares to Honduras 67.18, Venezuela 59.13, Swaziland 37.16, Guatemala 34.1, Jamaica 30.72, and El Salvador 26.8. 
DRUGS:   All forms of addiction rob us of will power and common sense and are, therefore, drugs.  Yet we tend to limit the term to substances like cocaine, LSD, heroin, and opium that lower pain, create hallucinations to permit us to escape our mundane world, or give us a glow of peace or satisfaction, at first for a few minutes of inferred bliss, but we soon become more dependent.  Horrendous crimes are committed, either under the influence or to obtain money to buy more.  As fortunes are made by those who control the trade, the interaction of rivalries and law enforcement creates insurrections, wars, murders, and the loss of thousands of innocent lives.  Another vice, with us as long as recorded history, gambling is becoming even more addictive:
GAMBLING:  A few still maintain that we are clever enough to understanding the odds and the truth that, over time, we can only lose while governments and casino owners win.  World gamblers spend over $440 billion annually, but can be considered patriotic being such a help to their governments.  China and the US lead the world in tax revenues at $22 billion each, followed by Japan, S. Korea, Germany, UK, France, and Canada who total $32 billion.  Internet gambling is increasing and adds to these figures. Russia has banned it, gaining $1.2 billion from other forms.  But, then, we have all those church, clubs, and school groups with petty gambling.
Who is left to teach us ethics and common sense?
LIFE:   Jean Chr├ętien, Canadian prime minister 1993-2003, observed: “Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but few are willing to die to get there.”  In spite of promises of heavenly bliss we hesitate to give up the pains and sufferings of this world for something perhaps better but still unknown.  Muslim fundamentalists who are guaranteed an issue of several virgins may be more willing than the rest of us who want to see one more dawn and collect one more pension cheque even when we lack the energy to do anything with the new day or the new cheque.  We are addicted to this life.
NATIONALISM and RELIGION: It appears we are all insecure and need something to identify ourselves with and to cling to.  The mobility of Homo sapiens has kept us all one, yet we still seek comfort and safety in our own small groups and with people who think as we do.  Slowly we have grown from nuclear families to clans to tribes to city states to nations to empires to multi-nationals.  Intellect or habit may link us more with certain members of far-away groups, but we still cling to our local groups where we know and are known.  Suspicion of foreigners has been a drawback to peace.  Our hardships are often attributed to the people who live on the other side of the river or mountain, or to those who have infiltrated but who came from afar.  For ulterior purposes it has been all too easy for the few to incite the many to hate and to war.  Insignificant religious differences have been used as excuses for wars that have killed millions.  More Muslims have been killed by Muslims and more Christians by Christians than by others.       
SEX:  The pleasurable aspects have far surpassed the basic reasons for it.  Males devote much of their waking, and dreaming, hours to this pastime.  The pleasure is fleeting, but repeat performances are continually desired.  The church, social norms, and small-town moralities suppressed these desires until urban sprawl, mobility, and lowered moral standards permitted ever-greater indulgence until AIDS became a major fear, far surpassing the old, and often ignored, venereal-disease fears.  Yet, the drive remains so strong that many throw caution to the winds and risk jobs, families, and social standing for a few minutes of satisfaction.  The one advantage to the mobile male impregnating every female he can is the fact that we remain one species unlike other animals.
TOBACCO:   In 1590 King James I described it as “loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, and dangerous to the lungs.”  Although the first few tries at using tobacco are distasteful, peer pressure influenced the majority to carry on to the point where the practice becomes pleasurable, relaxing, and addictive.  The minority, who found the habit distasteful and filthy, had to accept the fact that social graces demanded they tolerate, and even assist, smokers.  The alarming degree of addiction was manifested during wartime conditions when people were starving yet would trade desperately-needed food for cigarettes.  Attitudes changed when the health costs to smokers and to those about them, became apparent and publicised.  Smoke-free zones, once unheard of, proliferated, but worldwide the battle remains as tobacco kills, 15 years prematurely, over 5 million humans per year.  My mother, brother, sister, and I never smoked yet my sister died at age 71 of lung cancer from second-hand smoke inhaled from clients in the lawyers’ offices in which she worked. My nephew, David, an Ottawa lawyer, is a world leader and advisor to governments on reducing smoking and promoting e-cigarettes to provide hard-core addicts the nicotine minus the harmful chemicals.   
WORK:  A fortunate few are able to find work that is immediately enjoyable.  Most accept a job to earn an income.  In either case work can become addictive.  It gives us a routine and companionship.  The greatest addiction comes with owning a business.  Pressures, competitions, paper work, taxes, and employee problems demand ever-more time until the business becomes all there is in life.
We can change some behaviours.  Dogs, horses, and humans come to mind.  Where can we draw the line between addictions and ingrained, genetically-dictated behaviour?  Some humans are predisposed to homosexuality in spite of the fact that this is self-defeating for the species.  Or, is it?
OTHER THOUGHTS:   Elephants, who dine on marula fruit, drink lots of water, then jog around to let fermentation produce a drunken state.  Butterflies, bees and bats will also damage themselves with addictions to fermented nectar.   Ants and Bees: A once-independent foraging life style has, over the millennia, been programmed to group behaviour where each individual is born to have strictly confined responsibilities.  This may enhance the survival of the species but it destroys free will.  Will our addictions lead to this?      
BLOGGING: Is this not also addictive?  Perhaps I should taper off before I can boast “I got a house for blogging - it came brick by brick.”
LOVE:   Ending on a positive note, what addiction has had more songs and books written plus tales told?  Ye Olde Scribe succumbs eagerly to this one, but does expect those he loves to show empathy for others who themselves possess such empathy for others and for the environment.  Basic human empathy can rebound, as we have seen many times, when the controlling hands of Profit, Hate, and Ignorance are removed.   Your help is needed in this ongoing task.

www.yeoldescribe.com
georgesweanor@comcast.net