Friday, January 3, 2014

Our Common Humanity

I have just a brief thought this time. It is about our common humanity. All races and cultures share a lot more things than not. While this fact should be obvious, especially to those who know the fact that all modern humans evolved from a single population that lived in Africa between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, scholars in the social sciences seem to not always be aware of it.

One theory that is important among linguists is that human languages are so different from one another that people raised in different cultures and speaking different languages cannot hope to really understand one another. But I suspect this theory (which appears to be less popular now than it was a few decades ago) is wrong, because the fundamentals of human nature had already evolved in that ancestral African population, all members of which spoke a single language. No matter how much linguistic evolution has occurred since that time, all people and all peoples have had more or less the same things to talk about. While some phrases may remain forever untranslatable from one language to others, the ideas and feelings are universal. At least, this seemed to be the impression in a hallway discussion among students a couple of decades ago. An upper middle-class white student, a working-class white-Native American student, two Indonesian Muslim women students, and a Taiwanese student discussed this idea, which they heard in a lecture given by a Francophone African professor. How could they do so if they were culturally unable to relate to one another? Of course, humans are not all alike, but there are more differences between individuals in a culture than between cultures.

I suspect that 2014 is going to be a wild year for human relationships, with a lot of strife within countries and between them. If we see another artificial government fiscal cliff in America, as we did in 2013, the thin glue of altruism may not prevent our society from fracturing. We need to repeat, and keep repeating, the truth that all humans share a psychological core of ideas and feelings, of which altruism is one of the most prevalent, especially when political and social leaders preach intolerance. We have to keep telling this to ourselves, because the people who like to emphasize the differences, and create fractures, are so much more noticeable. For every Islamist suicide bomber, there is a Malala Yousefzai; for every petty African dictator like Kenneth Mugabe, there is a Nelson Mandela; and for every bloviating Republican like Rush Limbaugh, there is a reasonable Republican like Mickey Edwards. Well, it is possible that the bad people outnumber the good, but there are still plenty of good people almost anywhere you look. And (I’m telling myself) instead of getting angry at the dividers (to whom strife is a nutrient), we need to keep in contact with the uniters.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, we all need a Pollyanna perspective on things once in awhile. Now if only governments and all their toys would stay out of the way of people.