Life is a battle to be won, a zero sum game. I cannot triumph unless you lose. I cannot be first unless you are last.
Life is found in cooperation, mutually dependent relationships. I cannot survive unless you do too. We either sink or swim together.
These two views of human life well sum up the greatest challenge of the human condition on planet earth, this amazing God made creation, spinning in space now for some 4.5 billion years, containing 7.5 billion people, give or take a few souls. Look at earth from space and there are no boundaries between nations or peoples, just one breathtakingly beautiful globe, deep blue, set in a jet black backdrop of the universe.
But from the moment the first human beings decided to live in community: share a cave, go out on a hunt together, farm the land, and gather in villages and towns and cities and nations together: a tension has always existed. A struggle between “me” and “thee”, “I” and “we”. Cooperation versus competition. Sharing versus accumulation. War or peace. We are all in this together or every man for himself. And sometimes in history, this tug of war for the soul of humans and humanity: it plays out so profoundly.
Last Friday the United States chose to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, to instead join with Nicaragua and Syria, and not be a signatory to the global effort to collectively fight climate change. This shift is about politics, the environment, ideology and economics. But at a deeper level, it reflects an intentional choice to opt for the “life is a battle” scenario. “America first” is the new name for this age old philosophy. It’s summed up in one sentence from a May 30th Wall Street Journal article, by two government architects of this policy, H.R. McMaster and Gary D. Cohn. They wrote: “…the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”
There it is. The world is not a global community.
It is now, apparently, every nation for itself. It is sharp elbows and in your face diplomacy, go it alone, mano e mano and may the best country win. As a lifelong student of humanity, I wasn’t surprised by this declaration. History is littered with the wreckage from past times when humankind has turned in on itself, chosen to ignore enlightened self interest and cooperation, for unenlightened selfish interest and competition.
So, what will it be humanity? Will we ever somehow all find a way to get along? Or are we instead doomed to eventual extinction, and not for some “natural” reason, but finally because we could not figure out how to share one common, abundant home? Discern how to live together in mutual respect, even peace.
As a person faith, I believe that all life is God given and God created, and so I sometimes wonder what the Creator might “think”, as we humans perpetually fight with each other over so many things, about everything, about seemingly anything, really. Not just natural resources, but religion and culture and ideology too. Does God weep at the chronic hardheadedness of our species? Will God one day choose to just reboot the earth, decide that Rev. 1 isn’t working out, write some new code that’s not so chronically glitchy, and begin again. Earth Rev. 2?
Until that happens, we have to figure out how to live with each other, all riding along on just one whirling orb, on this third rock from the sun. So call me stubborn or stupid or pollyannish or best of all, one who refuses to give up hope and faith in humanity. With our nation’s decision, for now, about climate change, the stakes are so clear. For that we can thank those who seek America first.
I’m for an America first who takes its rightful place as a moral leader in the global community. I’m for an America first that’s a leader in creativity, technological innovation and political courage, a nation which stands with, and not against, the world. I’m for an America first that leads the way through goodness and not just naked raw power.
Life as battle? Life as cooperation? The earth asks. What will be our answer?