As I watch and read the news reports of the shooting of the police officers in Compton, California, my faith in humankind’s future has doubts creeping around the edges of my thoughts.
Two police officers were shot in cold blood as they sat in their police vehicle. The attack has been characterized as a “revenge attack against officers for recent police shootings against black men in LA.” Equally disturbing are the news videos that showed protesters blocking a hospital entrance where the police officers were being treated, shouting things such as, “death to police” and “kill the police.”
These sickening acts appeared to be endorsed by a city manager, who posted on Twitter that “chickens come home to roost.” Lynwood City Manager Jose Ometeotl, who has since made his Twitter account private, posted the troubling message with a photo of civil rights leader Malcolm X — and a rant that said, in part, “the fact that someone randomly opened fire on deputies is to be expected.”
Is this how a supposedly civilized society behaves? We often express awe at acts of compassion from wild animals. We fervently follow social media stories of elephants helping each other by warding off predators and by helping their young cross streams or climb out of watering holes. There are numerous accounts of dolphins helping swimmers by chasing off sharks and giving “rides” back to shore for stranded swimmers. These types of stories receive hundreds of thousands of social media hits. And yet, humankind, who is supposedly the most “civilized” of all creatures on earth, shows an alarming tendency of promoting and embracing violent attacks on each other.
Compassion is a trait we share with some animal species, but we share very few other characteristics. What scientists say makes us unique is that humans possess many cognitive abilities not seen in other animals, such as a full-blown language capacity as well as reasoning and planning abilities. Researchers at the City University of New York and Stockholm University have discovered that humans have a much better memory to recognize and remember sequential information. “The data we present in our study indicates that humans have evolved a superior capacity to deal with sequential information. We suggest that this can be an important piece of the puzzle to understand differences between humans and other animals,” says Magnus Enquist, head of the Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University.
You would like to think that the uniquely human traits and abilities of reasoning, planning, and memory retention would help us move away from senseless violence and destruction. It hasn’t worked out that way so far. It is said that history repeats itself, and our historical record is filled with the rise and fall of great civilizations. The Roman empire ruled the world for almost 1,300 years until it collapsed in 476 AD. The end came at the hands of foreign invaders, but the collapse began well before due to internal struggles. Several of those struggles were from economic troubles, the rise of the Eastern Empire, overexpansion and overspending, government corruption, political instability, and the loss of traditional values. Power-hungry government officials and the military had little or no loyalty to the empire. Instead, they focused on carving out their mini-kingdoms and eventually turned on the Roman government. Sound familiar?
Is this our future too? Or will we learn to move away from these extreme acts of hate-filled violence and find a better way to come together to resolve our differences? Sometimes we need to agree to disagree but do so without destroying homes, businesses, and lives. Until then, I worry that history will indeed repeat itself, and we may be the next great civilization to fall.
Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org