Thursday, May 26, 2011

One's own brood

Let’s take a squiz at a universally held tenet with the help of a well-known author. Recently I read Stephen King’s Cell. It’s written more along science-fiction lines than Steve’s customary horror (although the book has its share of that too). The story kicks off with a virus, one that doesn’t have a biological basis, nor is it the sort of virus that affects computers. It’s electronic, but it spreads through the human population. When someone switches on a cell phone, it emits a vibration that turns the listener insane in a suicidal and homicidal sense. Not good.

Anyway, the hero has escaped the virus. He observed someone else answer his phone and turn loony, and so he refused to answer his own. But then he gets into a tizzy. How is he going to warn his son? He can’t ring him. Desperately he tries to get home before his son becomes a raving zombie. 

All around him people are going crazy—shooting one another, burning, looting. Thousands are dying, but Clayton doesn’t bother himself with that. He is totally preoccupied with returning home in time to save his son.

Think about it. Why does he do that? Why, when the whole world is dying off all around him, does feel so compelled to save the life of one particular person? Is it just me? I can’t believe that no one else seems to see it (I’m speaking now outside King’s novel). No one thinks that anything’s wrong. In fact, we expect that people will care more for their own brood than for a stranger. This is regarded as normal by the masses, whereas I see it as utterly crackers. Doesn’t anyone agree? When you think about it—when I think about it—it’s so peculiar that we expect people to care for one another to varying degrees, as if—I don’t know—there’s some sort of caste system in place.

Let’s say that an incident occurs in a coal mine. There’s an explosion and a couple of dozen miners get trapped. Just look at how the news is reported around the world. In Australia they concentrate on the Australians. In Scotland they interview the families of the Scottish workers who are missing. To me that whole scenario is totally weird.

In the same vein, an arbitrary hierarchy seems to apply across the entire animal kingdom. We say that a whale is worth more than a sheep. Cows you eat, but not horses; dogs but not pigs (different cultures have different rules). And by some additional principle, a creature of an endangered species accrues extra mana the fewer members of its species that remain. Plants too—this one is a weed, eradicate it, this one is ‘native’, protect it. This is what I mean by human idiosyncrasy. This is an example of the commonly held misconceptions that the neurotypical crowd goes along with.

Isn’t there a bit in the Bible where someone points out to someone else—somehow the name Brian rings a bell—that he forgot to acknowledge his mother, and that historical personage responds with something like, ‘Who is my mother?’. Maybe that incident relates to something like this, it’s a parable that illustrates the folly in elevating one person above another. Either everyone—and every living thing—is family, or no-one and nothing is.

I like what Einstein had to say on this—more and more I’m finding that the man had a lot of sensible stuff to say about many things. He wrote:
‘A human being is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest . . . a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.’

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