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A Better Human Story: #11-- Humankind as Tragic Hero

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Andrew Schmookler       (Page 1 of 14 pages)     Permalink

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From flickr.com: Tragic mask dating to the 1st century BC or 1st century AD, Ashmolean Museum {MID-203621}
Tragic mask dating to the 1st century BC or 1st century AD, Ashmolean Museum
(Image by Following Hadrian)
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A ll previous installments in this series ("A Better Human Story") can be found here:


We are now in a position to see the main elements of the human saga in a more integrated way. The pieces here will be familiar, but it is time now to put those pieces together to highlight this central core of the Human Story.

It's a story that unfolds like a tragedy. As in a tragedy, it is the very strengths of the hero -- in this case, human intelligence and creativity -- that prove the means of his undoing. And as with tragic drama, the nature of the order in which the hero operates imparts to the basic outlines of how the hero's drama will unfold an element of inevitability.

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This inevitability can be stated in this way: Any creature, anywhere, that steps across the threshold -- out of the niche in which it has evolved biologically and into the capacity to invent its own way of life -- will be caught up in a long, drawn-out, and painful battle between two coherent forces: one of wholeness, growing out of the structure of life; and one of brokenness, growing out of the disorder into which it has inadvertently stumbled.

(These are forces whose effects and way of operating makes it reasonable for them to be called "good and evil").

The Three Dynamics that (Have Done Most to) Shape the Human World

In this series, I have tried to show the inescapable dynamics that drive the drama of the creature who takes the bold and unprecedented -- but ultimately also tragic -- step into creating that new form of life called civilized society.

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This tragedy, rather than coming in three acts, is enacted through the inevitable sequence of three inescapable dynamics driving the drama. Let me sketch these three quickly, and then go into them more fully.

1) First, here on earth -- and (the assumption is) wherever life may emerge -- life has been shaped by a process of biological evolution. Which is to say, that the various creatures that emerge over time are the products of natural selection, a process that favors life over death or, to put it another way, favors what can survive to transmit its pattern into the future over what cannot.

It is in this first stage -- the Genesis, where the (human) creature is crafted for life -- that the foundation for the force of wholeness, and thus the force of good, is laid. (Series entries # 2 and # 3.)

2) Thesecond stage is set in motion when humankind -- or whatever other species, wherever else in the cosmos -- steps across that crucial threshold, extricating itself from the biologically evolved order (that has constrained all previous forms of life) to begin an experiment never before performed in the history of life on earth: a creature restructuring its way of life with its own invention, i.e. developing civilized society.

It is with this emergence of civilization that a second evolutionary process is inevitably -- and inadvertently -- generated. This evolutionary process is driven for the selection for the ways of power out of inter-societal competition. And the operation of the second process gets superimposed upon the first, with which it is in some fundamental ways in conflict.

This new development introduces a new kind of disorder into the systems of life on earth.

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(How this disorder arises and imparts an impetus of brokenness into the human world are described in series entries #4 and #5.)

Where there had been a kind of unity in life's unfolding through one evolutionary process, now division arises within the realm of the living world, as the two evolutionary processes operating by different rules to foster different outcomes contend with each other to shape the human world.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)

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