In 12,017 HE, on the first Areté Day celebrated by The Assemblage of Areté since convocations had begun being held, Supreme Mugwump Colin Campbell instituted a tradition of preparing a special message for the Heroes of Areté.
The Epic of Humanity
Two and a half thousand years ago, pre-Bronze Age people living on tiny islands and coastal inlets in the Mediterranean Sea lived a precarious life: storms threatened to wash away their boats and villages, crops could fail, and mysterious illness could strike at any time. They lived under the constant threat of violence from all around them, as they lived at the crossroads of that part of the world. These were the ancient Greeks, and through a combination of good fortune and strategic adaptation, they soon came to be cultural kings of the age- managing to learn from all around them while remaining resilient enough to stay unique. To help them make sense of their chaotic era, they told stories to each other, inspired in part by shapes they saw in the stars, and likely in part from the true adventures of real people who lived in their time. Gradually these stories came to be mythical in nature, exaggerated into larger-than-life tales of daring, or unconscionable power. These exciting stories gave the ancient Greeks a sense of identity, explaining their place, and thus, their purpose in the world- and that purpose might surprise you.
Their religion taught them that in the beginning there had been the earth, Gaia, and the sky, Uranus; and that they gave birth to the Titans. The Titans however were disliked by Uranus and imprisoned in a hell deep inside the earth until Cronus, one of the Titans, led a revolt against their oppressor elder-gods. In turn, the Titans gave birth to the Olympian gods; who likewise suffered at the hands of their supposedly superior parentage until Zeus, one of the Olympians, fought back against his father Cronus to free his siblings- guaranteeing their dominance and earning his position of glory. The story doesn’t end there: according to their myths humankind descends from this heavenly lineage, having been created by the Olympian gods; but only to also incur the wrath of their supreme overlords early in their history. Zeus angrily decided to withhold fire from humans as a punishment for humanity’s failures, until Prometheus broke Zeus’ orders and gave humans the tools they needed to flourish as a civilization.
Armed with this fire, humans began to fight back against the gods that plagued them! Lowly men and women, brought to the breaking point by the damage nature had wrecked upon their lives, turned into brave heroes- they would not accept a dismal destiny forced upon them by capricious and unseen forces!
Thus the Greeks believed that their purpose in life was to struggle against the gods, against nature itself, until they were powerful enough and great enough to claim their own rightful place as the new lords of the Earth. In the two-and-a-half-thousand years that are between us and them, humanity has grown and developed in myriad ways. We’ve gone from wheels to gears; and from gears to machines; from machines to digital computers; and now we stand on the precipice of going from digital computers to quantum computers, by unlocking the secrets of an invisible universe! We’ve gone from shamans to plague doctors; from plague doctors to physiologists, pharmacologists, and microbiologists; and now CRISPR gene editing is about to extinguish the single greatest killer of humans ever: malaria! We’ve gone from shallow water fishing boats to ocean crossing cruise liners; to supersonic airplanes; to regular trips to Low Earth Orbit; and only a few months ago Elon Musk announced the first credible project to send humans to Mars! And the first of them are scheduled to arrive in less than eight years! And he plans to send one million of them within fifty years!
Humankind has taken the fire of Prometheus and used it to light their way into every cave they could find; from nuclear science to medicine, from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to the edges of our Solar System and beyond. We’ve even managed to make some progress in the field of philosophy and human behavior. We’ve gone from “an eye for an eye”, to the Golden Rule, to abolishing slavery, to the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… but where is our next-level transformation? Where is our paradigm shattering discovery in philosophy, that utilizes the very cutting edge of available information, to surpass all previously known boundaries?
Unlike hard sciences and technology, the pace of philosophical improvement amongst humans progresses more slowly. This is in large part because we must re-invent the wheel in this field of study much more often than we need to with actual wheels. When someone learns how to build an axle, or a microwave oven, that knowledge persists in the world for hundreds- or maybe even thousands of years to come; allowing it to be shared with ever increasing numbers of people. When someone discovers a great instance of wisdom about how to live life, that knowledge frequently dies with the person when they die. Even during the life of a wise person, communicating their wisdom is difficult because of its internal and subjective nature; and so, few people learn from the wise, and we must repeatedly re-educate ourselves on such basic ideas like sharing and loving our neighbors.
But if we are to ever actually claim the title “lords of the Earth”- as the ancient Greeks had set out for us- we will need Earth shattering developments in the way we, as humans, think and behave. We need a development like this just as much as we need fire, genetic engineering, or computers. If we are ever to maintain our dominion and avoid being supplanted by the offspring of our species (perhaps A.I.?) then we will need an understanding of how to live our lives, and one that is commensurate with the power we have gained, so that we use it wisely. To overtake the Olympian gods before us, we must not only have the ability to make our own lightning, but also to know when to make it.
Indeed, we humans already have godlike powers. Nuclear weapons are capable of smiting far more than Zeus’ lightning ever could- and unfortunately it remains in question whether we have developed the wisdom required to wield such power. How much more then, do we have to learn about wisdom if we are perhaps about to unlock the secrets of unnaturally long life, mind boggling processing power, and interplanetary travel? To be not just godlike in power, but to be gods?
This then, is our calling as Aretéans- we believe in human greatness and we seek for it in everything we do: in our science, in our engineering, in our politics, and in ourselves. In 1933 the original Humanist Manifesto was written- a document which declared the intent of many of the world’s brightest minds to move beyond the traditional religions of the era, towards something new and preparatory for the exciting world we are entering.
In one section it says: “Today, man’s larger understanding of the universe, his scientific achievements, and deeper appreciation of brotherhood, have created a situation which requires a new statement of the means and purposes of religion... a vital, fearless, and frank religion... To establish such a religion is a major necessity of the present. It is a responsibility which rests upon this generation.”
One year ago I established this religion to answer the charge put forth by those early humanists. I believed, and do believe, that we as humans are capable of much more than just goodness- I believe that we are capable of greatness! I believe that we all have the innate capacity to be people like Sir Edmund Hillary who conquered Mt. Everest; or Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, inventors of the computer; or the passengers of United flight 93 who charged the door of their cockpit to save thousands of lives on 9/11. I believe that we can be great family and friends to those around us, and an inspiration to all we meet. And I believe that we can be great as a whole people, too.
There’s a myth in Mormonism that tells an interesting story worth sharing- they believe that in early Biblical times, before Noah’s ark even, there was a man named Enoch who taught people God’s word. The people took so strongly to his message that they built a city- the city of Zion- which became the most righteous city that had ever existed before or since. According to this myth the people there lived so righteously that God walked among the people and eventually raised the whole city up into heaven, where the people never died but continued living in perfect happiness, forever. While I don’t believe that we need to obey a god to achieve happiness, nor do I even believe that the story is true in any literal way; I do believe that we can build Zion for ourselves.
When even just one person lives a greater life they make life greater for all around them, which of course makes life greater for all around those people! When even just one more person picks up a piece of trash on the side of the road, that’s dozens of people who get to enjoy a cleaner street. When even just one more person donates to charity, several people- maybe even many people- benefit. When even just one person stands up for what’s right, it emboldens several others to follow. Every good thing that each person does makes the world a measurably better place. So how much more so if we all did just a little more to live lives of Areté!
If every citizen of San Diego picked up trash when they saw it, and never littered, this would be the cleanest city in the world! If every citizen of San Diego trusted in their own greatness enough to survive on less, and generously gave to those who needed it of their own free will, we would have no homeless or desperate people here! If every citizen of San Diego stood up for what we know to be right, we would be the happiest and freest people in history! We would be the City of Zion, not only expressing what it means to be the best possible individuals, but also having Areté as a city! To be the ultimate example of what a city could be!
And now what if our nation did so? And the world! There is only one way for this dream to become real, and it starts with us, each individually making the commitment to seek for personal greatness- to seek Areté. And while the way will be long, and frequently a struggle, there is good news- which I have already told you: Every good thing that each person does makes the world a better place. That good news, that “gospel” of Areté, is so good that it is cause for celebration. Enjoy the good that you and everyone else creates. That belief is why I leave you now, and every time, with our simple mantra:
Be Excellent to Each Other, Heroes… …and Party On!