I have always been hopeful that mankind is generally heading in the right direction. From our caveman days of acting like animals, and tribes that practiced cannibalism, and might being right, we seem to have come a long way.
Over the last few hundred years, the slow but gradual establishment of the rule of law in large parts of the world ensured that human lives were not as easy to extinguish as a candle in front of the drunken lout with a gun at the local bar.
The order that human civilisations created for themselves is, I think, one of the biggest secrets of the success of our species. Why? Because it allowed humans to think of things other than mere survival and reproduction. It allowed us to solve problems. Find solutions to hunger and disease, and invent better protection and ensure our safety from the dangers that lurked in the natural world. Humankind had found a way to thrive. And reach the top of the food chain, unafraid of any other creature in the whole world.
But our fear of other humans continues to be our biggest fear, since our descent from the trees. From anyone killing us for the fruit in our hand, the scale seems to have shifted to larger units of humans – the next village, the next tribe, the next country, the other religion. In hunger, we coveted the next man’s food. As we prospered, we coveted riches and land and greed was born. And we discovered we could hoard our wealth – as individuals and communities, and even as countries. If anyone threatened that, we would be ready to unleash our inherent violent streak in a combined ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline surge that we call patriotism.
However, one thing that has always stayed out of the purview of our war-mongering has been the next generation. Sure, children get killed in wars and conflicts, but they have always been what is now conveniently called ‘collateral damage’. Only the most evil of villains in myth and legend targeted children – Krishna’s Uncle Kansa comes to mind.
That’s why what happened at Peshawar is horrifying all of us so much. A ‘law’ of the species has been broken – the law, which said that ‘I’ll fight you but it’s all to rule the species that rules the world’. And that’s why I guess the future of the species has never deliberately been the target in the gun sights and crosshairs.
2014 has started to shake that firm belief of ours. First, with the Boko Haram monsters abducting hundreds of young girls from a school in Nigeria, and now this explosion of evil in Peshawar.
How can you shoot a young child point blank, in the face? How can you watch kids in pain, bleeding to death and think you are doing a good job? How can you kill the offspring of your species, your countrymen, your own God’s children? Not as collateral damage or by mistake or even to protect yourself, but as a mission in which you will give up your life?! Wouldn’t you be repulsed by yourself at the very thought of what you are about to do?
Revulsion is a mild word. It shook me to the core when I learnt of the incident. It horrified me even more to read some of the details. I’m still searching for answers.
Are there too many humans on our planet? Is that what’s making human life so cheap? Is there too much greed – for money, for power, for resources? Is that what’s making us crazy? Or is it just that we need periodic reminders of the horrors of war and violence to become aware that peaceful coexistence is, any day, preferable to the alternative?
Why does every generation need a war to understand this? Has our progress as a species in the last century outstripped the genetic intelligence of our species?
The only response I can think of is to retreat into my belief in tolerance, kindness, forgiveness, unselfishness. We must recognise that the world is not just our oyster, others share this space with us and have an equal right to use it for their needs (not greed!) too. Other humans, other mammals, animals, plants.
Even as marketers of goods and accumulators of profit we must be conscious of our responsibility to ensure that the messages we send out reinforce the right attributes of human nature.
Otherwise it’ll be our children who shall pay the price. And ultimately, our species.