It’s not the end of the world — yet

Anyone who’s found themselves thinking quite a bit lately about human nature, anyone desperate to situate the current day in some kind of broader sense of human journey should consider reading Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus— or at least watching his TEDTalk. In his first book he re-told the story of the pluralistic, dynamic evolution of humanity, amending many of falsehoods we learned about how we got here. It’s mind tickling, and it’s quite refreshing how he compels us to rethink reality over time.  His second book Homo Deus infers the next logical question: what are we going to do about it?

Most of us have been spending much of our political brain space thinking about how to organize ourselves around what we believe is good.  In fact, what makes the human being different from other animals (he refers to the chimp, since scientific inquiry has invested so much time comparing us to them) is our very ability to organize.  We have organized ourselves, Harari teaches, to be superior to all other living creatures (How else could the safari industry thrive?).  We generally believe we are superior to all living creatures.  We could probably draw a viable comparison between our intrinsic Anthropocentrism and the social plague of racial, ethnic, national, or any other Supremacy.  And if that’s the case, then we can even consider facing the possibility that perhaps, just perhaps, human beings are not actually superior to other living beings.  Perhaps, just perhaps human beings are interdependent, a part of the same ecosystem– one which is not only scientific and environmental but also moral and spiritual.

So the question for people who actually do NOT want to see humanity end its “long run”  on earth— which has not been that long actually — is quite simply: will we be able to organize enough people around the enterprise of remaining here?

Can we, for instance, wake up the masses to the see the desecration we are inflicting upon our habitat?  Can we open people’s eyes to see that corporate money is drowning out people’s own ability to hear the demands of their lives (no one makes this case better than Lawrence Lessig at Harvard)?  These questions are not simply liberal anti-Capitalist challenges.  I myself appreciate healthy competition among business enterprises.  I like that individuals who come up with great ideas, products, and businesses for the masses, and those who work hard, are rewarded with money. I am not a big socialist.  But I’m fairly certain – not entirely, but mostly certain- that capitalism cannot thrive if humanity itself doesn’t exist.  (Chimps make for REALLY bad business owners).  And even if we do survive, Capitalism can only “make America great” if people have a fair shot at getting in the game.  Right now, anyone who thinks that we do not have a caste system that renders most racial minorities economically impotent and immobile is either ignorant or morally bankrupt.

I find hope in knowing that inside the human being is a caring spirit which can spread love; that can respond to destruction and desolate fields by making room for creation: plowing fields and planting knew trees.  I dread, however, that right now this spirit is less vibrant, less powerful than the very human psychosocial tsunami of Greed.

Amid this rollercoaster between being fearful and hopeful, either way, we can at least be grateful that our fate is in our own hands, and not some other creature’s.  We have the choice: create or destroy?

About the Author
Matthew Soffer is the Senior Associate Rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston, where he leads the social justice efforts, practicing congregation-based community organizing with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). Matt serves on the Advisory Council of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, the Board of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA), the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, and the Rabbinic Council of Hand-in-Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel.