Syndrome: Some diseases and disorders resist definition. They are characterized by a shifting constellation of difficulties rather than a fixed list of symptoms. (Think: chronic fatigue.) Syndromes have an internal synergy that makes them tricky to recognize and treat. It can be hard to discern the syndrome’s causes from its effects, or to understand which effects of some of the causes cause new effects which cause the worst effects of all.
Mankind. That’s everybody, right? All of humanity. Sure, there’s the problematic “man” in there, but it’s the kind of man that stands in for “people.” Humankind, if you will. Everybody. Us, and even them. Right?
One of the symptoms of Mankind Syndrome is hearing or repeating the phrase “for all mankind” without a frisson of dys-recognition shimmering through the nervous system.
Mankind Syndrome has been an affliction of powerful white men since the dawn of western civilization. But it isn’t necessarily about men. Or white people.
Mankind Syndrome is an affliction of the belief system. It is the notion that certain beliefs are so reasonable and self-evident that they can be construed as facts that apply to “all mankind.” Under the delusions of Mankind Syndrome, someone can think it possible for one person to know what creates meaning for all humans.
One who is afflicted with Mankind Syndrome is convinced that there is an optimal way to be human and a best way to organize human societies. Hobbled by Mankind Syndrome, a person ponders the problems that beset “all mankind” and aims for solutions that will benefit anyone who belongs to that group.
Mankind Syndrome circumscribes how origin stories, moralities, and theories of the invisible bring meaning and coherence to life. It recognizes only a subset of the possibilities as worthwhile.
Mankind Syndrome propagates and maintains itself in language, cultural symbols and behavior. It manifests through information that is disseminated and information that is ridiculed, suppressed, and unnoticed. Among its favorite horses to ride are words like “we” and “us.”
For instance, in Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees, a wide-ranging work that explores the role of wild bees in the environment and the imagination, wildlife biologist Thor Hanson describes the bee-hunting tactics of the Hazda people of Tanzania and speculates on the importance of honey in their overall nutrition. Because the Hazda are “people getting their nutrition from a subsistence way of life in the same location where our species arose,” he concludes, “they have much to teach us.”
Hanson comes off as an intelligent, compassionate guy. His isn’t the voice of some arrogant ethnocentrist. But–Us?
Who is this “us?” Does it include the Hazda? Will they be learning, or just teaching? How much of what “us” needs to be taught do “they” already know? Who writes the curriculum? What about “our species?” This would be the species that belongs to “us?” It’s unclear whether the Hazda own it, too.
Mankind Syndrome shrinks whatever it touches. It invites comparison and thus erodes a person’s confidence. It can make people disappear altogether. And when they disappear, who is it that can’t see them?
The pain of Mankind Syndrome radiates beyond those whose thinking processes are crimped by it. Daily, Mankind Syndrome injures many pegs of many shapes by shaving away any aspect that is irrelevant to the square holes slapped on top of them.