9 min read

The Choice Humanity Faces in the 21st Century

The Choice Humanity Faces in the 21st Century

What do you see when you look at humanity? Now, on this cusp of a new dark age? The road forks before us, like a serpent’s tongue. What does it whisper?

I see a group of creatures, of beings, in terrible pain. The pain has never gone away, but now it has gotten worse. The agony of the soul is at breaking point. Here, in this meditation, I won’t throw stats at you. But they abound, and I cite them often.

What pain are we in? We search, desperately. For meaning. Purpose. A reason. For existence itself. Ours. The universe’s. Creation’s. Why are we here, we ask, in despair? Who made us? What end am I? Where will I go?

Answers fail us. What do you when God abandons you? You see, there’s something worse than hell. Sartre called it nausea. For us, there’s a truer way to put it. God has turned his back on us, if you like. Only silence remains. And in that emptiness, we’ve begun to tear one another apart.

The terrible pain is consuming us, now. See how our politics are ravaged. Watch democracy die at its own hands. Witness society’s descent into madness and folly. We are a civilization committing suicide, now, drinking itself to death on hate, rage, despair, and ruin.

Why? How did it end here for us? This suicidal paroxysm? This sullen, stupid self-destruction? It bears thinking about. The road wasn’t supposed to end here, after all.

The search for answers to the great existential questions has taken a dark turn once again. It’s done so before in history. Who are we? We are the master race. Why are we here? We are here to enslave and dominate. What is the point of life? Power. Why does creation exist? So that the strong survive, and the weak perish.

The Nazis. Caligula. The slavers of the American South. History’s wheel has repeated itself over and over again.

300,000 years have passed since the first of our kind stepped forth from a rift in a valley in Africa. Progress has come to us, slowly, one death, murder, rape, beating a time. Only from these tragedies, these stupid, obscene mistakes, have we seemed to have learn anything at all, which is the true measure of our folly. The disproof of our goodness, and yet the evidence, too, that redemption can be had, of a kind.

The road forks, like a serpent’s tongue. What does it whisper?

God, Nietzsche said, was dead. The Nazis smiled, and said, let us take his place, and create hell on earth. Today, God is silent. And we convulse in rage at the betrayal of it all, as the world crumbles around us. Silence remains. Or are we deaf?

Humanity has two choices, and they are historic, immense, and total choices. Everything depends on them. But let me explain them by way of a metaphor, or an allegory.

The subjugated one, the wretched, the enslaved, has two choices. A slave, of course, isn’t free, and yet the shadow of a thing like choice, remains, even in chains, even in brutality. They can adopt the master’s way. And find someone even lesser than they, themselves, to dominate, brutalize, hurt, abuse. And that way, perhaps, a consolation is found. Power over some lesser being is had, even in the condition of degradation. I needn’t speak of historical examples.

Or the subjugated one can, even in their degradation, reject the master’s way. The way of violence, hate, death. Of torture and rape and genocide. Of all the evils which dwell in humankind’s poisoned, bitter heart. They can say, I am the living disproof of this abyss. That this way leads anywhere but ruin. For what they gain, I lose, and in the end, what is won? This tree never bears fruit.

I think about my own ancestors, and their long history of degradation. I wonder which choice they made. I’ll never know.

You see, God knew something about us. Original sin. We are made of a thing like sin. No other being in creation is capable, to even the smallest fraction of a degree, of the violence we are. We alone can rain death and destruction on our own kind, and wipe them out, in the name of purity. We alone can destroy, consume, and ravage a planet.

We alone.

This is the source of our immense pain. And we have yet to understand this at all.

What is the single greatest thing in all creation? Is It a galaxy? A group of them? It’s the pain in us. The stars live and die. They wish no malice. They fulfill their destinies. Our loneliness is real. We alone are this tortured, bereft, haunted. Where will we go? What’s the point of all this? Why am I here, this desperate, fragile, mortal, weak, thing, whose arms can barely hold a child?

And so, God being silent—or we being deaf—are left to create our answers. In those answers, lurks everything from stupidity to evil. We are here to subjugate, ruin, enslave. There’s the modern answer, too: we’re here to pile up money, stuff, status, and thus, the game of slaying the lesser being for power takes on symbolic form. We call it nonviolent, but the truth is that it, too, is a deadly game.

It has cost us everything. There’s the planet, weeping, it’s limbs shattered, its lungs suffocated. There are the beings who are our cousins, starved, drowned, beaten, violated.

And what have we gained? You see, this isn’t a call to “go back to the Stone Age.” But wisdom is gained through meditation on this question. What have we gained from this long history of violence, ruin, power, domination, which is called the master’s way?

Today, our spirits are broken. I want you to really see that. Again, I can cite the data to you endlessly. Americans speak of a crisis in every last aspect of human existence, really: suicide, sociality, depression, despair, anxiety. These are modern terms, and poor ones, for ancient ills, the curse of existence, beings facing a silent God, with no answers before them.

The way of the master. Does any nation exemplify it more than America? Please understand, this isn’t about petty nationalism. This is about philosophy, the universe, truth, and humankind. Since Rome, or perhaps Colonial England, has any nation exemplified the way of the master more? Isn’t American life so bleak now precisely because it’s reduced to the strong survive, the weak perish, and so one does what one must to survive? America’s crises of the soul reflect its ongoing refusal to develop, expand, grow, at the level of the soul.

Harsh words. That doesn’t mean that every American is bad, or anything of the sort. It just means that the qualities of the soul aren’t to be found there. They’re constantly embattled. Hence, life is merciless, brutal, unforgiving, adversarial, antisocial, relentlessly Darwinian. Crises of the soul afflict it for a reason. Greater minds, from MLK to James Baldwin to Lennon understood this intimately.

The road forks before us, like a serpent’s tongue. What does it whisper? Now perhaps you hear history, it’s stupidity, folly, evil, obscenity. It calls to us, saying: choose the master’s way. There is nothing but power, domination, and violence. Do you see anything else? Why, violence is the nature of creation itself, and your only destiny, therefore, is to fulfill it. Do you see God? God is dead, or worse, silent. So what point is there in truth, beauty, and goodness? Don’t be senseless. Don’t be a fool. Accept your destiny. Choose the master’s way.

There are those of us who were born from stardust. We all were, only some us know it. We feel it in our bones. We sit beneath a full moon, or the sea, or watch the stars, and our bodies go electric. We understand creation in a different way. Than people who remain torn, conflicted, unsure, ripped in half by the pain of being, and the lure of the demagogue and the howl of the master’s way. We know. With absolute certainty.

The other path. If the first one is the master’s way, what’s the opposing one called? Let’s go back to the subjugated, the wretched one. What kind of “freedom” does he or she have, in this choice to reject the master’s way? To live with dignity, despite degradation. To have faith, even through impossible humiliation, in humankind itself. To know that equality is the nature of all things, because in all things, there’s a whole. Through that understanding, to retain goodness, beauty, and truth, even under the lash, the brand, the scar.

This is true freedom, or at least the beginnings of it. When we have made this choice, and only when we have this choice, has there been any human progress at all. In other words, every last drop and iota of progress comes from the subjugated, the hated, the rejected. You don’t know this, why would you—but the entire world changed when an economist named Mahbub ul-Haq created a theory that became the UN’s Millennium Goals. No credit is given to him (he’s no relation to me, by the way.) I could cite endless examples. Who was crucified in Rome, and taught the world a new way to believe in itself? You see my point, perhaps.

All comes from the rejection of the master’s way. All enlightenment, all truth, all progress, all liberation. The master’s way understands nothing—nothing—of the eternal and the universal. And yet it claims all for itself. Are we to believe it? Where does the line of ignorance begin—and lead?

This is where we have always been. The human heart is broken. Broken right in half. And like a broken thing, it doesn’t know what to choose. Evil or good? Stupidity or wisdom? All it wants, and it wants this above all, is an answer. Not even a salve, really, just a reason. For this terrible pain we call “the human condition.” Why? Who am I? Why am I here? That pain can be answered in many, many ways. Make me king. Make me dictator. Hate and kill them, and you will be powerful. You are the chosen ones. They don’t deserve to live. Subjugate them, and you won’t be this powerless, mortal thing.

All comes from the rejection of the master’s way. This is where we have always been, and will always remain. What does that mean? What is my meditation meant to teach you?

Every one of us is the test and the truth. The last judgment, Camus said, happens every day. The choice is eternal. The human heart will be ever divided. The fork in the road is before us, always.

And yet there are moments where the choice is greater, counts for more. This is such a moment.

Will we choose the master’s way? Or the way of…? What do we call ourselves, then, if we aren’t masters of slaves, dominators, abusers of power, desperate things, clinging to the illusion that violence is what cheats death? Don’t you think death laughs at that, because of course, violence threshes the wheat right into his waiting hands?

That is where the line of ignorance begins, and always has.

Who are we?

This is the question before us. 300,000 years. And we still don’t have name for it. The rejection of the master’s way. We have many, many names for it. Faith, in all its many forms. Hail Mary, full of grace. No purer expression of the rejection of the master’s way was ever spoken. Shalom, salaam, peace be upon you. The stations of the cross. The lotus flower of enlightenment. Ubuntu. So many names.

Let us just call it the way. Because the other way isn’t a way. You see, humanity’s not a child anymore. Now, by now, we should have learned something. Maybe, a millennia, ten, five, ago, we could have said: but we don’t know the master’s way will fail us all. Today, we know that it has, apart from, of course, the handful of people who’ve gained immense material wealth from it, and they’ve been driven mad by it, of course, poisoned the most deeply of all.

Humanity isn’t a child anymore. The other way isn’t a way at all. What is it? A dead end. A blind alley. An abyss. Call it many things. Hell. Emptiness. Stupidity. History, repeating itself. Murder, torture, rape, genocide. Evil.

This is the choice before us. And this is the task before us, too. You see, I know that if you’ve read this, you hear the call. The stars, the wind, the rain. You know what our destiny could be. If only we make the right choice. The rejection of the master’s way—for some of us, there was never a choice at all. It’s in our bones, because we surrendered to the universe the day we were made. Our task is to be leaders of that change, that revolution, that transformation.

Now, humanity matures, and develops, into adolescence. Understanding not just its responsibilities, but its capabilities, in a more sober, reflective, and truer way. What has the master’s way gained us? Do we seem happy to you? Are we rich? Where has it led? Our average income as a civilization is shatteringly poor, and we’re in more crises of the soul than can be counted here. The master’s way, we must learn, leads nowhere, but here, to this dark night of the soul, this crisis of faith, this paroxysm of self-destruction.

Is God silent? Or are we deaf? Ah, my friends. Creation is always teaching us the answers to these desperate, bitter questions, which haunt the human soul, and have broken the human heart. Every blade of grass, every star, every whispering wave tells us who we are, why we’re here, and what our purpose is. Our destiny is to create, to tend, to grow, to cultivate, to plant seeds in the soil, to live beside all creation, and shepherd it to its destiny. Through that, we discover our own, which has always been hidden in plain sight, right there before us, in everything. This is the crouching, desperate thing called humankind in the shadow of the blinding light of the eternal.

Do we see ourselves yet?

Camus. The final judgment happens every day. But what we’ve learned in the difficult century since then is this. Each of us is the test and the truth.

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