What lies beneath the surface
The rains have come, wetting a dry Metro Manila in a big way. Despite the floods that crippled some streets and areas, the rains did ease the heat and now signals that there is a rainy season, not a drought, for 2018. The erratic weather patterns like El Niño and La Niña are quite destructive to both man and crops. Hopefully, the rest of 2018 will stay within normal climate bounds.
Because many other things will not. There is some debate about climate change but none whatsoever about many other changes like technology and their derivative impact. Political changes, too, have not been any less dramatic. There is a new normal – one that is more unpredictable and disruptive. That old normal is gone forever. Much of the future does not have reference to the past. They are not repeats but emerging originals. Even progressive thinkers cannot imagine what one or two hundred years from now will look like.
We have the beginnings of artificial intelligence which guarantees an entirely new way in the way societies live. Actually, artificial intelligence has been around for quite some time but its rate of change, its speed and volume, is overtaking our sense of unfolding familiarity. The Internet, for one, has proven to be one great disruption globally, and it continues its fast and furious expansion. Nothing has taken mankind from a traditional life that was strongly influenced by darkness more than the Internet. Yet, we can sense that the greater changes are yet to unfold.
There is one dimension in life that has stayed all too familiar, seemingly endowed with a powerful capacity to defy the tempo of all other changes around it. For some strange reason, human values are stubbornly keeping their stranglehold on human behavior. With the advent of information that is now available to most, courtesy of technology, the human learning curve seems dead set to lag behind. Human values dictate human behavior, and human behavior today is all too familiar. There is overwhelming evidence that mankind has little ability to learn from the lessons of the past as far as its struggle to transcend human weakness is concerned.
There is an established saying about man’s propensity to forget the past condemns him to stay there – in a derogative manner. The experiences of pain and failure were supposed to be building blocks to better human behavior. This has proven to be quite true of technology in all areas of human endeavor, but not in human behavior. The Ten Commandments have not upgraded themselves no matter how radical the physical form of societal life has advanced, simply because the same commandments of thousands of years remain an insurmountable challenge today. Imagine how life looked then in the primitive caveman eras, then jump to New York or Metro Manila today, only to realize that the same human weaknesses continue to tear a person or society apart.
A strange paradox, indeed. The unchanging in the midst of great change. If the human mind has created the unthinkable, the human heart remains caught in the grip of lust, greed, violence – or, in more popular terms that are the central theme of human drama, it’s still about sex, money, and killing. The transformation of our physical environment in just the last few thousands of years is already hard to grasp, how traveling by foot has catapulted us to have the capacity to travel to the moon and back, yet life is still about sex, greed, and violence.
I must admit that there are obvious manifestations that several societies are very much influenced by the advances in technology and their societal lifestyles do affirm their maturity. There are many countries that have become like lighthouses in the tempests that relentlessly afflict many others. There are societies where corruption is effectively contained – caught and quickly punished when committed. But a cursory check about what’s happening around the world will quickly tell us that these are more exceptions than a general reality.
Take fake news. A few thousand years ago, the Ten Commandments were introduced to man in a more formal manner. In other words, this code of conduct was codified in many religions and societies. One such Commandment directly warned of bearing false witness against another, which, apparently, defies compliance. What was once called “chismis” is now fake news. The most advanced societies in the West are grappling with this simple but insidious human weakness. Technology did not create this evil, but technology is showing us how powerful it is.
The number of wars has definitely lessened over time compared to what we know over recorded human history. At the same time, the threat of war is more deadly than ever. We have a few nations with nuclear weapons and their combined firepower is enough to eliminate humanity. Many of us may not choose to go to war at all yet die just the same. Violence, killing, and murder by hand or by a push of a button remain a greater threat to a greater number than before. Truly, as the saying goes, forgetting the lessons of the past condemns us to stay there.
Peaceful and honest societies are still confronted by global corruption and terrorism. Nations that have assumed the role of being global models in terms of development and more refined human values are being shaken today despite their economic, technological and military power. In the end, after all, when fear is triggered, the human spirit returns to its genetic history, loses its tolerance, and again accepts the totalitarian.
The truism that the more enduring is more important than the transient is once more affirmed. Unfortunately, it takes wisdom to see the truth beneath the surface, to recognize the constant from the temporary. All great faiths have been teaching this. It will mean, however, going through our lessons, remembering them, and believing that we have the power to change both the surface and the spirit.
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