We often take this present world and our own lives for granted because it is all around us. It is difficult to imagine any other. You may believe that the science you learnt at school, the tools you use in your house, the paintings you look at, the language you speak, the wealth, freedoms and rights you enjoy are ‘natural’ and ‘universal’. It’s difficult not to believe that our world was bound to end up like this and it is the natural thing. Yet is this the case?
The visitor from the distant planet would certainly not think you were normal when set against people around the world in the past and present. You are not typical at all. If you were, you would be married and would very soon have several children. Your marriage would have been arranged and romantic love would not have been the basis for choice. You would have spent your childhood from the age of five or six working in the fields.
Now you would be trying to cope with your pregnancy and also spend many hours slaving in the cold and wet or heat and dust. You would be sick almost all the time, suffering from worms in your stomach, septic sores, coughs, diarrhoea. Probably you would have had other more serious diseases such as malaria, or AIDS. Many of your close relatives would have died when you were a child.
You would lead a desperately insecure life. Powerful people would constantly be demanding things from your family. Marauding soldiers might often be causing havoc in your village. You would have no protection from the law. You would be malnourished and often very hungry. You would be uneducated and with no chance of bettering your life. You would be considered inferior to every male you met, including your younger relatives. You might well be shut away behind a wall or a veil, your feet broken when you were a child or your genitals mutilated. You get the picture.
Then think of yourself. You have education, lovely clothes, good food, doctors, dentists and hospitals freely available, loving parents, political and religious freedom. You do not have to slave with your body and you can choose what you want to do in your life, when and whom you will marry, whether to have children. You believe you are equal to any man and that you will live to a ripe old age, benefiting from a pension in a country where there are no secret police and no extortionate landlords to live off you. Above all, you live in peace and free from serious violence and fear.
Yet even with all this, you are often anxious, lonely, confused, undecided about what to do. I hope these Letters will give you a new understanding of the ever-so-human an animal that you are, quite special but with all the fears and uncertainties that are part of being us, the people of one smallish planet circling a dying sun.