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The loss of civic virtue and the fall of the Roman Empire (and perhaps America as well)

ROMAN HELMET - FREE MSWho among you has not read an editorial, op-ed piece or commentary that points out alarming parallels between America and the Roman Empire in decline? Do you believe America’s sun is setting? And if so, why? Is it the shift from democratic republic to oligarchy and/or plutocracy? Loss of our moral bearings? Rampant fear and paranoia? Racism? Xenophobia? Religious intolerance? Other evils? I’m sure you have your own pet theory. Is loss of civic virtue on your list? If not, why not? Need convincing that this belongs there? Then drop down, click the mp3 link under Rabbi David Wolpe’s name, and listen to his powerful sermon.

January
Mishpatim : Why Rome Fell and We Might, Too
keywords: Anton Chekhov, Benjamin Guggenheim, Christianity, civic virtue, Constantinople, Edward Gibbon, Egypt, Herman Cohen, John Jacob Astor, John Lukatz, lead, Mishpatim, physician Roman Empire, Rome Titanic, Tucson
January 29, 2011
Rabbi David Wolpe
mp3 filemp3
drash Rabbi Nicole Guzik
mp3 filemp3

Should we not get our house in order before venturing too far from the neighborhood?

There is evidence that emotions facilitate quick judgment in humans (This probably holds true for other animals as well). If anything like a Vulcan were to evolve to a conscious state in our cosmos, they might well lack the critical capacity to make rapid-fire judgments.  No problem, of course, if you live in an environment where quick decisions are not essential to survival. Say, a planet or environmental niche in which threats to life and limb are few or virtually nonexistent or are in some way never imminent.

Of course, other mechanisms could evolve and be selected for to facilitate quick judgment without the element of what we know as emotion. If on planet V high temperature emitting life forms pose a threat, then the simple capacity to perceive and steer clear of such life forms would favor one’s survival. Networks and clusters of these “circuits” might keep your species going strong without any emotion (as we know it) whatsoever entering into the picture.

Assuming that complex life has evolved elsewhere and some forms have reached a level of self-awareness and reasoning we would categorize as “sentient”, would we be able to relate to one another? Especially a species that lacks what we call emotion? At some level – probably so, simply because there are some things all intelligent creatures would figure out – patterns in nature that can be quantified (mathematics), assignment of symbols to objects so as to make some form of communication possible. Given time, we’d match-up language or communication equivalents involving shared concepts and ideas and principles. But if our new friends happen to lack emotion, we’d be hard-pressed to communicate, much less explain “love” or “hate” or anger”. We might have better luck explaining physical sensations to a pocket calculator.

So what would we have? A gap or “failure to communicate”, obviously. No doubt our sentient alien friends would be in a predicament over how to go about telling us about faculties they evolved but that we utterly lack and have no equivalent to on our world. We might well end up only able to really communicate about shared features or abstract concepts, while the rest is “left for another day”.

Now for the really big question: Would we embrace such a species and be “friends”? Accept the differences between us and forge a meaningful relationship that is mutually beneficial? Why, of course, we would (you say). We are up to the challenge. Really? Reflect for a moment on human history. We have a long, dismal record of accepting and being decent to our own kind. People have been marginalized, isolated and even intentionally eradicated simply because of differences in religious faith, skin color, creed or political affiliation. Some because they differed insofar as they were sick, weak or old. And these were fellow humans who share a common genetic heritage and basic features of heart and mind. Now ask yourself honestly: After the novelty has worn off, how long would it be before some factions among us began to exploit the aliens — or worse?

 Maybe it is a good thing that we have not spread to the stars and discovered sentient life forms yet. We really should get our own house in order before visiting any neighbors out there.

 © 2003 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.

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