It has become a ritual during my meal times to be listening to Clive James’ past programmes on BBC Radio. That wouldn’t be possible if I had a TV in my room, and I’m glad I didn’t have one. Just this evening, I was on this – “Man-made Beauty.” In this particular episode, Clive James quoted Jeffrey Smart, “The world has never been so beautiful”, and lamented that he wished he’d said it. I wish I could say it.
Modern marvels, a description borrowed from the documentary series I’d occasionally tune to, are undoubtedly remarkable. While some people might epitomize modern beauty with an iPhone or a Galaxy phone, I would like to think that the engineering process that underlies the products’ existence is by itself marvelous. It is. Even with the basic necessities we get at the supermarket, like sugar or flour, there are giant silos and ramps and mills that so impresses us with their mere scale. On the more sophiscated end, we have had medical breakthroughs that have (almost) ridden the world of polio and various poxes, and rendered many others curable. Indeed, the world has never been so beautiful – in science, technology.
But what remains to disfigure modern-world beauty is human nature. I will restrain myself from listing all that explains the ugly side of our nature, for the sake of optimism, and the length of this post. While the nurture versus nature debate between scientists and policymakers is still ongoing, we are quite sure that human nature has not changed, perhaps it never will. It is terribly impractical to proclaim that there is no hope, that to be human is to err. We have the capacity to be good, and do good.
It would be a herculean task, if not unethical, to alter human nature; it is more than just removing a diseased tumor from a healthy body. We cannot simply excised the bad part and make angels out of everyone. What is more practical is to first acknowledge our own vulnerabilities. The press has done a consistent job over all these years, having exposed criminals of all levels of social hierachy. We have petty crimes from the starving, hate crimes from the hateful, crimes of passion from the lovers, financial frauds from the working class and beyond, crimes against humanity from the dictators, and grievous crimes from the psychopaths. And the list goes on, kudos to the press. But with all the media hooha, there exists the tendency for us to stand in the ‘good’ crowd and point our fingers at these criminals. “He’s not human,” we say, “What a beast.”
It is easy for us to do so, and it makes us feel better about our own apathy. I remember there used to be a saying when we were all kids, “Point a finger at others, and you’re pointing three other towards yourself.” It doesn’t sound like any age-old adage; I suppose it was mere childish humour. Nonetheless, these criminals are just as human as their victims, and ourselves. I would be wrong, if someday a brillant scientist discovers a ‘criminal gene’, but even so, that doesn’t make people with the gene a “non-human.” The important question to ask ourselves before we classify others as humans or “non-humans”, is whether we could resist temptation when put in the boots of the “criminal.”
There is more to a crime than human nature, but that’s for another day. The first step to a ”more beautiful world” is to understand that we all are vulnerable to doing the wrong thing, given the circumstance and the time. It is an unchangeable fact. Acknowledging this fact will allow us not to direct all our efforts at pinning down the “non-humans”, but to establish better systems and societies that appeal to our better nature. (A tall order, and much has to be said about this, but that’s also for another day.)
Either that, or eradicate the press, and the world will be a more beautiful place.