World View

I spend my time thinking and writing about music, mostly.  When I post on here I turn my gaze towards life.  For many months now I have been conducting research on the connections between music end empathy.  It is slow going as much of the “evidence” I’m using is a hair’s breadth away from being what some scientists term “speculative” so it was with a surprise this morning that I got up and read something I could talk about that wasn’t speculative at all, and it has to do with empathy as well.  Before I begin, however, I would like to relate something.  Several months ago our professor asked our class about their “world view”, and he asked in the context of musicalogica, which is, briefly, the way that we know the world through music.  I realized as I sat there that no one had ever asked me for my view of the world and this is tricky because I wonder if when we engage with people in speaking we assume a shared context of ideas, preconceptions, and, yes, a view of the world that is similar.  Arguments usually appear when we discover that we see things differently.  When I was a child we drove to school and church passing Lake Michigan.  I can still hear my father’s voice saying, “Look at the lake, Becky.”  He loved the beauty of it and I, in turn, grew to love it as well.  In May prior to leaving for Amsterdam I drove every morning (at sunrise as luck would have it) past the same stretch of lake and decided that I should take a picture every morning.  I still have those pictures, but one favorite view which I will post at the end of this blog.  To those who are curious I would say that this is my world view, or rather, how I know and experience the world.

Recently, there seem to have been a lot of “post and delete” social-media stories circulating the news, but this one strikes an incredibly strong chord with me and I imagine it struck chords with many people so I’ve chosen to write about it in connection with some of the things I’ve been reading.  The photo that was this time a p&d was a photo a lot of adjectives have been applied to.  To understand, go ahead and view it yourself here. Photography usually speaks to me on a gut level, and I fancy that the reason for this is that I tend to observe visual artworks (I know this wasn’t intended nor do I perceive this as art) as a means of viewing the world entirely as another sees it.  In this way I experience immersion in the artist’s mind.  Before coming down to critical discussion I would like to make an observation:

It’s not a child’s head in the cross-hairs, but the structure of our entire species.

I wonder when humans are going to relinquish their tight grasp of the idea that we rule the world.  I mean, it’s true that we do… Unfortunately we’ve proved bad stewards (hello my childhood in Christianity) of not only our environment but in a large part we have proved to be bad stewards of our relationships with one another.  We have developed many technologies to help others but how many of those technologies are so effective as the ones we have invented with lethal purpose over the years.  The histories of war and war-fare are decidedly filled with our success in this realm.  The goal has been directed and achieved, the aim was always to kill more and with greater speed and precision.  This aim in hunters and gatherer’s was something necessary– undoubtedly– and it’s achievement helped our species survive and spread and then came what people began terming “civilization” or rather the process by which we went about living in larger and larger communities to the point that no one person could know every other person in said living area.  I wonder if it is at this point in our history as a species when we began not only to prey on our food but also on one another.  We may control the Earth, but we do not live on it in peace with either ourselves or with its other creatures, and after all the reading I’ve done this is rather unique in a species, and fatal.

That man sighted a weapon on a child’s head and I think one of the reasons that photo is so gripping is because I knew in an instant that this really is how that man sees this world: through cross-hairs.  What I know about the rest of the large mammals of the Earth is that many of them do not prey on their own species.  They’ll fight!  Power has always been a part of the nature of living and you establish power by conquering those who are less strong then you are, but few animals (including gorillas and chimps) will ever engage in the type of large-scale communal war-fare that humans do.  When humans learned to recruit the strength of all those within their reach they redefined what power truly is and as long as we can be mobilized in this ancient, and I’ll even say primeval way we are endangering our species by breeding a sentiment of predation between its members.

Then there are the “this is the safest time to be alive” statistics.  Of course, as is the case with statistics like this, they hold up otherwise they wouldn’t be published.  In this clip renowned scholar and author Steven Pinker brings up several key ideas that I am circling around in my research, but I think there is something missing from the discussion.  As Dr. Pinker analyzes a standoff situation in the Middle East (how ironic that this is the origin place of this photo…) he speaks of the conflict with a certain degree characteristic of those who are still somewhat enamored of colonialism enough to justify it by saying that what happens in the Middle East is nonsense that has a solution “apparent to the rest of the world” and then names the superpowers in place that want to bring this solution about.  What he is not saying about the statistics, is that one of the reasons we would have to have gotten less violent as a society (or perish as a species) is that we have become better at identifying our targets and eliminating them to achieve greater effect with less death.  One of the ways in which you improve your targeting skills is with practice, but the others are also the trappings of modern society: espionage, superior weaponry and elite forces.  California just had a standoff situation with a sniper and now we see very clearly the way a sniper is designed to see the world.

Now we have to ask ourselves what stopped that man from pulling the trigger that day.  Instead of pulling the trigger he snapped a photo, but he could have just as easily snapped out a life.  My family gets so irritated with me when I remark on how I despise the violence and guns rampant in children’s play toys.  My ex-husband tells me that he too played pretend with sticks and things that he was shooting at people (and to be honest, I’ve never met a more gentle person than my ex-husband).  Yet I maintain that we are training a mindset into our children and it’s a callous and heart-rending mindset to my way of thinking.  We are training them to believe that the “good guys” shoot and the “bad guys” shoot, but only the “bad guys” should die.  When in reality lots of “good guys” end up dead in the same struggle and the problem is also to say unanimously who is “good” and who is “bad”.

One of the reasons I post that clip of Dr. Pinker is that he speaks a great deal in it about the problems inherent in morality.  Morality has a rather blood-soaked tradition in human history!  The ideology of “good” and “bad” and identifying those things with other humans has a rather nasty problematic attached to it when you achieve the ability to step back from your own ideology and see that the other person engaging against you has their own ideology to contend with which you have somehow run afoul of.  But we are not alone on this planet in moralizing and the fact that we are not brings up important questions about our evolution as a species.  The most important question that springs to my mind is why is it that other creatures can moralize but safely dispense with those “sacred” values that make situations irreconcilable?  Here is another clip, one of my favorites, from TED regarding the moral capabilities of certain species of primates.

I’ve often remarked in the past that I’m shocked sometimes that humans survived as a species and most of the time I’m saying that of our infants who are born absolutely helpless, but also hopeless without adequate care, and adequate is actually an extremely high rate in the evolutionary world!  Our infants need more care than any species on the planet, and not only can so much go wrong with the infant, but mother-mortality has also been sky-high in our species as well.

How could our species have survived the most violent of its times hand-in-hand with so much at stake just in the act of being born, and then I realized that our histories of violence perhaps do not go back far enough.  There must have been a time when our morals were not used to slaughter one another.  Our survival and spread as a species argues strongly that we must have used our morals to care for one another before we decided to start collectively destroying one another, and it is in this vein that I circle back again to the man who had a child in his cross-hairs and did not pull the trigger, but showed the world what he sees and how he has been trained, nay even expected, to see the world.

I do not understand how we can look at these men and women whom we train to do this work and then be surprised at the brutal and ugly view they have of the world.  Instead of being asked to teach children, or trained for work with or even caring for others, this man has been trained to execute them and he has no other purpose that earns him money.  I do not know the origin of the expression “blood money” but I know that the concept is older than Christ.

The question to ask yourselves at this point in history is whether or not you believe that someone should have viable work by putting the cross-hairs to the back of your head and the answer you give yourself will be all you need to know about your viewpoints on violence, guns, morality, and society.  We’ve muddied the waters around these issues much more than we need to and Dr. Pinker addresses, but obliquely, the many ways in which modern society contravenes our needs as a species so that we have had to invent methods to achieve those needs: socialization, fun, sex, food, sleep, enterprise.  Not every man or women is guaranteed these things and so it is little wonder to me that the citizens of the world sometimes find themselves in the gun-sights of professional killers be they children or murderers themselves.  So instead of condemning this man I would like to thank him for giving me his view of the world because it was clear what he sees and how he gets to see it.  To end I’d like to ask anyone who reads this if you would consider your world view for a moment, maybe even choose a picture to represent it, and then ask yourself what it would take to convince you to swap that view for a sighting down the barrel of a high-powered rifle to another person’s skull.

May Sunrise 2011


~ by Rebecca Erickson on February 19, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: