September 13, 2008

What We Don’t Understand

Makes Us Scared

Knowledge System and Human Culture

One of the most important lessons at the turn of the millennium is that alongside all kinds of differences that strike our senses, people — West or East, white or brown — truly have many similarities. Human differences are caused by their radical similarities: the thorns and flowers of that difference blossom because the basic roots of similarity — the urge to live and thrive, to sense and make sense of the world — must respond to different contexts. Once these diverse contexts are altered and made the same, then the similarities that lie in the anthropological bases of human communities become clearly visible.

On June 26, 2000, the completion of the first phase of human genetic mapping was announced simultaneously at six points on the planet Earth hemisphere: Washington DC, London, Berlin, Paris, Tokyo and Beijing. The Genetic map clearly shed some light on interconnections of the whole living beings: brotherhood between human species with the rest of creatures on Earth. From the map we know that humans have 51% in common with the genetic makeup of yeast, and 98% in common with chimps. As for the color difference in skin, hair, eye and other physical attributes used to distinguish human and taken as essentials in human history, they are caused by minute genomic differences of only 0.2 per cent. There are indeed too many natural likenesses among humanity compared to their differences. Nature contributes only a tiny drop to the ocean of human external skin-thinned differences which in history so often become excuses for many ethnic cleansing and holy wars.

All forms of life on Earth, including Homo sapiens sapiens are descendants of simple primitive cells boiled in ancient ocean, and incessantly struggling to survive employing all means possible in the infernal primordial world. Under that extremely harsh condition and the objective process to survive and reproduce, conflict becomes permanent because all creatures, including human race, contains in itself an uncontrollable force to replicate and expand itself: an explosive spark which is remnants of immense force previously had given birth to the universe. All of our cells are derivatives of the Big Bang. Due to the underdeveloped knowledge and limited cognitive power, the collision and volatile violence — amid the scarcity of live support sources and the eternal urge of other people to survive and reproduce — would be an inevitable part of human past history.

The disclosure of human being commonalities, his radical similarities — the eternal and universal drive to survive and thrive — and the revelation of universe natural law which gives human the power to eventually overcome all forms of scarcity and limitation would make violence become a unnecessary and even stupid option. Some even vision that the revelation of cosmos secret nature would give humanity a new power to nurture and herd the great force the gave birth to the universe; the force that took million years and complicated process to see the formation of intelligent and self-conscious life. Our developing science and technology is helping us to discover a loftier spiritual vision of life in the universe, so lofty that all conservative religions and faiths seem so not prepared to comprehend it.

All religions and belief systems are powerful forces that had fashioned human history. They were and are the spiritual foundation of societies, of civilizations, and in many part of the world they are the only knowledge system known to people that guide them to sense and make sense the world.

Apart from fashioning human history, all religions and believe systems are product of history. They were fashioned, formed and constructed out of knowledge, prejudice and interest evolved in their own time. A great part of that knowledge had been proven old fashioned and inadequate to help its follower to understand and enliven the contemporary world much better. The more new information and facts amassed and unable to be processed creatively by a knowledge system, then the more unstable that system will be. An open knowledge system has in it self a capacity to digest and process new information, enables the system to change, grow and advance itself. A closed and incontestable system which refuses to change itself yet stubbornly struggles to survive has only one option: ignoring even suppressing and destroying the information it can not control and process. What we do not understand makes us scared, threatened, unsecured. The instinct to survive could change the insecurity into aggression, even destruction.

All religions and isms refuse to be criticized, to open itself and evolve, are fertile breeding ground for violence, which always begins as cognitive violence. Terrorism is an extreme realization of closed knowledge system desperately solves its survival problem. Because violence and corruption are inherent in all closed knowledge systems, their existence would permanently create disturbance even serious parasitism to their surrounding. Certain parties which attempt to perpetuate and strengthen their hegemony over society, often systematically preserve and fortify the closed knowledge system because the system gives them lots of unquestionable privilege. A community usually accepts the hegemonic and closed knowledge system because they have no reliable power to oppose it and because the system gives a simple world view they can easily fathom no matter how superficial and abusive it is.

The systematic and careful cultivation of open knowledge system and its ever increasing power is the only potent way to help the hegemonized and oppressed society to liberate itself from all forms of dependence and domination. Scientific knowledge together with liberal education has been proven to be powerful tool to prevent community from committing terrorism and all form of violence to solve problems. It also helps people gain confidence to refuse any method threatens human life. While assisting people to integrate theirself more effectively into the contemporary world, open knowledge system also help them to recreate their diverse cultural heritage and enthusiastically participate in the merry making of the new world.

People who “worship” the traditional way of life or traditional art usually do so because that’s the only form of way of life or art they know. Once we learn and fully understand the other forms of life and arts, the “cultural chauvinism” will become irrelevant even looked silly. Meanwhile, our appreciation to our heritage, our traditional art, becomes deeper and bigger because it teaches us how our foreparents sensed and made sense their world. Our heritage also gives us a treasure with which we can develop and enrich our cultural life to a new level, something we can share together with other culture, other people in this interconnected world who are also trying to realize all of their potentials, to live the life at the fullest, to sense and make sense the 21st Century and beyond. ***

Nirwan Ahmad Arsuka

Presented in:

JakArt@2008 International Conference, “Art and Culture in Shaping the 21st Century.” 2nd and 4th August, 2008. Teater Kecil, Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta.

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