Monday, January 03, 2005

Faces of Nature

The devastation caused by the tsunami is taken by many commentators to be a dramatic reminder of the impersonal, mindless destructive power of nature.

Remember, though, that humanity is part of the natural world. The worldwide response of sympathy and aid needs to be reckoned with to consider what this episode means for one’s view of nature.

I do not believe developments in our world feature a higher purpose in the usual top-down theistic sense. However, I believe the story of evolution (cosmic, biological and most recently cultural) gives indications of progression – an expression of purpose built from the bottom-up.

In terms of human cultural evolution, I see a positive trend. Our expressions of generosity, altruism and cooperation (all grounded in our nature) have expanded through time to include larger and larger groups: from kin-based clans to larger tribes, to cities and nations (this point was featured in Robert Wright’s book Nonzero). The conclusion of this trend is to consider all of humanity part of our group, and to end the depersonalization of the other which is a feature of wars and of the national and religious conflicts which still trouble the world.

It’s hard not to see signs of continued movement in this direction in the wake of the tsunami.

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