March 19, 2009
Dear Uncle Troy,
I apologize for not having written to you in so long. Things have been hectic at home and school, but I’m glad I finally got the chance to write to you. Several times my friends have asked me about Troy Davis, or asked me “How is the case going?” or “Has the Court made a decision yet?” and I have to keep telling them that we are still waiting and still hoping for good news to come. A small amount of good news has come this way however; today, Governor Bill Richardson signed a law that repealed the death penalty in New Mexico, and apparently ¾ of the New Mexicans who sent in letters or emails to called by telephone stated that they were for the repeal. I think Americans are finally waking up to the fact that the death penalty is cruel, inhumane, and does not effectively deter crime.
I’m still thinking about the last time I visited you, almost a month ago. What I found most interesting was that most of the people there seemed very normal, hugging their wife and kids, playing games with their infant children, talking to their loved ones. It just seems to hard to believe that these people are the same people who committed horrible crimes. It’s just too difficult to sort people into “good” or “evil”. It’s not something that is black and white, not an “A or B” statement…
I want to share with you a composition I wrote on February 27th, 2009
Who We Are, and What We Can Become
If there are two things I have noticed about human nature, it is that humans are by nature polygamous and cruel. Perhaps many find this debatable, but throughout my reading of history and just observations in general, it seems that this is true. The former is a topic for another time, but the latter I feel is a more pressing issue. If you were to look at all the wars and conquest of the past, and even the present, you would see that cruelty is present everywhere. From the distant past, like the Sumerians who owned slaves, or the Assyrians who brutally tortured and slaughtered those who they conquered, to the Classical Period when the Romans and Greeks would enslave the “barbarians” of conquered regions, to the massacring of Muslims by the Crusaders in the 13th century, to the violent pillaging and slaughter of the Mongols as they conquered Eurasia, to the present day, it seems far easier to find acts of cruelty than it is to find acts of compassion.
Even today, torture and slavery still exist. It took us from approximately 500,000 B.C. to the 1800s A.D. to realize that no human deserves to be treated like an animal and enslaved to another, and we are still trying to realize today that no one is inferior because of his culture, religion, or skin color. I believe that humans are instinctively violent, insecure, and cruel, and that is why it has taken us so long to overcome our prejudice towards each other. It is only today, with the artificial layering of the ideas of the Enlightenment and society pressed upon us can we suppress these natural instincts. This was the idea I believe William Golding was getting at in his novel Lord of the Flies, the idea that the inner nature of humans has been checked only by the artificial clamps of society. In the past, slaughtering and massacring a whole city was considered the norm, and not particularly brutal. Conquerors from Alexander the Great to the British Empire in the 20th century violently suppressed those they subjugated without remorse.
In his well known series Cosmos, the late well known scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan suggested that our aggression and territorialism comes from one of the inner parts of our brain, which was derived from the reptiles who eventually evolved into the primates. But perhaps there is more than just a biological explanation. Deep down, I think we realize that life is cruel. In the 2004 Tsunami, thousands of people were killed or lost everything. Did they deserve this? No, but it happened. Some of the people I know, some of the kindest and noblest people I have ever had the honor of meeting in my life, for doing nothing wrong, have been paralyzed or have died or have been wrongfully imprisoned. Yet this is what life handed to them. Today, billions live in poverty and under the control of tyrannical dictators. In Sudan, the janjaweed has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people. In the 1970s, Francisco Franco of Spain and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia ordered the mass killings of millions. In China, Mao Zedong led the country to the largest peacetime mass killings ever known in history. I have accepted the fact that life is harsh, though I am fortunate enough to be shielded from most of its brutality.
This is why I believe we should recognize the compassion that does exist in everyday life and embrace it. Every act of kindness is one of those exceptions, one of those “but” moments, which shows how great humanity can truly be. Throughout history, people have always searched for a purpose, for a reason of existence, for a reason why they are here today on the Earth, whether placed there by a Creator, as most believe, or not, as others believe. I believe that reason is to reduce the cruelty present in everyday life, to make life less painful for others and to make the world a kinder and gentler place. This is why I stand up for Troy Davis and why I’ve been vegetarian since I was five years old. I stopped eating meat when I came to terms with the pain and suffering it caused animals. There is so much pain in this world for all creatures, animals and humans alike, that I felt it immoral (not that I think those who eat meat are immoral; I respect their decision as I hope they do mine) to inflict even more pain upon the animals when it was unnecessary. No, the lion is not cruel when it kills a gazelle, because it is only trying to survive. However, when a human has the choice not to kill an animal, I felt it right not to do so. I have supported Troy Davis because in addition to being a truly inspirational person in my life, I realized that he was one of the people who have been wronged by our country. To be placed on death row when serious doubts about your crime exists is as inhuman as the torture that our government still commits against others. I support him because I know that if I can make the world less painful for others, I have fulfilled my purpose in life.
This exposition may appear to be depraved, cynical, and sadistic in many regards, but nothing could be further from the truth. By recognizing the darkness of our past, we can appreciate how far we’ve come. The world is a kinder place than it has ever been before, and it is becoming a better place. People are realizing the inherent rights we as sentient beings deserve. What gives me hope is that we have the intelligence to change ourselves. We are more than the sum of our natural instincts, and we have the will not to give in to all of our instincts and urges, a monumental feat. If we can defy gravity and place a man on a celestial body, then we can change ourselves. And if we can learn from the past and look to the future, if we can recognize the true value of kindness, humanity, and compassion, there is no limit to what we can achieve.”
These are my true feelings about human nature, though perhaps they are a bit cynical. I hope I will get a chance to see you soon and speak to you in person.
Love your adopted nephew,
Gautam R. Narula