We Destroy Ourselves | 1.16.22
The Sunday Edition
These years have been those, as Zora Neale Hurston so eloquently put it, “that ask questions,” and haven’t provided very many answers, if any at all. Perhaps the overabundance of stillness, the near total lack of movement when I’ve grown so accustomed to almost never standing still, perhaps the spread of a virus that not only caused so much death and illness, but planted so much divide in a species that have spent a history reinforcing just about every divide imaginable, whatever the case, these years have been spinning my mind with questions, and some feel unanswerable. We feel, as a whole, further apart from one another than we ever have before, and every day that divide feels more isolating, feels heavier as a burden to bear. This carrying, this immense weight, has got me wondering on some big thoughts, and this Signal Fire has always been a place I want to spill those big thoughts out, a safe harbor where I hope all of you will help me anchor them like boats before storm.
The question that has been repeating itself over and again as I wandered through these previous two years is an incredibly deep one, disguised as abundantly simple: What if we were wrong all this time? We, the scattered and frantic members of this human experiment, what if we missed the whole point from our origins, from the very genesis of us? I’ll expound, worry not, but as I said, especially after last week’s essay on anger and the rant that followed, I’ve been pondering this so often in my mind, rolling it over, and the simplest way to put it is: What if we were wrong?
I’ve seen documentaries about hive minds, about the role and function of the swarm in the animal kingdom. How sometimes, massive groups of animals can function as a single entity without really knowing how, or why, they are doing it. Starlings fly at unbelievable speeds in murmurations larger than we can comprehend and somehow never collide, schools of fish come together to appear as one large fish to avoid predators, even fungus and mold join for the benefit of the whole. What if we, I have been asking myself over and over again, are and always have been, one creature, one brain with billions of cells, each human life a single cell in some collective consciousness much larger than we’d ever be able to understand? What if we are one thing, spread out over one planet, all sharing the same inherent root system, and what if all this time we’ve been fighting one another, destroying one another, isolating, hating, judging, dividing, we’ve just been doing it to ourselves? What if each death is the death of a single cell that our life force needs so desperately to survive, and after centuries and centuries of war, of terrorism, of racism, of anger that spreads like rot, we’re erasing ourselves one by one, like brain cells drowning in alcohol on a night of excess?
We destroy others, it’s what we’ve done and I’m so afraid we’ll always do, thinking each that isn’t the same as us, precisely and exactly, is wrong, is off, is false. We convince ourselves that different is the enemy, that sameness is a virtue to be valued above and beyond all others, that what looks, sounds, acts, or believes what we do is the only thing that matters. In one way or another, all others fall into some lumped category, some bin in the back of our brains, in the backs of our societies. We forget, in our endless pursuit of this sameness, this routine that comforts and soothes some unevolved part of our psyche, that all these things we call differences are nothing more than subtle and circumstantial shifts, cosmetic alterations really, be they physical, emotional, religious, or otherwise. We all wear the same skin, and only proximity to the places of intense sunlight caused a shift in the shade it took. Closer to the bright and burning, the darker it becomes to protect against burn, simple and efficient and elegant in its evolution. We all want the same things for the same people in our lives, we all crave security and joy, passion and happiness, purpose and practicality. What if, somewhere in this grand maze we call a life, we lost sight of the fact that we are all pieces of the same whole, better for the things that make us unique, never worse? What if we’re all single brain cells, nearly 8 billion of us, sparks of memory and love, fear and curiosity, joy and such beautiful sorrow? What if we, we mice in this wild experiment we call humanity, could only remember that when we destroy one another, we destroy ourselves, wiping from this place some vital and brilliant bit of energy and emotion, never to recover from it fully? What if we remembered we are all the same creatures, sharing the same histories, wanting the same things, fighting the same fights, what if we fought together?
I know I get a little bit utopian sometimes in my mind, thinking things possible that perhaps never will be, but I cannot help it. We are built for big ideas, grand thoughts, uniting principles, and I’ve always believed that we cannot achieve, create, or invent anything if we don’t give voice to those thoughts, if we don’t speak out loud the wild bits of inspiration that float into and out of our lives, our brains, collective as they might be.
Point is, we’re here for such a blip on the massive timeline that stretches forwards, backwards, and in more directions than we can wrap our tiny minds around, we’re a blink of a blink from some big bang that began us, to some big bang or quiet whimper that may put an end to this human experiment, and I do not understand why we cannot stop highlighting and scrutinizing every single way we are so very different, and instead, understand that we are all billions of manifestations of the very same soul. I cherish the ways we are unique, I welcome them and find so fascinating the way the geography of where we were born can influence such seemingly insignificant traits, I adore seeking out anyone and everyone who is nothing at all like me in all these ‘cosmetic’ ways, and learning from them in ways never possible were I to stay in the safety of that sameness.
In the end, we do what we’ve always done, destroy one another because of our differences, and I am so disheartened by this. One soul, one brain, one organism we are, doing our very best to survive as we spin through the giant star speckled sea we all stare up at. Maybe if we all started thinking more this way, so many of the problems we face would slowly fade into obscurity, for just a breath, on their path to nothingness. Maybe.
I don't know, what do you think?
We destroy others
but can’t see that when we do,
we destroy ourselves.