Where did man go wrong? The question sounds anachronistic in more ways than one. It’s a right question in general though, and a good starting point.
Why is it important? Because core insights into the causes of why man is destroying the earth and humanity may make the remedy clear. Indeed, to my mind insight is the remedy.
Of course, there are still a lot of people that maintain humankind is progressing, because science and technology, not to mention the media and society tell them so. Progress is the best kind of denial because at one level it’s undeniable.
Clearly, ‘human nature’ hasn’t changed in the hundred thousand years or so since modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens (one ‘wise man’ is a misnomer, two in the nomenclature is a delusion) emerged. Given that premise, it can be misleading to ask where man went wrong, since obviously something went wrong at the beginning.
That sounds a little like the Christian creation myth of ‘original sin.’ But that’s OK. Every good story, however false, has a kernel of truth.
To our modern ears, mistakes and sins mean something entirely different. But it’s interesting to note that the root meaning of the word ‘sin’ is to “miss the mark, miss the target.” That’s synonymous with a mistake as we generally use the word. And it carries none of the hell and brimstone baggage, or even the connotation of judgment.
So if ‘sin’ means to miss the mark, however widely (and murdering another human being, for example, is missing the mark about as widely as a person can), what is the mark? And how has humankind been missing it since the beginning?
Despite the attempt, even by scientists, to merge man with nature, humans are the only creatures on the planet who are destroying the earth. Whether another creature would if it had the abilities we do only begs the question. How did nature evolve a species that is at odds with nature itself?
Leaving aside the ‘man was made in the image of God’ nonsense, it’s incontrovertible that humans evolved along the same lines, and through the same processes as all other creatures on earth. So the ‘wrong turn,’ if we want to put it that way, may originally be in evolution itself.
In short, ‘original sin’ has nothing to do with a fall from grace in the Garden, and everything to do with the evolution of conscious cognitive abilities. That means that division, fragmentation, conflict, and suffering have their roots in what some still like to call ‘higher thought.’
The essence of ‘higher thought’ is the ability to intentionally remove ‘things’ from the environment and modify them for our use. So in a sense, man didn’t go wrong, evolution did, since evolution gave us that peerless ability.
Even so, we human beings have to put our own evolution right. And that may be part of the cosmic plan. (Not by some separate deity, but rather by the intrinsic intelligence of the universe itself.)
Thought is an adaptation of unprecedented power, making possible technology, science, and culture (including the mental artifacts of belief, ritual, and tradition). But the evolution of thought carries with it the overwhelming tendency to live in the realm of our own separations, not only physically (which is necessary to survive as humans), but also psychologically (which isn’t, and has produced continual conflict and suffering).
Is it that in the evolution of complex cognition, the runaway fragmentation we see now (a la the Sorcerer’s Apprentice) is almost inevitable? And if so, doesn’t that make it even more unlikely that we humans can change course and begin to bring ourselves into harmony with the earth and the universe? Paradoxically, it makes it more likely that we can.
Physical separation is necessary; indeed, it’s the sine qua non of the human adaptive pattern. But separation is merely a useful trick of thought. And psychological separation, which is the extension of thought into a dimension where it doesn’t belong, perpetually misses the mark. That is the ‘original (and ongoing and increasing) sin.’
Without psychological separation there is no ‘me,’ no feeling of separation, from which human division, conflict, and suffering flow. So can there be utilitarian cognitive separation without illusory psychological separation?
That is the great question life is putting, with increasing urgency, to the human being.