Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Universal Human (1)

An inspiration came to my mind when I was spending the new year's vacation with my mother.

In the previous year, the world witnessed several quite intriguing and significant changes. Liu Xiabo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but was unable to attend the ceremony due to restrictions imposed by the Chinese government. A number of exposures by Wikileaks led to a fiasco in the democratically elected governments. The founder of Wikileaks, Mr. Julian Assange, was arrested for a crime deeply smelling of conspiracy not on the part of Mr. Assange, but of those trying to convict him. Those turmoils in the world at large contrasted very vividly with the cozy and small world of my mother, aged 73, who spoke mainly of the old times.

I thought to myself. My mother is very distant from the "realitities" of today's world. Probably justifiably so, considering her age. She does not use the internet, knows nothing about twitter or facebook. (She might have just heard about these things). She probably would not understand what a "hashtag" is. I would not dream of asking my mother the significance of Mr. Julian Assange's activities.

And yet, my mother was very real. I could almost feel her soul. As she talked about the old days, discussing how I was when I was a boy, this incident, that uncle, I gradually started to understand (or rather, remember) what the world was like, seen from her eyes.

To my astonishment, her world was as real as the globalized and digitized web of relations that was emerging on this earth as the definitive new reality in which we would all have to breathe. This particular realization, I should like to claim, was not necessarily one propelled by sentimental emotions and attachment.

The key problem is that we tend to dismiss a certain type of living as not "fitting" to the trends of the time. We create fashions, and discriminate against those who do not subscribe to them. Haven't we made the same mistake repeatedly in history, where we contrived some ideas for a "model human being", and excluded those not fitting these criteria as "outside the circle"? Haven't we discriminated against people in other nations, people with minority sexual tendencies, people with exotic skin colors, people with certain personality traits?

That is when I realized that I needed to consider the concept of the universal human in a very serious manner, and with some degree of urgency. A part of the urgency comes from the emerging new nations. The rises of countries like China and India have made it necessary to reconsider the world order in a context of heterogeneity. And these nations are not alone. The news of the World Cup in 2022 being awarded to Qatar, the first Arab nation to host the competition, was a clear message that the world has become much more diversified. Differences in religion might appear to be significant, but is in fact getting less and less intruding into our lives. The time has come when we had better start appreciating the differences in people in a very serious manner.

We may impose by moral requirements that people be treated equally, without regard to the superficial differences. But our heart might not necessarily be in such an action. Unless we understand how the different modes of behavior emerge, we cannot really respect the difference. We live in a scientific era. We cannot "feel" it, unless we come to some understanding of the whys and hows.