Identity politics, the purportedly “woke”, the destruction of historical monuments, the illusory #MeToo movement, all addressing real problems but apparently making them worse, continue unabated and uncontrolled. Reality seems illusory and illusions reality as slogans by those most responsible for the ills of which they complain flood our senses. Authoritarianism in the name of liberty and censorship in the name of freedom of expression are as omnipresent as are demands to eliminate safeguards against electoral fraud in the name of free elections. It’s as though all that is required of great poetry is rhythmic sounds without meaning or context and all that is required of transcendental philosophy is that it be confusing. That seems to be world in which we find ourselves, one where cognitively dissonant entertainment (some labeled news) seeks to mold us into something, but perhaps no one is sure just what.
Perhaps we need some articulate parables and metaphors to clear our minds. Perhaps a contrast of opposites can bring us together, at least briefly, at least for an instant. Perhaps something as negatively perceived as cancer can help. Cancer is not necessarily a negative concept, rather, it involves an anomaly growing in an uncontrollable manner within an incompatible host. As with so many processes that we as humans denominate “diseases”, cancer is merely an independent biochemical process seeking its own destiny, although when it attains victory over its hosts, its own self-destruction is assured. In that sense, a metaphorical cancer seems to have evolved in our species.
Or perhaps it’s not really metaphorical. Perhaps it’s been growing for a long time. Perhaps it’s always been among us but is now making itself much more manifest, secure in the conviction that its time has come. Perhaps a societal cancer, one composed of memes rather than genes, has reached the point in its growth where it is impelled to destroy that which we’ve been without concern for what we’ll become. Its goals would seem subject to differing interpretations depending on whether one viewed as malign or benign. In one sense, one might perceive it as a lemming-like compulsion to species suicide but in another, as a necessary evolutive climax; back towards nature’s testing, questing formulae of trial and error and perhaps, back towards survival of the fittest; or else towards extinction, which is what happens to evolution’s failures.
The cancer within our society manifests as a complex of chaotically contrarian groups, each furiously seeking change but unable to agree as to who or what we should become. It feels like an instinctive compulsion away from something but not necessarily towards anything. Perhaps, many within its vocal subgroups (where clamor and uproar seem to amplify their numbers and their impact) don’t really care about consequences, the urge towards species suicide being much too strong among them; their self-hate as strong as their disdain for tradition. And perhaps such self-hate is justified.
Some such subgroups have a clear perspective of the aberrations we desperately need to discard in our societal and social makeup in order to attain the ideals we’ve created, aberrations such as elitism, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, inequity, inequality, injustice. Some even have cogent ideas about how to attain such goal but too few have the talent necessary to attain the better world for which they aspire through voluntary means and instead, seek to use the purported monopoly the legal use of force enjoyed (but all too often abused) by government to force compliance with their perspectives, rendering them as destructive to popular welfare as are the concepts they believe that they oppose. Thus, much of the evolutionary cancer that infects us, for good or ill, seems delusional and generates popular resistance. A sort of counterrevolution led by our societal white cells under multicolored populist banners.
The metaphor of cancer is relevant because cancer, as a medical malady, may be misunderstood. Perhaps it is nature’s way of forcing us to return to an evolutionary process that we’ve insisted on stalling (if not abandoning), misdirecting it through artificial means which our cognitive breakthroughs have made possible; an aberration accomplished through invention of counterintuitive (at least to nature) ethics and morals that reject the fundamental premises involved in survival of the fittest and which place our human wisdom above that of nature. It would seem an abomination for those who insist on protecting the environment to eventually come to the conclusion that those deemed most evil among us, villains such as Hitler and his Nazis, agreed with them, but we’re protected against such heresy by a beneficent logical incoherence. One to which we turn as we struggle with concepts such as good and evil, concepts as alien to nature and perhaps even to nature’s god (if one exists) as they were to those members of our species whose values and conclusions we’ve purportedly rejected, at least superficially, albeit perhaps hypocritically. A beneficent logical incoherence whose postulates have become so powerful a part of who we claim to be that failing to abide by them is anathema. Postulates such as the sanctity of life, the importance of honesty, the inhumanity of brutality, and of course, concepts such as equity and equality and justice.
As a species, we are an amalgam of incoherently complex contradictions and perceptions, inconsistency, inconstancy and hypocrisy being the rule rather than the exception. It’s a wonder we’ve survived, at least until now. In the future, the forces of evolutionary and social entropy may impose a convergence of our most treasured spiritual values with those of nature and render us once again no more but no less than animals, mere cogs in nature’s unplanned plans, reacting rather than planning, thinking and aspiring. Herded rather than herding. Perhaps that’s why so many within the metaphorical societal cancer with which I began this diatribe only sense the need to destroy who and what we’ve been without a firm and coherent idea of who or what we should or will become. And perhaps its nature’s will that they prevail.
Perhaps trying to make sense of and alleviate our current polarization is a counterproductive exercise and we should just sit back and let the experience flow over us, slumbering into the future while forgetting the past until neither is relevant and only a brief now exists. Perhaps that’s the most logical way to face our own extinction, letting bygones be bygones, releasing our inhibitions as we fade away in shades of gray. The favorite color of the stones we’re destined to join in our planet’s journey towards eternity and humanity’s demise. It’s been an interesting ride but perhaps all things really must end and who are we to think otherwise.
On the other hand, perhaps as a species we really are special, and unique, and perhaps there’s a purpose to our lives, and perhaps values are real and truth exists, and perhaps there’s a reason for what we experience, and perhaps its’s even a benevolent reason. After all, at the crossroads of infinity and eternity, anything and everything is possible.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen). Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.