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Friday, January 7, 2022

Shared Mythology for the 21st century: Pathway to a Shared Sacred Mother Earth (1)

 Wish you all a Happy, Healthy and Safe New Year.

With passing of each day, the number of days remaining for people at my age are shrinking. That is reality. For people like me, it also gives a sense of urgency to share what we know and do something for the welfare of future generations. This is particularly important for me personally since I spent my professional life with children, and care greatly about their welfare.

This series of essays is probably the most important message I have for children of the future. The central message of this essay is my legacy for the future generations. It is to introduce the idea of shared mythology for the entire humanity and a pathway to get there.

This is not a policy statement but a wish list. It is not for policy-making or political actions – but for individual efforts. It should be a spiritual effort. I hope each one of you will develop your own plan, implement it, and share the message with the younger generation.

 Title:   Shared Mythology for the 21st century

Subtitle:  Pathway to a Shared Sacred Mother Earth 

Two recent reports by leading world experts document with solid evidence that our civilization is at an inflection point (Bak-Coleman et al 2021; Editorial 2021). They are “red alerts” for humanity to act as one unit to save this planet and this civilization for the future generations. As a pediatrician committed to the interests of children, I feel compelled to do a little something. This is my offering to Mother Earth.

In her recent Book of Hope (Goodall, Abrams, Hudson, 2021), the saintly Jane Goodall suggests that it is no use just hoping for the better. Hope must be sustained and implemented with action. That is what I wish to do.

This is also a follow-up of my earlier book on Our Shared Sacred Space in which I defined sacredness and shared sacredness. Here, I wish to develop a pathway, based on compassion and cooperation, to that shared sacredness, leading to collective welfare of not only humans but of all life forms.

The focus of this monograph will be to develop ideas for a Shared Sacred Space for all of humanity to live and to celebrate and to propose a set of Universal Dharma (ethics and morality). Facts and reasoning of the mind, understanding and compassion of the heart, universal human values (called sadarana dharma in the Vedic writings of India) of spirituality will be the guiding lights. I hope that ideas expressed in these passages will be acceptable to people from all nations, cultures, traditions, and faiths.

Great civilizations need lofty ideals to aim for and noble values to be guided by. Here are some suggestions and facts and reasons behind them.

What are the two “red alert” reports referred to in the earlier paragraph?

The first one is an essay with the title: Stewardship of global collective behavior published on June 21, 2021, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (Bak-Coleman, 2021). The authors are scholars in different fields of study, including Philosophy, Ethics, Climate science, Information science, Neuroscience, Biology, Human behavior, Anthropology, Psychology and Engineering. They have all come to the same observation and conclusion which demand our attention.

To quote the authors: “Our larger, more complex social networks now transfer high-fidelity information over vast distances at low cost. The digital age and the rise of social media have accelerated changes to our social systems, with poorly understood functional consequences. This gap in our knowledge represents a principal challenge to scientific progress, democracy, and actions to address global crises. We argue that the study of collective behavior must rise to a “crisis discipline”.

Since the authors use the word “crisis” we need to look at their observations and conclusions as an urgent matter requiring immediate attention.

Their observation is that our collective behavior in the past few years such as denying climate changes, refusing life-saving vaccines, racism and violence have become increasingly dangerous to our own survival. Our irrational collective human behavior (not individual behavior) is driven by several factors. One of them clearly is the uncontrolled flow of information which any one can create without any requirement for proof or accuracy. 

We live in an age of “information disorder” and “infodemics”.  Misinformation, dangerous information, and wrong information are spread easily through social media. Social media platforms  give priority to the number of “clicks” at their site, not to the contents and the impact of the content on the behavior of people. Algorithms developed by media companies are to maximize their profit. These companies do not control themselves. In the name of free speech and also because these companies are multinational, no government regulation controls them either.

Besides, it is known that false information and rumors spread faster than properly verified news.

Human collective behavior is a complex adaptive system shaped by evolution. Till now information spread slowly and there was time for our societies to verify and adapt to changes over time. But now our world has entered a heavily altered state because of the way false and wrong information spread very fast without any control. 

The authors do not offer any immediate solutions but suggest that we begin by framing “human collective behavior as a complex adaptive system shaped by evolution, a system that much like our natural world has entered a heavily altered and likely unsustainable state”. They suggest further that we study how information spreads through media, why people fall victims to false information and how to spread correct information before the wrong information gets settled in people’s mind and lead them to irrational behavior. We must study how new technologies we adopt today will impact global patterns of beliefs and behavior of people (specifically group behavior) tomorrow. They suggest that the study of collective behavior must rise to a “crisis discipline” just as medicine and climate science have and provide guidance to policymakers and regulators to give proper direction to the creation and dissemination of useful information.

The second paper is an Editorial published on August 10, 2021, in Science with the title Clarion Call from Climate Panel (Editorial 2021). This editorial referred to the Assessment Report No 6 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which was written by 234 authors over 3 years based on thousands of comments and reports. The Panel (IPCC) concluded that the contributions of human activities to global warming is “unequivocal” and is an “established fact”. The report also warns that “The window for mitigating the worst projected impacts of global climate change is closing”.

Following this report, we adults, who are supposed to be responsible for the safety and welfare of our children, were scolded severely by “children”. In an Opinion column in the New York Times on August 19, 2021, representatives of children (Thunberg, Calderón, Jhumu and Njuguna 2021) wrote the following words: “The fundamental goal of the adults in any society is to protect their young and do everything they can to leave a better world than the one they inherited. The current generation of adults, and those that came before, are failing at a global scale”. This stung me particularly since I am a pediatrician and care much about the welfare of the future generations.

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