We Are Evolving
I’ve been reflecting on how human beings are evolving with regard to the predilection toward violence. It seems to me that there were strong indications during the twentieth century that our awareness of violence and the harm it does has expanded and that our vision of the possibility of relating to one another with tolerance and even compassion has begun to come into focus. It seems important to hold the big picture in mind as we contemplate the events of September 11, 2001, and all that has followed.
Evolution Occurs Very Slowly
My appreciation for how long the evolutionary process takes was heightened when watching a PBS special on the evolution of the human brain. (I hope my memory serves me well in recounting this information!) The documentary focused on the hominids who had bodies a lot like human beings and who knew how to make tools for cutting & chiseling. Yet, for three million years they failed to develop the capacity to pass their knowledge from one generation to another. Therefore, their ability to use tools never grew or developed beyond the most rudimentary level. For three million years they continued to make the same kind of crude tools. Imagine!
Then, a change occurred. Scientists don’t know how to explain this, but in spiritual circles this would be called a quantum leap in consciousness. Homo Sapiens emerged and their brains began to grow. Again, I would suggest, in the light of the wisdom teachings, that this change came about in response to the new consciousness. Human beings began to develop new tools and to transmit their knowledge to succeeding generations. In less than a million and a half years we evolved into modern human beings, able to use language and having domesticated both plants and animals.
As I reflected on the implications of the millennia it took for the human brain to evolve to serve what we call modern man, I realized that my impatience with other aspects of evolution was ill founded.
It was only a little more than 200 years ago that another leap occurred that we call the Industrial Revolution. The shift from an economy based primarily on agriculture and tools handcrafted one by one, to the mechanized production of manufactured goods in large-scale enterprises completely transformed societies. Where industrialization occurred, large cities developed, economies grew by leaps and bounds, and standards of living improved dramatically.
Before all the nations of the world could catch up with industrialization, an even more radical change was set in motion: the Electronic Revolution. The invention of the computer in the twentieth century dramatically changed manufacturing by making automation possible. And perhaps more important, the computer transformed communication systems, launching the Information Age. In undeveloped countries, the communications leap is being made before industrialization. Televisions are already in every home and hut, and cellular telephones are rapidly appearing in every peasant’s hand. Information can now be transmitted and exchanged with such rapidity that events like the September 11 attacks are shared virtually simultaneously around the globe. The human brain that took millions of years to evolve is beginning to experience information overload. It is time for another quantum leap in consciousness.
New Levels of Evolution
Parallel to the evolution of our capacity to manipulate our environment and to enhance our technologies in manufacturing and information transmission, another level of the evolutionary process began to gather momentum. That evolution is in the realm of human relationships.
It was not until the twentieth century, with the advent of modern psychology, that information about how the human psyche functions was made accessible to the general public. Until that time, only esoteric spiritual teachings had passed along techniques for consciously mastering the psyche. By the middle of the twentieth century, widespread application of numerous psychotherapeutic approaches, popular personal growth and support group movements, and the proliferation of self-help books evoked growing self-awareness in vast numbers of people.
It is surely not by accident that expanded awareness of how the human psyche functions was accompanied by a new sensitivity to the pernicious nature of violence. It was not until the middle of the twentieth century that societal concern about the extent of domestic violence went “public.” Prior to that time, what happened in homes was considered “private and personal” and “outsiders” did not interfere. As we began to understand that violence warps the personality, however, professionals in medicine, education, social work, and law enforcement began to take responsibility for reporting “abuse.” New laws were passed, and society began to monitor the level of violence permitted between individuals even in the privacy of their own homes.
This was a radical evolutionary step. For the first time in human history, in the twentieth century we began to consider physical and emotional violence to be subnormal. Perpetrators of violence began to be treated as mentally or emotionally ill, or as criminals. Although this evolution (and the societal revolution it represents) has not permeated all cultures, it is widely accepted in all technologically developed societies. Through the influence and pressure of these more technologically developed societies, organizations like the United Nations have begun to pressure more traditional, developing cultures to monitor violence inflicted on women and children, at least.
International Peace Keeping
The second major evolution in terms of human relationships had to do with interactions between nations. Following World War I, the urge to form an international alliance for the preservation of peace arose in the consciousness of world leaders. The League of Nations was the first expression of this new urge, and the United Nations superseded it in 1946 following World War II.
Given that human beings have been fighting with each other over property, possessions, the right to rule, differing tribal and ethnic customs, and conflicting ideologies since ancient times, the idea that nations could unite to preserve peace in the world represented a radical shift. The growing sophistication in the technology of warfare in the twentieth century probably provided the biggest impetus to this vision of a world without war. But a growing recognition that violence only breeds more violence has strengthened the resolve of both individuals and nations to find viable alternatives to war.
One of the expressions of this attempt to preserve peace has been peacekeeping efforts by the United Nations and other alliances, like NATO, that are intended to prevent war as well as those designed to preserve peace when an agreement or treaty has been signed.
In times past, conflicts between nations, like domestic violence, were not considered the business of other nations unless their own boundaries were threatened. However, as the powers of destruction increased exponentially in the twentieth century, attitudes began to shift. By now, it is recognized that a war anywhere on the globe threatens the well-being of all nations. As a consequence, the United Nations is increasingly viewed as something like a police force for the world, and international laws governing interactions between nations are becoming more widely recognized and enforced.
An International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, was established after the Second World War as the successor to the League of Nation’s Permanent Court of International Justice. The main task of the court is to decide legal cases between nations. Although several member nations of the United Nations (including the United States) will not automatically honor the International Court’s rulings, thus weakening the court, still its existence underscores the direction we are moving. It will not be long before “sovereign” nations have no protection from international laws that prohibit violent conflicts between nations. And eventually such intervention will expand to include the worldwide prohibition of mental abuse in the form of brainwashing, robbing people of their freedoms of speech, choice, religion and belief systems, etc. These steps are not just coming; they are actually here in their incipient forms. It won’t take long for them to become fully established and accepted.
Another force in this evolutionary shift in attitudes toward war has been the emergence of organized peace movements. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, religious groups such as the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Mennonite Church stood almost alone in expressing antiwar sentiment and making peace efforts. These people were called conscientious objectors, or pacifists; generally they did not believe in killing in any form, based on their religious beliefs. These groups made a great contribution to a change in consciousness by getting our nation to agree that individuals had the right to refuse to fight in wars if they did not believe in killing.
In the second half of the twentieth century, however, objection to wars began to be expressed by persons of conscience whether or not their positions were based on religious belief and upbringing and whether or not they objected to killing in any form. Often the objection to war is based on recognition that many innocent lives are lost in wars, that there are alternative ways to solve most conflicts, and that violence and war only breed more violence and war.
A growing awareness of planetary ecology that is delicate and requires our care and preservation also emerged in the last half of the 20th century. The prevention of highly destructive and toxic wars, such as that waged by the United States in Viet Nam and in Iraq, is now viewed by many as essential to the preservation of human life on this planet.
These are huge revolutions and evolutions of consciousness in less than 150 years.
Changing the Course of Human Consciousness
It seems that the terrorist attacks of September 11 were just the first events of this new century calling us to the awareness that we cannot resolve human conflicts with the use of violence. However, we need to be patient with the process by which the nations of the world find their way to alternatives. The unconscious, reflex action of violence by an individual or a nation, striking back, giving kind for kind, is merely the repetition of the pattern that is already outmoded and doomed. It will be declared illegal by the nations of the world before very long, as evolutionary changes go, but perhaps not within your lifetime and mine.
In the meanwhile, the stream of human consciousness is shifting its course, carving out a new channel through which expressions of the nonviolent resolution of conflict can flow. Those of us who long for peace can rejoice in the exponential increase of peace activists around the globe. We can support with our money, our volunteer labor, and our prayers those who are teaching mediation, conflict resolution, nonviolent protest and resistance, proactive negotiation, etc. And we can become involved ourselves in these activities at one level of society or another.
Vital to the whole enterprise is the transformation of our own ability to manifest peace by not falling into resentment, anger, frustration, destructive criticism, sarcasm (which leads to cynicism), bitterness, hatred, and the inner violence of hopelessness and despair, which kill the human spirit. We can, instead, maintain a positive attitude of belief in our human potential to respond to evolutionary drivers with creative, life-giving innovation. We can awaken each morning with gratitude in our hearts for the gift of life and the opportunity to learn and grow. And we can affirm our fellow human beings in all efforts to solve the problems that beset us.
Above all, we can function from the heart center in unconditional love. The energy of that love will hold the fabric of humanity together as we go forward. The transformation of our own consciousness will push the evolutionary envelope of humanity forward toward the next quantum leap into the capacity to live in life-affirming and life-supporting cooperation.