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Attitude Adjustment1

Dec 09, 2008
The Family of Man began as a family, huddled in a dark cave against the forces of a malevolent Nature, including—especially—the family in the cave next door. Reason was on our side, however, and reason, telling us there was strength in numbers, created the tribe. When agriculture settled us down ten thousand years ago, tribes became settlements, which became towns, cities, city-states, and, finally, countries, constructs, again, whose primary purpose was enhancing security for a larger base of the population.

Of course, along the way tribe fought tribe, Sparta fought Athens, England fought France, and complicated ad hoc alliances came and went in support of ever widening and, ultimately, global conflicts. Yet the quest for physical and economic security was always at the heart of those conflicts, even when they seemed to be initiated for purposes of conquest and empire.

The country is no longer the most-evolved unit in this search for security. Economic alliances such as NAFTA and political ones such as the European Union have gone beyond largely symbolic attempts at multinational cooperation most recently embodied in the United Nations. These alliances seek to knit countries together firmly enough in cooperative endeavors to render it unlikely they will ever again have at each others’s throats in battle.

We now find ourselves at a point in our evolution as a species where “two roads diverge in a yellow wood.” As separate countries with a limited number of extended alliances, many of us are powerful enough, should another conflict arise between us, to destroy civilization. Even absent such conflict, we face environmental threats to our security that could be equally devastating.

It seems to us that a great reckoning is at hand. Will we be capable, once again, of making the same attitude adjustment we have made countless times in the past, the adjustment that saw us lay down our arms and join an erstwhile enemy in order to defend against the greater danger perceived emanating from another quarter? Will we be able to do so when that greater enemy is ourselves? And if we do not, will not our own natures, or the Nature we have so abysmally abused, step in and write the final page in the chronicle of human history?

These are the questions to which the progress of civilization has brought us. These are the questions which will be answered. The 21st century will see the Family of Man become one family, or the 22nd will belong to the flora and fauna over which we enjoyed a short and unhappy dominion.
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1 Our illustration: Family of Man, by Georg Schmerholz, 1976
tags: History | Working Together

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