"I am what I will be" -- Ex. 3:14
Brain studies show that, at birth, a human is a powerhouse of potential. However, at that stage, humans have no self- control and little, or no, self-identity. Something must release and direct that potential in order to produce a person who interacts in the world. That something is the world itself.
Initially the parents are the most influential in directing the child's potential. Then, over time, the immediate family and the culture in which the child is embedded becomes increasingly influential. By the time the child reaches maturity and the ability to make independent choices, those choices nave been significantly limited by the influence of family and culture.
In some respects, computers mimic human development. It might be that we have developed computers in our image. An infant is born with a "basic input-output system" (BIOS). It has been developed from the genetic information provided by the parents. The child has no choice or control concerning this information. However, it establishes the physical and many behavioral attributes of the person. This regulates how an individual will connect to the outside world. However, it does not determine what a person will do with that connection. For example, tendency toward aggression is included in the genetic code. But, it does not determine how that tendency will be manifested. That could be for good or evil.
After birth, the person develops an "operating system". This is "programmed" by parents, family and community. It determines much of the individual's identity and how he/she will respond to society. All together, family and society determine the initial identity of the person.
As people mature, they acquire their unique identity through their experiences in the world. This is the equivalent to developing "programs" to deal with incoming data/information and committing it to memory. However, as we have seen, much of the processing capability has been determined by the previous stages of development.
At this point, the allegorical relation between human and computer ends. All living creatures, to varying degrees, have the ability to experience and adapt to the world. Only the human has the capacity to observe and adapt the world to his/her requirements. This is what makes humans the most magnificent and dangerous creature on Earth.
From this perspective, we can see why previous generations are so very important in the development of future generations. It is the current generation that provides the means for the emerging generation to become "human".
This is the intent of the Biblical statements, "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex. 20:12) and "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and to the fourth generation" (Ex. 34:7). However, these are conditional statements. For our current purpose, let us take "fathers and mothers" as representing the current generation of a society. Then the condition is the presumption that the society has achieved the self-control needed to subdue their [evil] inclination.
At birth, every human being has the potential to achieve self-control and empowerment. They only need the support and guidance required to achieve it. It would seem that the highest function of a society is to provide that support and guidance to all of its members. Unfortunately, that is not true in the "real" world.
To the contrary, our world is more like the world described after the Biblical story of the "Tower of Babel" (Gen. 11:1-9). It is divided into many societies with different "operating systems" and "programs". In most cases, their purpose is not to encourage and guide all of its members to self-control and empowerment. Rather, their purpose is to give power to a few, leaving most dependent and powerless. Further, that power has little or nothing to do with the self-control of the Pirke Avot. This is true whether the society calls itself democracy or dictatorship, capitalist or socialist, or any of the other words that societies have used to describe themselves. There have been only a few times in history that a society has tried to to achieve the self-empowerment of the Pirke Avot.
If each generation is born with the capacity to achieve self- control and to form a society that can pass that capability on to the next, what has gone wrong? What are we missing?
-- To be continued --