When you are conscious, you can see the interconnectedness of all life, beauty in diversity, and the power of human cooperation.
“Are you a god?” they asked. “No.” “An angel?” “No.” “A saint?” “No.” “Then what are you?” Buddha answered, “I am awake.”
How easy is it to be awake? Isn’t it our natural condition? Do we lose it as we grow up? Watch the show of compassion between the lion and the baby gazelle and many such similar events witnessed photographed-once the hunger need is satisfied, the lion does not see baby gazelle as food but someone to care for us just one way of being conscious, all grounded in biological mechanisms that we share.
We are all interconnected. We share a common origin. We share common histories. To paraphrase what Carl Sagan said, we really all are made of star stuff. All the elements that we are composed of were fashioned in stars. Beyond us, there is a profound sameness and connectedness in the universe. Physics tells us that laws are not local. There appears to be a cosmic naturalness and order to interconnectedness.
We believe that interconnectedness is a profound natural property. As part of our idea of interconnectedness we will focus on three related ideas, which is diversity, the other, and cooperation. Put another way, we see that the idea of interconnectedness is the foundational idea in which we see three related ideas that are diversity, the other, and unity/cooperation. Diversity, the other, and unity (via cooperation) all play a part in what it means to be interconnected. This interconnectedness, interdependence, is one of our greatest strengths. It has also, at times, been one of the greatest weaknesses. For always there is a double-edged sword.
How does interconnectedness work? Why these three aspects of it? Diversity is all about having differences. The other is who and what we encounter that is part and parcel with the concept of diversity. You cannot have diversity and not have something like another. We can have unity that is nonetheless still diversity. We can have unity via cooperation. Each of these highlights a different way of looking at the radical interconnectedness for which we advocate.
Imagine the evolution of thought from our days as hunter-gatherers to what we have achieved and learned today. The immense knowledge we have acquired is because of two things: human cooperation and human diversity. All human progress is because of diversity, no one could think of everything, most people who discovered inventions were ordinary people, but ideas came to them differently because of their different circumstances and because of the distribution that we have. Likewise, cooperation was needed to realize the potential of these diverse ideas. Our collective history as well as the history of the universe as a whole point towards this thesis.
There would be no discovery without diversity, no scientific progress, no cultural and societal progress. We posit that nature loves diversity and that we ought to take this insight to heart.
Globalization and internet technology have truly made the earth a global village. The 21st century will be like no other century in that we will have to face a radically connected and still diverse world. As the world is getting smaller through the internet, globalization and migration, we cannot ignore others anymore, and we cannot afford not to get to know them. We need to go beyond tolerating and talking about pluralism. We need to embrace diversity through a positive, curious and loving attitude towards others. We need to give highest priority to cultivate an attitude of caring, compassion, and curiosity towards each other.
We also desire to embrace diversity, not just because it is moral but also as it has enormous functional value in helping us create more meaning (more meaning-making worlds). Furthermore, our emphasis is on embracing diversity rather than trying to find a unity that eliminates it.
A universalism that is ‘color blind’, to quote an oft used phrase, is colorless and dim. We do not desire this nor do we think that this is a stable or helpful solution. This solution leads the way to monotony and groupthink and there are far too many examples that show how shallow and suboptimal both of those answers are.
Speaking of our own experiences, we have lived and loved diversity and seek it out. We, the authors, come from two different worlds but find so much in common. This has been true in our individual lives as we have met others from all places and walks of life. Each person is a potential gift to all other persons for they bring with them their own experiences, passions, and love that may be shared. Our own meanings have been greatly enhanced by our interactions with the other through diversity.
Diverse, but connected
As we will see in the next section, the idea of diversity and its good for society is not a new but a very old concept. If this is true, then why do we appear to be so bad at it? Are we bad at it or are the current times that we are living in just a bump in the road? For at this time, it probably is no surprise that diversity is such a hot button issue. One needs to only pay a glancing attention to the news over the past couple of years to see this. The issue has mainly revolved around immigration into Western countries from Muslim nations including immigration from Latin American countries in the US. This issue has also aroused the interests of academics. Talk of the immigration and diversity issues often go hand in hand with talk and concern about the possible decline of democracy and growth of autocratic regimes. To be sure, at the present time there are many who seek to inflame prejudices and xenophobia. Many get caught up in it. Many find this route as the best available ‘low energy’ state. Indeed, xenophobia is actually quite logical. We will explore these ideas of why we are bad at it – and why we are good at it – in more detail below.
Even as we think of the issues around diversity today and how some continue to try and hijack our interconnectedness properties to their own ends, it is essential to remember that significant progress has been and is being made in these areas. Interracial and gay marriage has been legalized, just to name two examples.
We will also delve into the science of diversity. After all, we are a social species and it is this socialization as well as the culture that we developed that has led to our success as a species. Indeed, research is showing that cooperation, and not just competition, can drive evolution.
There are old hardcoded neurobiological and cultural realities that challenge us. But we can break these tethers! Below we delve into these issues, their causes, before returning to ways to combat them in our own lives. We will look at some research that points to underlying reasons/explanations for why we are bad at diversity and why part of the reason for this is more logical than we would like to believe, generally.
But for now, let us turn our attention to the ideas of interconnectedness as well as diversity, and cooperation that we see in the history of philosophy and religions and other systems.
The idea of being interconnected, of having shared origins, and use of diversity and its embrace is not new to us or our time. We find a long and robust history of thinking about these subjects. We also find many similarities and shared views from the past with what we desire today.
Part of what it means to be interconnected is to be social. It is hard to imagine how we might be interconnected without also being social. There is an old philosophical tradition that holds man is a social creature as well. Aquinas in his commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics writes,
It must be understood that, because man is by nature a social animal, needing many things to live which he cannot get for himself if alone, he naturally is a part of a group that furnishes him help to live well. He needs this help for two reasons. First, to have what is necessary for life, without which he cannot live the present life; and for this, man is helped by the domestic group of which he is a part. For every man is indebted to his parents for his generation and his nourishment and instruction. Likewise individuals, who are members of the family, help one another to procure the necessities of life. In another way, man receives help from the group of which he is a part, to have a perfect sufficiency for life; namely, that man may not only live but live well, having everything sufficient for living; and in this way man is helped by the civic group, of which he is a member, not only in regard to bodily needs—as certainly in the state there are many crafts which a single household cannot provide—but also in regard to right conduct, inasmuch as public authority restrains with fear of punishment delinquent young men whom paternal admonition is not able to correct.
In the Hellenistic and Roman periods (323BC – 33BC) there was an idea/ideal of cosmopolitanism that was espoused by numerous thinkers. This viewpoint is best summed up by Epictetus (50-135 CE), the Stoic philosopher, who is said to have taught that
[i]f what philosophers say of the kinship of God and Man be true, what remains for men to do but as Socrates did:—never, when asked one’s country, to answer, “I am an Athenian or Corinthian,” but “I am a citizen of the world [cosmopolitan].
Epictetus is here defining an ideal of universalism. That if we take what the philosophers say to be true, if we really believe them, then we ought to bring our actions into agreement with these beliefs. Why the passing references that Epictetus makes to Corinth and Athens? Both cities are located in what is today Greece, but in ancient society Greece was made up of city-states and as such each city-state had their own particular culture. The greatest difference – and exemplars – of this is that between Athens and Sparta. Epictetus is here explicitly drawing a contrast between two classical city states that had quite different modes of living. He is furthermore making references to the First Peloponnesian War in with Corinth fought alongside Sparta against Athens. Epictetus is making a bold remark that his students and listeners would understand. It would be as if we today talked of “I am neither an Iranian or a Saudi” or “I am neither a Jew or a Muslim or a Christian.” Epictetus is calling for a category, and belonging, that is higher and broader than that which was previously naturally recognized, or at least that which was previously de facto, if not de jure. He is calling for a recognition of us as humans.