Many works of art in history have demonstrated an idea of human unity: the idea that, if faced with a disaster that seeks to destroy humanity, we will all forget all of our minor transgressions and band together as one race to fight the enemy head-on. Whether the media presents it as an alien invasion, a meteor, a great evil wizard, or some other seemingly insurmountable threat, the core concept remains, which is that through our collective power, we can stand up to any enemy, no matter how terrifying or powerful.
This is especially useful in the act of warfare. The way Americans united against the Japanese threat by interning Japanese-Americans in camps on their own soil. The way the profiling of Muslims increased after 9/11, as Americans were thoroughly convinced that Muslims are far more dangerous than other people. The amount of civilians and innocent people that have been eliminated from the face of the Earth for no other reason than in the name of “freedom” and “democracy,” which are often used as clever disguises to gain dominance and control of resources abroad. The best way to create an enemy, in a time of warfare, is to remove from them any faces or semblance of humanity. To point and say “These people are not people, and in fact they are monsters that need to be put down or put away.”
In a quote that sums up a similar concept, “War is when the young and stupid are tricked by the bitter and old into killing each other.”
Creating war and creating enemies is an insidious art form, one that involves completely removing any intrinsic empathy that one human being may have for another human being. To reduce the enemy into an idea, so abstracted from any reality. To make people forget that each innocent person killed abroad in the name of a just cause results in massive pain and grief for their families. Each person who dies is a son lost, a sister gone, a mother whose loving embrace will no longer be felt, so on and so forth. But we aren’t allowed to think that way; after all, these people are not supposed to be human.
But there is something interesting to be found from this idea. If the best enemy is one that has no face, that is inhuman, and poses a great threat to all of us, then we need to look no further than the world around us. Humanity does indeed have a common enemy. It does not care about political affiliation, nor does it care about the subjects of race or ethnicity, and it absolutely does not care about any religious divisions we face either. This enemy will snuff every single one of us out without any mercy or prejudice.
This enemy is the current environmental crisis.
I’m not speaking purely of carbon emissions (which do pose a great threat, mind you), but I’m also speaking of the destruction of biodiversity, the appearance of potentially neurotoxic microplastics in our bodies and environment, the unsustainable agricultural practices we engage in that result in hypoxic zones in our waters, and the acidification of our oceans.
This is an enemy that, theoretically, requires no violence to defeat. Humans need not kill each other, humans would not need to engage in conflict, and most interestingly, weapons would not even be needed to defeat it.
In fact, all it actually takes is humility, self-awareness, and personal responsibility to face this problem head-on. If every person looked closely at how their actions affect others, or the world around them, it would be astoundingly clear that we all partake in great evil on a daily basis. That each comfort we have comes at the cost of someone or something else. The mindset would shift from this idea of “me, me, me” to a more conscious understanding of how the complex systems of our world interact.
Through self-reflection, one would realize that every single action comes with a consequence. One may realize that the chocolate they buy comes at the cost of supporting child slavery. Or that the aesthetically pleasing clothing they desire to purchase comes at the cost of the exploitation of workers abroad. Or how the infinite accessibility to food around the world comes at the cost of large-scale, unsustainable, and wasteful agricultural practices. The examples are plenty; take a moment to think about the material thing that you love most, and the journey that is taken in order for you to acquire it. The people, the labors, the struggles, all contained in one disposable commodity that you take for granted.
The environmental crisis is an overt representation of the illness we face as humans. The illness of forgetting that we have more in common with one another than we do differences. The illness of forgetting the connection we have to the world around us. The illness of forgetting that the Earth is an environment that is entirely perfect for our biology.
We take far too much for granted and have grown distant from our connections to this world.
I had said earlier that the environmental crisis is a faceless and inhuman enemy, but this is not entirely true. Much the same as how every other enemy we’ve seen has not truly been faceless and inhuman.
The difference now, though, is that the enemy is not a person, ideology, or place to point outward at. The enemy is one that we must look inward to find and defeat, an enemy of consequence to our mindless and short-sighted actions. And only through our collective efforts of self-reflection can we truly find a way to liberate ourselves and our being.
The enemy is every single one of us, but that is not to say that we are bad by nature. That is to say that we have flaws that we must work deeply within ourselves and with one another to overcome.
I’m not attached to any particular religious dogma but I’ve always found truth in the Golden Rule. But given the modern struggle, I’d rather rephrase it as:
Do upon everything as you’d want done upon yourself.
For it is not only humanity we must treat with respect, but the Earth and all of the organisms that exist within it. All of our struggles are secondary to our ability to nurture the Earth so that it may continue to support us.