About a week ago I took part in an audition for a public speaking competition for our school, and I whilst I didn’t get through I still believe that this message needs to be spread. Unfortunately the piece was too long for the five minute time limit we had, so this piece has been adapted without those limitations in mind, however the core message is still the same. Some people may say that this is idealistic, and that it will never happen, I say that this is our only realistic option of maintaining a sustainable society.
“If the entire history of earth was condensed into 24 hours, modern humans would have existed for around 1 minute and 17 seconds. In reality this means that humans have been around for around 150,000 years. In this relatively short time on earth our African tribal ancestors have settled across every continent on the planet, excluding Antarctica. Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum suggests that if we look 100,000 years into the past, we still share the planet with several other species of human, and yet we are the only species to have survived. In 125,000 years since leaving Africa we have overcome every obstacle the natural world has thrown at us, including rapid climate change, natural predators and even other human species to conquer the planet, but this was not achieved by brute force alone. One key element attributed to the success of our species is our ability to combine complex planning with language in order to spread new ideas from one individual to another, which in the past led to the development and spread of more sophisticated tools and equipment to be able to deal with the ever changing world. However, since the first civilisations began around 6,000 years ago, this essential part of our being has seemed to have been forgotten, replaced by centuries of conflict and war, killing our fellow man for the sake of wealth, land and ideological change. Even now, in our most peaceful period in history, there is still major conflict across the world, but I believe there is a way in which we can change this.
Francisco de Vitoria, a Spanish theologian who lived from the late 15th to the early 16th century suggested that in the beginning, everything was common to all, which suggested that all humans share the same nature, and therefore the same rights, and that no one has dominion over the other, because we all come from the same place. With the discovery of a mitochondrial eve, a single mother from which all modern humans are descended, traced back through the largely unchanged mitochondrial DNA passed down on the mother’s side proves that once, we were and still are common to all. Now we fast forward through years of endless war and conflict to 1900, with a whole century of social and political upheaval ahead. It will only be 14 years until the Great War breaks out, with four years in which an estimated 8,500,000 soldiers on both sides of the war fell, a war in which Europe was not only metaphorically but literally carved up. Just over 20 years afterwards, in 1939, there was a Second World War, which saw the deaths of at least 21,000,000 military personnel, and military action causing 29,000,000 civilian deaths. My own parents were born into an era of fear which was created from this conflict, a deadly stand-off of two opposing ideologies which could have ended all of humanity in an apocalyptic nuclear, and yet, conflict was not the only outcome of the 20th century, as in this period we have formed institutions such as the United Nations to encourage a global effort to solve global issues.
It is only very recently that we have again seen the value in cooperating and collaborating, discussing and negotiating and being diplomatic in order to maintain the peace, without resorting to violence ourselves, however, this idea is already in danger of being destroyed before it has had a chance to truly find its footing. The conflict in the middle east and the subsequent arrival of refugees has led some to believe they have to fight back against a foreign invasion, and as the members of the EU push for ever closer union, our own country is divided as to whether it wants to be a part of it, or if we should take back control from the bureaucrats in Brussels. The truth is those “foreigners” are our own, and in the beginning we were, and still are, common to all. Different cultures, ideas, languages, even physical features have developed since the first step out of Africa 125,000 years ago and yet, history shows us that hostility towards these differences has solved nothing, that fighting fire with fire will only lead to more fire, and we only begin to solve issues when we work together towards a common good. Our way of life is not in any way endangered, but rather enhanced by the influence of other cultures, so long as it is not forced on us, and we do not force our own ideas onto others.
Yet how do we dissolve the tensions that have arisen, and remove the xenophobia that exists all around us? It is true that we can never fully remove the apparent hatred that runs deep in people’s blood, however there is hope, as we can take action to work towards a more harmonious society, accepting people’s rights to speak their own ideas without punishing them for it, and providing the right education to allow others to better understand their own species. Communication and language to develop and spread ideas, and the ability to work as an interdependent society has allowed humanity to survive in an uncertain and ever changing world, and I am hopeful that by holding onto these essential human qualities, and by expanding them into a global context, we can build a better world.”