In the several books comprising the content of the Simple Reality Project we frequently find the claim that all is not well with the human community sometimes known as the global village, what we might call the “Human Empire.”
Some would say that these claims are exaggerated and that over time humanity can be seen to be evolving from barbarism to higher and higher states of civilization. Others claim that the veneer of civilization is rotten underneath and that human nature is fundamentally the same as it was in the ancient empires which all eventually imploded.
Some say that the progress created by comparatively recent advances in technology is evidence of the human intellect’s ability to find ways to lift humanity ever higher out of reach of apocalyptic poverty, disease, starvation and violence. Others say that only a small minority in the human community is benefiting from technology and that true progress is thwarted by the intellect which is incapable of addressing the increasingly intractable human condition.
Some say that the Creator never intended for the bulk of humanity to make progress on earth and would only find justified punishment in the afterlife where the smaller number of the well-behaved would be rewarded. Others claim that after countless reincarnations all of humanity would be able to progress in a complex system of reward and punishment and at last escape numberless rebirths in animal, vegetable or human form.
How can we measure the progress of the animal that reasons or that of his communities? Can progress or decline be detected? Is human behavior generally psychopathological? How prevalent are anti-social behaviors?
We all know, at least in our heart of hearts, that the prevalence of compassion in a community would be a good measure of its long-term success. How does it treat the “least” among its members? Maybe the following true story will offer some indication of whether humanity is facing good news or bad. Look for evidence of the aforementioned indicators of a healthy human community or one in decline. Don’t forget to look for your own behaviors there too.
Like a pathologist we will slice out a cross section of the American Chinese/Korean immigrant community in Flushing, Queens. Photographer and amateur sociologist Yeong-Ung Yang is one of two “specialists” who will help us interpret the results revealed by this “tissue.” Like many cities in the U.S., casinos run buses from densely populated neighborhoods harvesting the spare change that rich or poor are willing to part with.
Most of the Queens gamblers are bused to the Sands casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Yang has been documenting what he calls the “endless commute” of those who regularly ride these buses after they purchase a $15 ticket. As we shall see, many of these bus-kkun (bus riders in Korean) do not have $15 to spare.
Another Korean immigrant who arrived 14 years ago has been gambling at out-of-state casinos for years. Chun Hae-Young, age 57 reveals his own experience: “The casino is a kind of place that can bleed you dry of everything. It can also save your life when you have nothing.” How is such an irony explained?
If you can scrape together the $15 bus ticket you can become an admittedly strange entrepreneur. The casino offers free gambling and meal vouchers which you sell upon your return for a profit of around $40. Mr. Yang has observed that for these bus riders it’s a job. “There are those that arrive at the casino and go straight to the waiting room and immediately start waiting for the next bus to go home.”
So there is the answer to our ironic behavior. The Sands casino can help reduce you to poverty if you become addicted to gambling but can also put food on the table especially if you are unable to work because of poor health or old age. Mr. Yang has looked hard at this issue from within his community in Queens and sees a double irony. “The whole routine itself, even though many are not gambling, is an addiction, and very hard to quit.”
The false self is vulnerable to addictive behaviors acquired while trying to survive physically but also while trying to escape physical and mental suffering. In a compassionate community, all of that energy could be used to reduce the very behaviors that threaten to cause the decline and fall if yet another empire.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in the Simple Reality books:
Where Am I? Story – The First Great Question
Who Am I? Identity – The Second Great Question
Why Am I Here? Behavior – The Third Great Question
Science & Philosophy: The Failure of Reason in the Human Community