By Luis Quintanilla
Two months ago the wheels of everyday life ran relatively smooth, like a well oiled machine. The biggest struggle for some people was finding the strength to pull away from the powerful gravity one’s bed exerts early on a Monday morning. Most of the world went about their days like clock work. A mundane but seemingly natural routine imbedded into people’s internal schedule day in and day out. Billions of humans squeezing as much as their tasks for the day in before the sun went down, walking by, sitting by and standing next to each other, strangers packed shoulder to shoulder in crowded subway cars or on venue floors.
Life does not look like that much anymore. Two months later, the world has seemingly lost its footing. Once busy streets alive with the buzz of thousands of humans, sit in calm silence. Even a simple trip to the grocery store will paint an otherworldly picture with the faces of humans now hidden behind thin and fragile masks, often makeshift ones, and new procedures in place in the face of a threat that could be anywhere in the air.
Dethroned from its smooth sailing by an unforeseen microscopic threat, much of the world has had to make sense of the new way of life emerging from strange times. Some have followed orders to bunker down and stay home until it can be maintained effectively, while others have wrestled from the attempts to limit their movement and stormed capitals in the hundreds, guns hanging from their necks and cries for returns of freedoms shouted at those in charge.
At times like these the natural tendency for humans to desperately try to make sense out of uncontrollable and muddled chaos kicks in. There are those who, as stated before, who view this a stretch of tyranny. They feel their rights and freedom are on the brink and they must double down in defense mode. There are those that in the confusion and chaos, extract order and meaning from drawn up conspiracy theories, rationalizing a unprecedented and scary situation. Believers of faith ultimately lay the hands of the situation in their deity, any worry and bickering of the situation is futile, it is already in good hands. And there are those who in the shouting match from all sides of this muddled mess do not know what to make of it, they are clueless and unsure which side is telling the truth or merely shouting louder.
Like a fishing reel caught in a kink, it is difficult to tell from the jumbled and tangled mess which line ultimately leads back to the truth. Perhaps all have some merit in some way. After all, all those people, all the people trying to make sense of this mess are human. That is the one thing they all share. Humans, an animal kept alive by the pumping of a fragile organ and driven by emotions and thoughts emanating from a powerful machine in the skull, all trying to make sense and derive order, for the sake of their and their loved one’s lives, out of chaos. Who can blame us.
There is much can be said about this situation. More likely than not, it is all one has heard about and seen the past two months. Even when pulling away from the bombardment of monster-like news on the TV or on one’s phones, one can’t often escape talks of the situation as our very conversations with each other have been infiltrated with nonstop worries and speculations of it. So who’s right or wrong won’t be the topic of this delves into.
The example above of the current situation is meant to highlight something pertinent about the human condition. Even before this people drew lines in the sand for their beliefs and lives and fell back to their corner of the world, everyone else is wrong and shut out. All humans may be guilty of this in some way or another perhaps not so extreme, but it is seemingly natural to do so. A global pandemic just came and heightened and catalyzed it.
Last semester, as a writer for the Settler, I took a story on a presentation that Brent Smith, a professor of history at Vol State, gave on the relationship between Native Americans and the French. In it he chronicled their relationship, sometimes amicable and mutual, sometimes unpleasant. Later in an interview Smith likened the relationship to a similar experience he had while serving in Iraq. He spoke about how it was better to understand and work with the Iraqis, otherwise they would be the ones shooting at them the next day. He said a line that, although straightforward and should be universally understood, stuck with me.
“There’s always going to be the butting of heads, but if you want to get things done, it’s imperative for you to learn to work with one another. We got to work together. We may not like each other. Not everybody’s going to like each other, but you’re going to have to work together. So until we do that, I’m not sure we can reach our full potential,” stated Smith.
Humans may never fully line up and agree on every detail and question about life. To ask that would be ridiculous, unbelievably impossible and would make the Earth very boring if all of our differences in our culture, thinking and ways of life were stripped. But I think we can all agree on one thing: we have to learn to not only to work together, but to understand one another.
Like Smith said, we do not have to like one another, that too would be asking for the impossible, but we must begin to understand one another if we wish to work together. Understand what makes that other human the way they are. What factors in their environment, in their nation’s history, in their own history, in their upbringing led them to how they act and think. If we can at least start there, we can begin the steps to set aside our differences like rational beings and collaborate to make it as a species.
Again, we do not have to like each other. That is like expecting a toddler to pass the bar exam, it will likely never happen. And that is okay. People annoy us, we don’t always agree, they like different things than we do. That is okay, that is to be human. What is not justified is hatred and indifference towards one another, that is where we struggle now. What can begin to alleviate this underlying disease that has been plaguing mankind for centuries is better understanding of each other and cooperation. Without that we humans would be nothing.
Cooperation and social cohesion is in our genes. It is what has kept us here on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years. For 95% of our history we lived as nomads. Small bands of humans numbering at most 25-30 people. Humans we lived, hunted and told stories around the fire under the endless and mysterious night sky with. We looked out for another. Now, we are jammed into crowded cities. We are close to only a dozen or so humans in our lives, the billion others and their ideas and ways life, strange, almost cloudlike floating by our everyday lives like any other we have become indifferent to. It is still in our blood to pull together as a collective, as one of the, if not the smartest species on Earth to work together to survive.
Yuval Noah Harari, in his book Sapiens, said if you put 100 chimps in an auditorium together they will rip each other to shreds. If you put 100 humans in an auditorium together, they will begin to organize each other, learning each other’s names and making order out of chaos. That is very much in us, to pool together to get stuff done. Moving forward, we will no longer be able to afford shouting matches. At some point it will be too late and they will be futile and become whispers in much bigger problems. Understanding and cooperation, like any other time, will be imperative to our species.
Gong forward humanity will have to answer and overcome if we wish to make it. We are thrown into disarray by a microscopic enemy, our greed and way of modern life are making a mess out of our planet and its species, we are becoming lonelier and more cut off from each other and we pose an ever greater threat to ourselves and our only home. If we’re going to make it, shouting matches must stop and we must put our minds together to stop our current inertia.
There is much I wish to say about this, the human condition. About where we’re going. But I won’t drag this out as much as I already have. Thank you Vol State for a fun and unforgettable experience these past two years, and thank you to Clay Scott for giving me the opportunity to be editor this crazy semester as well as the excellent writers who kept us going. In the end, I will leave you with this final thought from Dr. Carl Sagan.
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
“The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”
“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
Out there, far beyond the reaches of space, where our Earth appears as a small blip, our shouting matches become stupid whispers emanating from a lone and fragile blue marble we all share.