Out of a living silence

A contemplative shares thoughts that emerge in moments of quiet reflection

Archive for October 2018

Imagine there’s no countries

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Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
—John Lennon (1940–1980)

Earthrise

In many of the the 2018 midterm election campaigns, some candidates are described as advocating open borders. Although there are few, if any, political candidates in the United States actually advocating open borders of the sort that exist in the European Union, it is interesting to think of what it would be like to have an agreement among all the countries in the Americas that would allow people to move freely anywhere in the American continents and the Caribbean islands to pursue a livelihood. What would it be like if workers could move from one country to another as easily as corporations do? This thought experiment can be taken one step further. What if there were no nations at all and therefore no borders to cross?

On Christmas eve in 1968, in the course of the Apollo 8 mission to orbit the moon, the lunar module pilot Bill Anders took a photograph of the distant earth with the surface of the moon in the foreground. The photo, entitled “Earthrise,” has been called by the nature photographer Galen Rowell “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken”. Nearly fifty years after the photograph was taken, in a PBS program called Earthrise: The First Lunar Voyage, members of the crew of Apollo 8 reflected on the impact that seeing the earth from a lunar orbit had on them.

One of the observations that several astronauts who have seen the earth from the moon or from the international Space Station have made is that when our planet is seen from a distance, it is possible to see natural features such as oceans and large lakes and mountain ranges and deserts, but it is not possible to see human-made features such as nations, states and counties. When seen from that perspective, it is apparent that the earth is surrounded by dark space and that there is nothing nearby on which the inhabitants of the planet can call for help. If the inhabitants of the earth are to survive, they must do so by cooperating with one another. Within the human race, that cooperation may best be achieved if a focus on differences—differences in nationality, ethnicity, ideology and religion—is not allowed to take priority over a focus on basic common needs. As the human race interacts with other species, the common needs of human beings are best met by remembering that we human beings are only one of countless other interdependent lifeforms on this planet. It is because the photograph Earthrise makes all that cooperation and interdependence easier to grasp that it has been called the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.

The role of mythology

In his book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, the historian Yuval Noah Harari discusses the influence that fictitious narratives play in human history. Examples of the fictions he explores are money, corporations, nations, ethnicity, personal identity and freedom. Harari points out that while it may be easy for a modern person to regard the Sumerian deity Enlil as a fiction and to see as fictitious narrative the belief that all the lands and crops and precious artifacts offered to Enlil are private property owned by Enlil, it may be more difficult to see that a corporation is also a fictitious entity and that it is a socially constructed fiction that the corporation owns lands. Most people probably do not regard it as preposterous to believe that Canada is real and that it owns part of the Arctic or that a British-Australian multinational corporation named Rio Tinto Group is real and that it owns the Bingham Canyon open pit copper mine in Utah. Why, then, would they regard it as preposterous that the Sumerians believed that all the land around them was owned by the god Enlil?

Harari does not advocate banishing fictitious narratives from our lives. Rather, he advocates recognizing that they are fictions. They are myths that give our lives meaning and that facilitate large-scale social co-operation. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for human beings to co-operate with large numbers of total strangers whom they have never met and never will meet without some kind of shared mythology. Mythology is therefore not to be avoided altogether, but it is important to realize that myths serve specific purposes under particular circumstances. As circumstances change and human needs change, then successfully meeting those needs may require a change in the fictitious stories we tell one another so that we can work together.

A question worth thinking about today is whether the fiction of nation-states is still serving the collective needs of humanity. There may have been a time when the story of having countries to kill or die for served a useful purpose. It may well be that we have entered a time when it is increasingly counterproductive to believe that a nation has a right to withdraw from co-operating with other nations to address such global predicaments as the warming of the planet through the combustion of fossil fuels. Perhaps it is time for international co-operation to give way to a kind of co-operation in which the very idea of a nation no longer plays a role, some kind of post-national co-operation. This is possibility I have explored elsewhere.

 

Written by Richard P. Hayes (Dayāmati Dharmacārin)

Monday, October 22, 2018 at 15:29

Posted in Social analysis