Wednesday July 18, 2018

Look what you made me do

WE HUMANS have been changing natural and cultural landscapes ever since the evolution of our species. Change is our driving force. We change the world around us so it fits our needs and preferences, and we change ourselves – our beliefs, our behaviors, our appearances – to fit into the molds of society we have created.

One doesn’t have to look far to see that changes brought about by human impact could be destructive. Our current battlecry for development in this country is “Build, Build, Build!” oftentimes overlooking side effects because we put high regard to infrastructure as an indicator of the quality of life.

We’re planning bridges to connect island economies, while forgetting that we are trespassing into homes of other species. We’re talking about fast trains and new airports, to make everything faster and accessible, while not seeing displacement of local people and their cultures and ecosystems.

Trending worldwide now is the face of Xander Ford, self-proclaimed as the new screen name of Marlou Arizala. The guy himself said, “Marlou is dead. Say hello to Xander.” I have no business judging his decision to undergo cosmetic surgery and change his looks and branding, but this article is contemplation on the human desire to improve, to be better, and to have more.

What’s wrong with progress? Shouldn’t we be happy that we have the ability to transform ourselves and our environment for the better? I wouldn’t be writing this now if not for the changes in the last few decades that brought us the Internet, touch screens and social media.

I use Grab, AirBNB and the newer flight routes of airplanes to go around and spread the work we do in conservation. None of the modern conveniences I enjoy will exist if we doubted development, technology, and pioneering outlooks in terms of how we humans live our lives.

Back to Xander Ford. I do not mean to equate his facelift to the facelift of our environments and lifestyles. But I’d like it to be a visual allegory of how we define and desire improvement.

Deep in my own heart, I, too, feel that I am not yet the best version of myself. I have to admit that. I feel that my physical form does not express my identity. I want to be healthier. I want to be lighter, more flexible, more able to hold my breath longer and dive deeper in my sport.

I want to have more energy and charisma for work. I also want to be kinder. I will also have to admit that, yes, these wants are also shaped and influenced by external factors, like other people’s acceptance and what I see, hear and read on media.

So I do not have the right to criticize Xander for what he has done. I also cannot truly protest any new bridge or building or port if one day when they’re built I will also use them. We all have this desire – and perhaps, need – for progress. But who sets the standards we rely on to define progress and what’s good and beautiful? Xander said when he posted a photo of his post-surgery look: “People never really liked me for who I am, because I was never what they wanted to be.”

And so what after we achieve the facelifts we want? Will we ever come to a point that we’re satisfied, contented, and happy? These are questions I do ask myself. Perhaps a lot of you have also had moments thinking about what your true form is, what you want in life, and what would be the place, time and conditions where you can say you have succeeded.

There may be a never-ending cycle of desire – once you get what you want, you’ll want more. Such phenomenon has been discussed long way back by philosophers like Gautama Buddha 500 years B. C. These still remain true, also to our views on development and technology.

Elon Musk just announced his ambitions for point-to-point travel through SpaceX that would allow people to fly from London to Los Angeles in less than an hour. The sky doesn’t seem to be the limit anymore. When do we say we have enough?

My call is for us to ponder on these things. It is never going to be black and white, good or bad, when it comes to change. It is perhaps the most natural thing. But we need to take a deep look into our collective consciousness and see the impacts of the changes we seek.

I believe in this contemplation that despite all the changes – on our bodies or our surroundings – we will know that the most basic of what we need is fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, enough food to eat, and a community – including all the many other species of plants and animals – in harmony on this Earth.