My philosophy professor in college was asked by a student, " Professor, are we free?" The professor answered, " Well, we feel like we are free." In my 81 years, I never heard a more precise answer to an existential question.

The reason this query is of paramount importance at this moment in history can be summed up in the statement by the famed entomologist, E.O. Wilson who said," Man has Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and god-like powers of destruction." In man's history of irrational behavior, we went from being able to kill a few people to thousands to millions to presently billions. And history shows that tribalism is more powerful than appreciating the commonality of man. It shows that man is his own greatest danger.

A hundred years ago, Teddy Roosevelt said, " Democracy would flounder when people begin seeing each other from different regions and different races and different religions as the other, rather than as common American citizens." This tribal insanity holds true all around the world.

Mankind has now come to a crossroads in history where he must choose between the comfort of tribalism or the discomfort of finding a pathway to his own survival.

Shakespeare would be giddy with all the material politicians are providing for plays about human nature. Nietzsche said, " Mankind would rather see gestures than listen to reasons." The astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said that humans would destroy each other unless their human nature could be changed. But neurologists tell us that brain function is way too complex to achieve that. Psychologists however, tell us that facing the truth about our individual and collective nature can enable humans to avoid catastrophic consequences: the why things are is the most important question, how to change them is the most difficult question.

Each human is undeniably the center of his universe but unless his circle includes the other circles, the human species won't survive. That doesn't mean giving up capitalism for socialism, but even Adam Smith, who championed laissez-faire ( free enterprise) consistently said that it would not work unless the participants had a strong moral code( concern for the other). He recoiled at the idea that life is a zero-sum game. It results in entrenchment, it inhibits trade and innovation, and ultimately results in warfare. But it " feels right" for all too many people.

We live in interesting times. The Greek gods would be roaring with laughter at our diversionary antics.

Joe Gerlach



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