Humanity, What Will You Choose—Ominous Impotence or Omnipotence?

| November 30, 2010 | 0 Comments

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA

Dr. Meymandi is in private practice as a psychiatrist and neurologist and serves as an adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a noted physician, editor, and philanthropist who frequently speaks and writes on diverse topics that relate to his interests in medicine, the arts, religion, and philanthropy. He lives in Raleigh with his wife Emily.

Psychiatry (Edgemont) 2010;7(11):48–51

Looking over the annals of human history, it is undeniable that we have made progress in industry, mechanization, and discoveries, and have made stunning advancement in health, technology, and finance. After all, we put men on the moon with their safe return to earth more than 40 years ago. But one wonders if we have made any progress in civility and humanity. One wonders if we have succeeded in overcoming greed, if we have learned to stop manipulating, exploiting, and using our fellow humans for selfish gain. The imperative of love and charity seems to be missing from the basic construct of human interaction.

In 1770 BC, Hammurabi in Khuzestan, a part of Susa, Persian Empire, wrote a set of 282 rules, or laws, each dealing with the rights of the individual and the ultimate respect for one another. More than 50 of the 282 codes deal with equality of humans, and specifically, with the dignity and rights of women.

Over 2,500 years ago, Cyrus the Great, the Persian Emperor, to whom the Bible has more than 100 references, ruled his kingdom with dignity and beneficence. A passage in Isaiah 45 calls Cyrus the Great, “King of Persia, the Messiah.” Cyrus emancipated the Jews and established equal rights for men and women. In managing his vast empire, to be in touch with his emissaries (rulers in distant parts of the kingdom), he developed a formal service charged with sending and receiving communiqués to and from his lieutenants. This marked the birth of the postal service, which he called “Peyk.” The cabinet of Cyrus the Great consisted of 12 Viziers (ministers or secretaries) several of whom were women. The first person in charge of the Royal mail service was a woman. Her name was Mithra, which in Zoroastrian parlance means dignity. The father of the United States Postal Service (USPS), the polymath Benjamin Franklin, has referred to Mithra in official language as well as in amorous terms. After all, the gentleman was a lady’s man—no wonder he had special regard for Mithra.

In 2010, in the same country, now known as Iran, they are stoning women for as insignificant of an offense as showing their hair or ankles or holding hands with a man in public. Is this progress in civility, humanity, and human dignity?

In 1486, Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), the Italian Renaissance philosopher, at the age of 23, in his equivalent to today’s PhD dissertation, proposed to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural history, and astronomy, against all comers. The result was the famous Oration on the Dignity of Man. It has been called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance,” and a key text of Renaissance humanism. In this essay, Pico della Mirandola invokes the writings and thoughts of all ancient wise men, going back to Moses, Zoroaster, Zerubbabel, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Platonic philosophers, and well-known neoplatonic philosophers, such as Plotinus, to conclude: “At last, the Supreme Maker spoke: we have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.”

So, where are we? Why are we not rising to the superior orders in advancing the cause of humanity, human dignity, and enhancing connectedness in human family?

Saadi Shirazi, an eloquent Persian poet (1210–1290), wrote a poem with the rough translation is “Bani Adam, the progenies of Adam.” The poem says, “We humans are organs of one body…An organ separated from body cannot function…So, we humans without one another cannot function…” He goes on to say, “If one organ of the body is ill and aches, the rest of the body experiences pain and becomes restless…” I do not know of a more eloquent and descriptive simile that illustrates a human being’s connectedness and brotherhood with other humans. Yet we have constant war, constant destruction, and constant killing. In America, we have a population of 300 million or about 4.5 to 5.0 percent of the world’s roughly six billion, yet we consume over 25 percent of the world’s energy. We have over 2.5 million people in prison—more than any other developed nation. Reliable sources report up to 80 percent of our prison and jail population have a diagnosable psychiatric illness and should be treated rather than imprisoned. Certainly, what International Affairs Committee is doing and has done since its inception in 1995 is helpful to bring these matters to the forefront of consciousness, and bring people together. Congratulations to the Board of Director and to Todd Culpepper.

The life of the Neolithic man on this earth is short, about 10,000 years. Looking back 8,000 years ago with the emergence of Sumerians and invention of writing in Lydia, the world has witnessed the rise and fall of many dynasties, empires, and powerful nations. There was the Mesopotamian kingdom, Accadians, Egyptians, and the mighty Roman Empire, Pax Romana, which was destroyed by Rome’s preoccupation with the affairs of the Middle East. Then there was the Persian Empire, now in shambles. In modern day, there were empires that emerged in the developed world, such as Andalusia and British Empire. They have all experienced omnipotence, yet the ignominious endings have been nothing but impotence, destruction, and reduction to a vague memory forgotten in the dustbin of human history. In England, Lady Matilda Maud (1102–1167) first wrote a manifesto of human and women rights. Her activities led to the emergence and development of King John’s Magna Carta in 1215. In America, Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) fashioned her activities after Lady Maud. In 1920, the 19th amendment to the Constitution, signed by President Woodrow Wilson, gave women the right to vote.

With the historical decline and retrogression of human values and the humanities, I am offering some thoughts and suggestions. The history of humanity has offered us some brilliant role models whom forcefully invite us to espouse the kind of altruism that promises the salvation of mankind.

I want to invoke the names of three brilliant stars in the intellectual firmament whose teachings have influenced human behavior the most.

The first one is Saint Augustine of Hippo (345–430 AD). He was born a pagan, converted to Christianity in 386, and was baptized on Easter Sunday, April 4, 387. He wrote 49 volumes in theology, philosophy, and other topics related to humanities, a total of 20 million words. In Saint Augustine’s autobiography, Confessions, he bravely talked about stealing from his parents, fathering a son out of wedlock, stealing pears from neighbor’s yard, lying to his mother, and finally sneaking off to Carthage and then to Rome where he became a Manichean and finally met his intellectual superior in the person of St. Ambrose in Milan. St. Ambrose, one of four Latin Doctors (beside Augustine, Saint Jerome, and Pope Gregory), was instrumental in setting Augustine’s course to conversion and ultimately to priesthood and sainthood.

Saint Augustine’s writing is replete with man’s dalliance with false omnipotence. He wrote extensively about narcissism, self indulgence, and greed. He called a newborn baby not a bundle of joy and innocence, but a “bundle of sin,” because a baby is wrapped up in self and survival and removed from consideration of others. This is what in psychoanalytic jargon is called primary infantile autism or primary infantile narcissism. As a child grows and the central nervous system matures, he or she develops reality-testing skills and learns to have consideration for, and deference to, others. The opportunity to grow and become more altruistic, more giving, and less selfish and self centered is the gift of life. Saint Augustine was a proponent of the concept of grace and salvation. He espoused Pauline theology of grace, which is briefly described as “an unearned and undeserved free gift.”l Augustine wrote more than one million words on the topic of grace.

The second brightest star of the intellectual firmament is Moses Maimonides of Cordoba (1135–1204), a Jewish physician, colleague, theologian, philosopher, clinician, and practitioner. He too wrote about 20 million words in his lifetime. He too was concerned about the issue of grace and salvation. Moses, in spite of being the Caliph’s personal physician in Cordoba, was forced by anti-Semitic influence to flee to Egypt. There is a small statue of Moses (Rambam) in Cordoba. My wife Emily and I take a single long-stem rose and place it at his statue every time we are in Cordoba. We do the same when we visit the tomb of Claudio Monteverdi, father of Western Opera (Orpheo et Euridice 1607) in Iglesia de Santa María Gloriosa dei Frari Venice, Veneto Region, Italy

The third brightest star of the intellectual constellation is Ibn Khaldoun (1336–1420) an Arab/Muslim theologian, economist, philosopher, music lover, advocate, and writer. He too wrote about 20 million words in his lifetime. Khaldoun was the father of trickle-down economics, which was adopted by the late President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Regan appointed Columbia Professor Robert Mundel as Chair of the White House Economic Council. Emily and I had lunch with Mundel at his villa near Florence in 1993. Our conversation was around Khaldoun whose books and writings surrounded Robert’s study. Dr. Mundel won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1999 after fathering the birth of the Euro as a unit of currency for the European Union. He is now busy developing a unit of currency for the Middle East. Incidentally, Khaldoun’s advocacy of music was ingenious. Mohammadpbuh, the founder of Islam was born 580 AD. In 620 AD, at age 40, he started Islam and two years later, the Islamic Holy Book, Quoran, was completed. In early Islam, music and paintings were prohibited by Islamic cannon and Fatwa. Khaldoun, a lover of music, noted that it is permissible to sing the passages from the Quoran as the Muezzins sing their invitation to prayer from minarets five times a day. He suggested to the ruling grand Ayatollah of the day to organize a competition and invite the best readers/singers of various Islamic nations to come to a place and compete, picking the best singers of the Quoran passages. It is called Talavat Quran Majeed. It started in 1365 and continues to this day. It is like the Olympics of singing in the Islamic world. He later introduced percussion (tablah) and strings to enhance the majesty of Quoranic passages. The Talavat competition has gone uninterrupted since 1365. The only other continuous musical event regardless of war, depression, and uncertainties is Handle’s Messiah, since 1742. The performance was attended by George I. He was so moved by the Alleluia chorus that he stood up, handing down the custom to this day.

These three writers’ advice against hubris, omnipotence, appearance, and glitz repeatedly warn us not to mistake ominous impotence for power and omnipotence. The distilled message of almost 60 million words written by these three sages is—and I am offering it as a take-home treat—that the road map to grace and salvation is to know what is good inside of you—intellect, love, compassion, altruism, empathy, access to the rich array of so many other feelings; and to know what is good outside of you—family, connectedness, friendship, music, nature, flowers, dance, and poetry. Be thankful for all that is good by giving something back and making a difference in the lives of others. The issue of awareness is very important. It takes discipline to be aware. The heightened form of awareness in Sufi is called “Zekr,” which is to be constantly aware of all good things inside and outside of one’s self. Mowlana Rumi said, “Blessed are those who are in meditation, Zekr, for they are in constant prayer…” What do we do with all this doom and gloom and pessimism? I think there is hope. There is possibility. There is redemption.

I believe that ultimately for those who believe in God that God wants us humans to succeed and progress. From time to time, one child is chosen to become a role model. For example, Buddha was sent to teach us patience, wisdom, and awareness. Zoroaster was sent to give us the concept of good and evil, epistemological dualism. Moses was sent to exemplify discipline, devotion, and yes, the gift of doubt. Jesus of Nazareth was sent to demonstrate the power of love. Mohammad was sent to offer us Islam, or total submission to the will of God. Mozart was sent to illustrate the power of music. Finally, the world was given America and with it our founding fathers—Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and others to give us a system of government, a Republic, that cherishes the supremacy of rule of law and not the whims of kings, Shahs, and Ayatollahs. America is a decent and generous nation. In the case of natural disasters, in Haiti, in Pakistan, in Nepal, and Myanmar, America is the first to be there and to help. It is in America that people decide who will govern them within one day. There were elections in Nigeria in March, the results are still being disputed, and innocent people are facing impending civil war. Iraq recently, after months of waiting and much violence, came to recognize a government. But here in America, on Tuesday November 3, 2010, we elected more than five thousand people who will govern us, within 24 hours and without a single shot fired. This is the miracle of America. United States is a land that allows its citizens to reach their maximum potential. I am very optimistic about the future of the world because the world has America, and America has the basic devotion and reverence to uphold the rights of every individual. This is the gift of our Republic.

I close this piece by asking our readers for a minute of austere silence for the victims of domestic violence, for the victims of 9/11, for the victims of the devastating 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, for the victims of Katrina, for the victims of Haiti, the millions stranded and infested with cholera, for the victims of the floods in Myanmar (formerly Burma), for the victims of the recent floods in Pakistan, for the victims of the tsunami in Indonesia, for the victims of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan genocide, for the victims of the ethnic cleansing and religious intolerance throughout the world, for the victims of the two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for the everyday victims of drug-infested streets of Mexico and America.

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Category: Commentary, Meymandi at Large, Past Articles, Psychiatry

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