Moving to the Right

The late (1937-2002) Viola F. Cordova—a Jicarilla Apache/Hispanic philosopher—asserted that humans are born “’humanoid,’ that is with the capacity to become ‘fully human’ through the exercise of all of their faculties.” “Intelligence” is one of those faculties, but so are the emotions, “for example, guilt, which calls us to rectify what is wrong, and sympathy and empathy, which call us to be aware of the other as someone like one’s self. Humans have many qualities that must be fostered for one to become fully human.” And we have a broader range of capabilities than other creatures, by virtue of our “physical structure: our ability to walk upright, our easily manipulated hands, our stereoscopic vision with a broad color range, our ability to adapt to a variety of geographical environments, our ability to respond to our environment with awe, reverence, or even fear.”

Upon birth, thus, we have tremendous potential; but when we are born, we are merely “humanoids” until—and unless—we develop those potentials. Or, more precisely, those potentials lay latent in us, awaiting a fostering environment. The provision of such an environment is the responsibility of the group into which the birth occurs—a “group that teaches the new being what it is to be human in this group of beings.” For given that different groups occupy different ecological niches, each group of humans will have its own way of “being human.”

In many tribes the new being is not seen as fully human until he or she is five to eight years old (many official naming ceremonies take place at this time). It is at that age that a human being can discern the consequences of his actions on others. He is taught to be human by showing him that he is one human among others. Because he shares the world with other beings, there is an emphasis on cooperation rather than competition; sharing rather than accumulation. ((Kathleen Dean Moore, Kurt Peters, Ted Jojola, and Amber Lacy, eds., The Native American Philosophy of V. F. Cordova. With Foreword by Linda Hogan. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press, 2007, pp. 152-153.))

What Dr. Cordova suggests is a framework for perceiving societies:

(Cautions: In interpreting this figure no meaning should be attached to the relative sizes of the four areas; and that although the figure may suggest that homogeneity exists within each of the four areas identified, in actuality the expectation is that variability, rather, would be the rule. Note that the figure asserts that if one is driven, one will also, necessarily, be selfish.)

What the above figure “states” is that any given society can be conceived as potentially containing four types of people (adults) from the perspective of the two “dimensions,” (a) selfishness—altruism and (b) drivenness—non-drivenness. (By “drivenness” I am referring to being driven by a desire to acquire—wealth and/or power and/or fame. I assume that “drivenness” is a form of what might be termed “possession.”)

Although Dr. Cordova evidently applied the label “humanoid” only to youth (under the assumption that any First Nation youth would have an environment that virtually guaranteed that s/he would become a human), I make no such assumption here. Rather, although I assume that in a First Nation society (of, say, 1500 CE) virtually all adult members would be in Category 3, in our society today one would find individuals in all four categories. (I will not make any guess as to how many—from a percent standpoint—are in each category.) Category 1 and 2 individuals are humanoids, with only Category 3 and 4 individuals being humans (as conceived by Dr. Cordova).

If asked to rank the three categories from the standpoint of desirability, I would do so thusly: 3, 4, 1, 2. That is, it seems to me most desirable for the members in a society to be in Category 3—neither driven nor selfish. There is nothing objectionable about Category 4 people—indeed, such individuals are rightly admired. Still, there is something “unnatural” about such people—which is why I give them a second-place ranking. Thus, just as Category 2 individuals can be said to be “possessed,” so can Category 4 people, in their own way: both can be understood as having pathologies.

I put Category 2 people in last place because, in being both selfish and driven, the latter will tend to behave in ways that are exploitative relative to others. Category 1 people, although they lack a motivation to help others, at least do not act to harm others. Category 2 individuals, however, in being driven, are so oriented to self that they are oblivious as to how their actions impact others. Thus, although their intentions may not be to harm others, their actions often do (e.g., by expropriating the “surplus value” created by others—to use Marxian language). To use ecological language here: If the humans of our society are perceived as the host, then the humanoid element — Category 2 individuals in particular — are parasites. Indeed, one could go so far, it seems to me, as to assert that that virtually all of our problems—as Americans, as, indeed, members of our species—are attributable to the presence of Category 2 individuals in our midst. (I will not, however, develop that point here.)

Insofar as that is true, the suggestion is that if we are to solve our problems, we must move to the right. In saying “move to the right” I am referring, of course, to the above figure; by no means am I saying that we should become members of the (Koch brothers-sponsored) Tea Party (a party that might better be called the Teat Party—because it really sucks!). I don’t think that we will be able to solve the “global warming” problem: “global warming” is likely to continue, and intensify, resulting in the virtual extermination of our species; our only hope lies in some of us somehow being able to escape extinction. ((See, e.g., James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning. New York: Basic Books, 2009.)) But those who do escape will have an opportunity to develop societies peopled by Category 3 individuals—and should take advantage of that opportunity. After all, it is such people who live in accord with their “design specifications.”

In anticipation that some reader might be one of those who is able to survive the consequences of “global warming,” the question that such a person might ask is: What should I do now? The only specific recommendation that I would make, however, is that one initiate a Structured Interaction Group (SIG) (see here and here). I would, however, add the following to my list of guidelines presented in the first paper:

  • To help members of the group acquire the habit of listening to what others say, a short period of silence (roughly 30 seconds?) should be observed after someone has spoken.
  • Members of the group must recognize that what is said during a given session is not to be used as a source of gossip. Generally, a rule of confidentiality should be observed; if, however, one chooses to discuss, with non-group individuals, topics discussed during sessions, one is expected to be discreet.

Given that a SIG—unlike the conventional “circle”—is oriented to societal rather than personal problems, the second guideline above should not be difficult to follow. Since there is the possibility of rather “radical” ideas being expressed during a given SIG session, participants should use discretion in commenting, to “outsiders,” on what has been discussed during a given session. On the other hand, participants in a given SIG should make known to “outsiders” the fact of their SIG participation, and encourage others either to join them or to inaugurate their own SIGs.

James B. Gray, in his discussion of the “Old Testament” (“Worship: An Exercise in Revisioning,” p. 15 – 28), the Law and Prophets in particular, suggests that these individuals used various devices beyond the institution of rules and “preaching” to move their society in a “Restorationist” direction. Given that these individuals were religious people—who would deny that?!—the suggestion is that we moderns not only establish SIGs outside of churches, but encourage our fellow Christians, Jews and other religionists to establish SIGs in their churches-synagogues (or … )—either as substitutes for existing adult classes or as additions to them. After all, supposedly what Christian churches (at least) are “about” is “salvation,” and surely the educated among religionists realize that the sort of salvation of particular relevance today is that of our species—from extinction!

Vincent Bugliosi, in his recent Divinity of Doubt: The God Question, ((New York: Vanguard Press, 2011.)) states:

… there is only one necessary religion that has any merit to the people who inhabit this earth, and that’s the Golden Rule: “Whosoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (from the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:12). To treat others as you would want them to treat you (the only obvious exception being when acting in any kind of self defense) is the highest, most noble form of human behavior and the basis of all morality. No matter what some papal encyclical says; no matter what some bishops conference says; no matter how many sacraments of the Catholic church there are or chapters and verses in the bible or thick and complex books by theologians or Sunday school classes and sermons by pastors; no matter how many heated arguments there are about God, Jesus, and religion; no matter how many pilgrimages there are to Mecca, Jerusalem, and other holy places; no matter how many thousands of hours Jewish scholars struggle over the meaning of the Torah; no matter how many multimillion-dollar churches and synagogues and grand cathedrals to Christ are constructed, nothing can ever change that simple reality. ((Quoted from: “The Sense and Morality of Agnosticism.” I should note here that although Bugliosi quotes Jesus in the Matthew 7:12 passage, the author/redactor of Matthew has Jesus say that the Golden Rule summarizes the Law of the “Old Testament,” Gray’s discussion of the “Old Testament” (cited above) can be interpreted as suggesting that such is not the case. Certainly in terms of the figure that I present at the beginning, it would seem that one could be a follower of the Golden Rule and still be a Category 2 person—i.e., an individual who was both selfish and driven.))

What Bugliosi seems to be implying here is that the churches should be focused primarily on the Golden Rule, but aren’t. So there is little hope that many churches would inaugurate SIGs. However, “conversion” is possible—even with the churches!

I may very well be wrong on this score. Indeed, I suspect (irony of ironies!) that I am wrong. However, if a significant number of churches were to recognize the role that they could play in humankind’s salvation from extinction, the probability of that salvation would be significantly increased.

Al Thompson retired over seven years ago from an engineering (avionics) firm in Milwaukee. His e-mail address is: Read other articles by Alton.