The cliché is that all human beings belong to one family – humankind. The reality is also that all human beings belong to one family – humankind. All of us – all races, nations, ethnic groups, all peoples of the planet – we all are the result of star dust cooling, the earth miraculously coming into being, life emerging, evolving, and multiplying.
From the distance of outer space looking at earth, we now know our blue planet sparkles in the cosmic darkness and immensity. So if you push each one of our family trees far enough back, we come to the era where humanoids evolved and our great, great (to the 100th power) grandparents took on human shape.
As Lewis Thomas writes: “Our common ancestor was a single cell from which all subsequent cells derived, most likely a cell resembling one of today’s bacteria in today’s soil… Even if I try to discount the other genetic similarities linking human beings to all other creatures by common descent, the existence of these beings in my cells is enough, in itself, to relate me to the chestnut tree in my backyard and to the squirrel in that tree.”
As a consequence of this 13 billion plus year universe and our five billion year earthly experience, we all occupy the same home – earth. As a further consequence, we are all bound inextricably to each other. The earth is a unified membrane of water and air; we cannot pollute one piece of the globe without affecting another. As Tom Lehrer quips in his song, “Pollution,” “The breakfast garbage that you throw into the Bay they drink at lunch in San Jose.” When we chop down rain forests in Bolivia, we diminish the ozone layer for all humanity. When we allow one-third of the globe to live in abject poverty – while a handful live in opulence – we force the poor to chop down those trees upon which the health of us all depends.
Whether we like it or not, we depend upon each other for survival much as families depend upon each other. This is, of course, not just a metaphor – it is a reality. We are a planetary family with an enormous family to take care of. Unfortunately, we have not yet learned how to be responsible parents. It is not responsible to soil your own bed if you can avoid doing so. Yet we do. We are so caught up in our materialism and greed that we look upon the earth’s beautiful resources and its precious eco systems simply as grist for our economic mills. And those of us who are living in our consumerist comfort are even disdainful of efforts by some to preserve and sustain our bountiful blessings. “Greenies,” “eco-weirdoes,” “tree huggers,” “granola heads,” they are laughingly referred to by consumers eating the last remaining species of this fish or that animal. Ironically, sadly, or perhaps fittingly, the earth that we plunder will have its final revenge upon us when we have chopped down the last tree, consumed the last natural fish, swum in the last unpolluted river, lake, or ocean, observed the last Bengal tiger or elephant, watched the last soaring eagle or albatross. We will have diminished our lives incalculably.
Which leads me back to a political question: Why do we seem to be unable to find, nominate, elect, and support leaders who grasp the simple fact of the family of humankind? Why instead do we elect men (mostly men) who seem hell bent on creating wars, supporting aggressive dictators across the globe, mass producing and selling weapons to all lands, and making it easy for polluters and eco-destroyers to profit?
Lewis Thomas in an essay on altruism in his 1980 collection, “Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony,” writes: “We may need new technical terms for concern, respect, affection, substitutes for altruism. But at least we should acknowledge the family ties and, with them, the obligations. If we do it wrong, scattering pollutants, clouding the atmosphere with too much carbon dioxide, extinguishing the thin carapace of ozone, burning up the forests, dropping the bombs, rampaging at large through nature, as though we owned the place, there will be a lot of paying back to do and, at the end, nothing to pay back with.”Thomas wrote these words 25 years ago, and have we paid heed? Do our leaders have a clue what he was talking about and how much worse a mess they, we, are making of things? Apparently not. All of us, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and disillusioned non-voters, we must get angry. The stakes are too high.