The Greatest Tragedy in the Course of Evolution Is Implied in the Arrogance of the Question: “What is man that thou art mindful of him?”
by Edwin L. Young, PhD
From the point of view of this human, the author, the greatest tragedy in the universe is for a creature, Homo sapiens, to have evolved, over billions of years, that has language. It is not simply our language that is the tragedy. It is that with that language, this species can conceptualize its mortality and fabricate its immortality. Furthermore, with that language it has been able to construct, rather dream up, unverifiable assumptions, or beliefs, about the meaning and purpose of the existence of its own species and the meaning and purpose of the existence of the universe. Variant human myths on this topic have abounded through the recorded history of civilizations.
A near universal belief among groups of humans is that they were created by some god and that they possess some form of immortality. Humans, then, entered into fictitious dialogues with their invented god, imagined their god having special positive regard for them, and asked of their god “Why are you mindful of man?” Why do they ask, or what underlies this question? It is because of their prior assumption that they have supreme importance to their god and therefore comfort themselves with the ‘fictitiously’ flattering answer that they are made in the image of their ‘fictitious’ god and therefore extrapolate from there to a belief that they are of supreme importance in the universe.
Moreover, the vast majority of these humans, each confined within their limited experience, universalize their unique, locally incorporated, set of beliefs. Humans tend to regard beliefs that are different from their own as, not just incorrect, but dangerously threatening to the security that they derive from holding their beliefs. In addition, humans in general use language to create a positive identity and prerogatives for those who hold the same or similar beliefs and hold a negative identity for those with different beliefs. Those who are members within their ‘group identity’ also regard their belief and all conventions and objects associated with it as superior to those of outsiders. Their belief in their superiority and their attitude of superiority over outsiders tends to give them a sense of entitlement to denigrate, abuse, or exploit the outsiders.
Language, with its nuances and inflections, has given humans the ability not only to deceive, and thereby facilitate the exploitation outsiders and even the earth itself, but also to deceive their closest allies, relatives, and, worst of all, themselves. Language has invented the ‘state’ and, within states, their hierarchy, departments, laws and conventions for regulating human interaction, and even their military. Language is a key to technological progress and adoption of its inventions by insiders. Language, especially in the contemporary world, also creates abstractions that serve to manage subsumed masses of information about themselves and the rest of civilization. These phenomena and institutions of civilizations, created by using language, are perpetuated by the artful use of the language of deception.
Once a developing human has been exposed to these linguistically designed and defined institutions, their common language, the art of deception, and the social conventions guided by language, then that human imbues or reifies them all with the idea that they are an indisputable ‘reality.’ The process of deceiving cannot be designated as deception but rather is redefined as ‘the facts and conditions of daily existence’. Deception is so pervasive a part of civilizations that it is accepted and related to as automatically as breathing air. Humanity is captive and slave within its words.
Humans pass these select, linguistically crafted traits, all of which have the potential to shift along the polarities of being either horrendous and ruinous or worthy and constructive, on to each succeeding generation yet with increasing refinement. Until recently, the balance seemed to be somewhat in favor of the worthy extreme. Now the balance has suddenly shifted toward the horrendous extreme.
Using this vast array of linguistic attributes, humans compete and war with the outsiders to defeat them and to assure themselves of their own correctness, superiority, and entitlement, or simply to redistribute and enhance themselves with the riches of the conquered.
In other words, because language has endowed them with a special status in the eyes of their god, language goes on to give humans a license for the possibility of discriminating against and exercising all sorts of evil against other human outsiders. Of course, as side benefit of this special status, they are immune from judgment when they do whatever leads to self-aggrandizement and depredation of others, whether their victims be neighbors with something they covet, persons of a different identity deemed enemy outsiders, or foreign countries.
State leaders, with this powerful tool of language, can wage propaganda campaigns to achieve whatever nefarious purposes suit their fancy. These leaders can and do, now as always before, act as proxies for their peoples’ invented god or gods. Perpetually, throughout history, the people have bowed down before their apotheosized leaders and asked as though to god “What art man that thou art mindful of him (interpret ‘him’ as meaning themselves in the aggregate, his people)?” Feeling honored to be regarded so beatifically by their leaders, they universally respond with patriotism and humble obeisance. And, repeatedly throughout human history, the people patriotically have marched forth to fight the ‘good fight for their leaders, group, or country.’ As always throughout history, they are oblivious to the true ignominious intentions of their leaders.
How prophetic it was when, in the Gospel of John, the author wrote, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Of course, that author never anticipated that his words would receive my cynical but unveiling interpretation. Nevertheless, for humans, the word, or rather words, had been from our beginning, and continue to be ‘god’, albeit with a quite contrary impact on civilizations from that of its intended meaning of ‘Word’ in the Gospel of John. Therein, John intended the ‘Word’ to indicate a beneficent Savior God. That was his original intent as expressed in the phrase “. . . and the Word was God.”
Few are the number of humans, whether leaders or their people, who have been able to escape using words for these ubiquitously malignant, language-facilitated and language justifying, egocentric and deceitful purposes. One of the greatest self-deceits of all is for our species to invent a god who created this vast universe simply for us, each of us individually nonetheless, to be ‘His’ most special creation of whom ‘He’ is perpetually and minutely mindful. We all should know now what disastrous consequences have devolved from that arrogant egocentricity.
Consequently, I say, “The Greatest Tragedy in the Course of Evolution, Yea, Even Greatest in Its Drastic Consequence for Our Small Universe, Has Been the Evolution of Our Own Language Speaking Species.”