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who we are & what we have done

By RenŽ Alegria
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 13, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

If a group of people were to sit in a room and attempt to decide what object, act, discovery or group fully captures the essence of what the human spirit is, what would that thing be?

Would it be the wheel? That pretty much got everything rolling. Or would it be Greek philosophy, which got us thinking? Or Copernican's model for a heliocentric universe, which gave us a sense of place? Maybe it would be Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, or the airplane, or the light bulb, or in-door plumbing, or even the cure for polio? It may even be the Beatles.

Just what is that thing that exemplifies who we are and what we stand for? If we don't know what that thing is now, the events that may occur in 1999 will certainly show us.

From Y2K to the supposed imminent arrival of a religious Messiah, the world is brimming with thoughts of apocalyptic horror. The Denver-based Christian cult that was recently ejected from Israel for planning to hasten the coming of the Messiah by staging a mass suicide is an example of our doomed sense of self.

For many, the future is a shadowy place, absent of humanity, full of cyber-sterility and technocratic rule. Destruction, chaos, and worse yet, no more Social Security, is what plays through many minds as 1999 gets underway.

The world is beginning to show that the human psyche is overlaid with an overwhelming sense of pessimistic neurosis. Like Seinfeld, we're self-centered and about nothing.

Like those in the year 999 and those at the end of the 19th century, many believe that 1999 is the last year of the world as we know it. Many profess that 1999 will trumpet the arrival of a changed world; a changed sense of what it is to be human. After the first human is cloned, this may be true. But for now, our doomsday prophesizing is merely a poetic conception. Our ability to dream the horrible and our own destruction is what may set us apart from the animal world; if in fact we're apart from them.

It doesn't matter whether you believe the world will end by the hands of a computer virus or by the sweep of the Almighty's arm at the end of this year. What's interesting to witness is the playing of the human psyche, and how willing and ready we make ourselves for such disastrous thoughts. To be fair, there are future glories out there being hyped about. the Human Genome Project, the systematic mapping of our DNA, if successful, may lead to the eradication of many of our diseases, perhaps even slowing aging itself. And that trip to Mars is to many, still the future's ultimate summer vacation. Yet for the most part, many are showing that we are jaded, without hope, confused about our future, and willing to believe that it will all end soon rather than work to figuring out where we go from here.

It's odd, isn't it? We envision the end of our world as the dŽeacute;nouement from where we are, as though we've reached a climax or plane of perfect existence.

But one only has to recall World War I or the Holocaust, or the Armenian Massacre or Cambodian killing fields to understand that humanity has a long way to go before human compassion begins to peak. We have to reach the top of the mountain before we can start thinking about climbing down. In many ways, we haven't even put our hiking boots on.

From the tragedy of the Holocaust, to the glories of our own cyber creations, this century illustrates what we can achieve and what we can destroy. As people ready themselves for annihilation (spiritually or technologically), we are showing the true colors of own psyche. Our minds are half empty, rather than half full. This shadowed outlook stems from our sense of self. As we understand the significance of who we are in an ever expanding universe, our lives become more and more inconsequential. As this century comes to an end, we show that in many ways we are still beasts. Albeit beasts who know what the wheel is, what the White Album is and that the Earth orbits the sun.

One thing is certain though, people react to deadlines and nothing moves us faster, and more voraciously than an approaching one. Now that 1999 is finally a reality, the deadline seems dangerously close. Time is running out, and still we seem further and further away from delineating who we are, and what best represents us. Perhaps it's pure chaos.