Friday, August 22, 2008

The Fallacy of Human Nature: Part One

Imagine standing alone on the edge of the ocean at dawn, watching the sunrise over water that expands into what seems like forever, sparkling with a myriad of colors warm and cold. The sand beneath you, still cool, adjusts obligingly as you shift your weight unconsciously from one foot to the other, the gentle morning breeze carrying the salt smell of the seas to you. It feels as though you stand at the edge of a precipice, at the end of the world sailor’s once feared. The waves rise and fall, washing in and out, endlessly, as they have long before you were born and will long after our race is a memory on time.

To some, this image is beautiful, a powerful reminder that we are part of something perfect and balanced and immense. To others, to many, it triggers a deeply ingrained terror at the sudden realization of how small we truly are in comparison to the world, how alone we can feel when not bolstered by the swells of population. There is an old proverb that says we can truly measure the peace in our hearts by standing at the edge of something greater and being thankful for the reminder of our place in the world.

So what is our place in the world? As a species, we have done all we can to convince ourselves that we are the rulers of the world, the top of the food chain. Not only that, but we have taken on the mantle of lordship over all, subjugating what we can and attempting to destroy the rest. Our ancestors would find this idea laughable. A cog, after all, however integral to its function, does not solely drive the machine and, if removed, becomes useless and inert. Frightening as it may be, the machine can go on without us. Our spot at the top is not a permanent position for us any more so than it was for any species that came before.

We are, however, at the top now and we reap the benefits that are our due. The problem, of course, is that we seek to shirk the responsibilities that come along with the rewards. We call ourselves Kings because we are afraid to be what we truly are; Stewards, accountable for the well-being of the world over which we rule. We have lingered in our youth too long, delaying the inevitable to the point of self-destruction. It is time that we grow up.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Fallacy of Human Nature: A Rough Thesis

Human Nature is used to justify the atrocities of mankind, yet at the same time its inherent capability for higher reasoning disassociates itself from its surroundings. In order to reap the privileges of civilization and station at the top of the world, humanity must also accept the responsibilities of that stewardship.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Fallacy of Human Nature: An Introduction

The Fallacy of Human Nature


Humanity is a strange creature. When we began, we were like all the other inhabitants of the Earth, which is to say that we took a passive role in the eco-system, hunting what we needed, when we needed it, and moving to make sure that there was always food on the table enough for everyone. We found our place in the world and accepted it. After awhile, higher intellect took over and we started to wonder why we had to move around, following the food, when we could simply make the food stay in one place with a few simple structures. Thus was the first major shift in mankind’s development; the agrarian revolution.

Now that we’d settled down, we found a small measure more security than once we had. Because of this, we found more time to develop other aspects of ourselves, as the basic needs were being met. We started to question the world and our place within it. Such is the burden of reason, after all, and mankind was blessed with more of this than any other creature. We were not the strongest, the fiercest, or the most well-suited to our world, but we were, above all others, the most clever.

Over the years, we looked back at who we were before the revolution, when we moved from season to season to suit the whims of nature. In the beginning, we were almost certainly wistful of that freedom. Man is, after all, inherently prone to wander. This is true even today. Think back to the college road trips that seemed like they would go on forever or the excitement of the annual family vacation. But we put that aside in favor of better things.

Then, perhaps because it is the way of children, and we, as a species, were children, we became resentful of the thing we felt we wanted but could no longer have. So we told ourselves how much better off we were now, how hard it was then, and how this made us more than we had been. We used fear to destroy our need for adventure. This, too, is something we continue to do today. When we graduate, we’re expected to relegate the road trips to the realm of fond memory, told that we must buckle down and put such childish things behind us, lest we risk our livelihood, our security.

After awhile, we realized that things were easier if we lived together. By being in easy reach of our neighbors, we could trade, allowing us to specialize in the things we enjoyed doing. We created villages, then towns, then cities, areas of the world claimed by humanity for its sole usage. Nature was pushed to the outskirts or built over as we created homes and markets and factories. It, like the animals before, was put under control. We figured out how to make complex irrigation systems, created tools to do more work with less energy, and the farm as we know it became the foundation of our world.

Specialization and ingenuity led to industry, which not only pushed us further from the natural world, but began to abuse it. We saw ourselves as completely separate now, lords over the lesser creatures. We called the untamed parts of the world dangerous and, again, it came back to fear. We taught our children that civilization was the only safe place, despite the starving masses that were the by-product of a culture built upon the ideals of industry. We began to use our reason, our cleverness, to twist not only the world, but reality to our ends.

Today, in the adolescence of our species, we are, like most adolescents, unsure of our place in the world and torn between what we feel is the truth deep in our bones and what we’re told is the truth by those we’ve always been taught know better. So we wander through our lives, lost to the fact that we’re lost. We have no compass save for a strange echo of who we once were. We’ve spent so much time trying to carve out a place for ourselves in the world that we no longer know who we are as a species. We try desperately to quell that voice inside that whispers that there is more to life than survival.

Thousands of years after we began to whisper to our children that we must be separate, that we must rise higher than the world around us, we continue to do so. Now, however, the world around us tends to be other people, so we try to push ourselves above them, hurting one another out of the ancient fear that we will be left behind, that we will lose our security. The irony, of course, is that if we ceased trying to constantly best our fellow Man and push forward, there would be nothing to fear. In the beginning, we understood that. We worked together, symbiotic rather than the parasites we’ve become, feeding off not only the world, but also now our own species for fear that if we relent, if we stop for even a moment, we will become food for another.

Thus we commit horrible atrocities in the name of countless twisted virtues and philosophies. We allow fear to mutate, to fester and thrive. It becomes anger, hatred, and all the darkest parts of humanity. It tells us that it’s either us or them, and that it can never be both. What’s more, fear has finally reached a point where it has overcome reason. We stand on the brink of disaster, not only of our species, but of our world as a whole.

Where do we go from here? If we are to reach adulthood, as a species, we must use our singular talent, our intellect, for the greater good, rather than the personal good. In order to do so, we must let go of much of what we believe about the world, turn and face our fears, many of which are real now solely as the result of our giving them life. Finally, we must let them go and try to find a place again in the world.