As everyone knows, the western states of the U.S. have been besieged with wildfires. Even though they are not raging in Seattle, as I look out my window (Sept 13 2020) It looks like someone had a heyday with a feather duster in a house that has been closed for half a century. I can see the particles in the air! I was going to go for a walk today but maybe I won’t even open my door at all. The trash will definitely have to wait.
A friend of mine told me that her brothers’ home had been spared the fire because they had gone out with some equipment and put a fire line around the house. (I may not know the exact terminology, sue me.) The house had been spared from the fire, but now it was under threat from the looters.
Instead of, say, HELPING, the situation, people are running around helping themselves to other people’s property like they’re at an all-you-can-carry close-out sale. The owners had to rush out to the property to protect it from the dumbasses.
Side Note: It seems like an easy choice, your life, or your property. But in reality, people are really attached to their homes and the things that are inside their homes. They tend to be a part of them as a person. I’m going to Omaha for the election, and I’m setting it up so that if necessary, I don’t have to come back to Seattle. But it breaks my heart to even think about the idea I may never see my books, or my pretties (artwork, ornaments, etc..) again. So, I get it.
The story of that property was the final straw for me. I had been thinking about this topic ever since Seattle went crazy. What is the topic? What is the question?
What does it mean to be Human?
We live in a world of assumptions, categories, labels, and this helps us navigate the world easier. It would be really hard to live if every single thing we did had to be considered deeply. “Humm, should I go to the bathroom right now?” Like learning to drive a car, it becomes a habit. And then we don’t have to think about it anymore.
What are we really? We are Homo Sapiens. We are primates. We are a species of animals.
The assumption is that all Homo Sapiens are also Human. Even the Latin translation of Homo Sapiens implies this. The translation is “wise man”.
But is it true that all Homo Sapiens are Humans?
Being Human (Part 1)
What do we think of when we think of being a Human? If you start looking through dictionaries, you can find…
According to Merriam-Webster:
Human (Adjective) – 1) of, relating to, or characteristic of Humans, 2) consisting of or involving Humans 3) having Human form or attributes, representative of or susceptible to the sympathies and frailties of Human nature
Human (noun) – a bipedal primate mammal (Homo sapiens) : a person
Look at those two definitions again. The noun defines us as an animal, indirectly, with the “a person” definition is a circular definition. Person = Human and Human = Person. It doesn’t tell us a thing.
The adjective refers mainly to “Human” which as we have already seen, doesn’t tell us a damn thing.
Let’s look at another word:
Humanity – 1) compassionate, sympathetic, or generous behavior or disposition : the quality or state of being Humane 2) the quality or state of being Human
With the exception of #2, this gets us a little closer to what we tend to think of when we think of being Human. Good qualities. Qualities that are enlightened. Qualities that set us apart from the animals. These include:
- Reasoning ability
- Ability to learn
- Ability to extrapolate
- Ability to sacrifice
- Ability to make decisions
- And many more…
Homo Sapiens are Both
Homo Sapiens are in the unenviable, and problematic, position of being animals, and having the potential for being Humans.
- Live at a survival level
- Primal needs are primary (food, water, shelter, safety, status, procreation, bodily needs, etc…)
- Do not have the computer-like brain power that Humans have
- Follow innate urges and compulsions
- Unless it’s innate, like squirrels hoarding food, don’t plan for the future
- And of course, many others…
We are all animals at our core. The more we are threatened, the more likely we are to regress to the animal state.
We also have the potential for being Human. Almost everyone I have met aspires to go beyond their animal nature.
- People want to be good
- People want to be seen as good by others
- We have many concepts (see above) of what that means
We want very much to rise above our animal state and ascend. Become enlightened. Be our best.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but the more people learn, the more good they do, the more “enlightened” they believe they’ve become; the more judgmental they also become, the more they see other people as lesser beings, and the more superior they act.
This is because the animal side of Homo Sapiens gets in the way of true ascendance. Here’s how I think it goes:
- We start out at the animal level our Primal needs being primary (food, water, shelter, safety, status, procreation, bodily needs, etc…)
- When those are satisfied, we move up Maslow’s Hierarchy and start heading for self-actualization.
- As we learn, grow, and do good, we feel really good about ourselves.
- The animal part of ourselves looks at this and realizes that this is a good way to ensure our primal needs continue to be met.
- Read the statement above again…
- The animal in us has evolved, just a bit, to be able to use our Human progress in order to achieve it’s own animal needs.
We don’t see it. We don’t see it because we are so focused on the good things we are doing, and how much we’ve learned, and how it’s much easier to meditate now that we’ve “become enlightened”.
The things we have done to better ourselves is now used to service the animal side. You end up with:
- People using their education and experiences to feel superior to others (status)
- People using their education and experiences to take more than they need (food, water, shelter)
- People using their education and experiences to get the best mate they can (procreation)
- People using their education and experiences to justify attacks or even genocide (safety)
And they don’t even know it. They have deluded themselves into thinking that they are somehow higher being. They think they have gone beyond being the animal. They can’t see how they have allowed themselves to regress back to their animal state.
It’s the Road to Hell. The “Paved with Good Intentions” part is the delusion afflicting us.
Throughout history we have seen it:
- Labeling groups as “animals” to justify genocide
- Hurting, pressuring, or bullying group members in the name of “good” in order to acquire more status and power
- Using biology to justify racism
- Using all that “good” to condemn and damn anyone who doesn’t conform
Side Note: In Seattle, the vandals/rioters have regressed to their animal state. They don’t see it because they are using Human reasoning, abet faulty reasoning, to justify their actions. Other people don’t see it because the it all started with a good vision – ending racism.
Being Human (Part 2)
“You dare suggest that a duke’s son is an animal?” he demanded?
“Let us say I suggest you may be Human,” she said.
-Dune by Frank Herbert
I was struck by those lines back when I first read the book back in the 80s, and I’ve re-read it many times. It stuck with me. It informed my life.
Being Human is a complicated thing. I believe that it’s an on-going and never-ending process. You have to be alert and aware of what you’re doing. You have to be vigilant.
Being Human starts out with admitting to the animal side. Being able to see your own animal side can help you when you end up in a bad situation. If you know you tend to react violently when questioned about anything because you feel you’re threatened in some way, you can take that into account when choosing your reaction. You can do the Human thing.
Next, being Human means being aware that the animal side IS the default. That going beyond the animal in us is a higher aspiration. It’s a practice, like meditation or piano. This means giving ourselves a break when we lapse, because we will lapse.
Finally, being Human is to realize, and live with, the fact that although our potential is unlimited and our brains are so powerful, we have bugs in our systems that can be exploited by the animal side. We have the creativity and imagination to convince ourselves that something is good and right when it’s not. This is the most dangerous part.
A Moral Core
Just using our brains is not enough to determine how to act. I believe we also need a moral core. Something to hang onto when we are making choices. Something that will prompt us to ask the question “Is what I’m planning to do truly good?”
Now, I don’t follow any institutionalized religions, although I have respect for most of them. But there is one list that I find very useful when thinking about what I’m doing:
The Seven Deadly Sins
Almost every bad thing anyone has ever done has come from one of these sins.
- Vandals/Rioters – Greed, Wrath, Envy, and Lust, with some Pride thrown in.
- Corrupt Corporations – Greed, Lust, Gluttony
- Disloyal friends and family – Envy, Lust, Pride, Greed
- Bad cops/bad authority figures – Pride, Wrath, Lust
Think about it.
And think about what you do. Is what you’re planning to do coming from the Seven Deadly Sins? Is it coming from some primal need? Is your action actually the wrong one?
Are you deluding yourself?
What is your moral core? What are you not willing to do? What are your values? Is belonging to that group worth the loss of your integrity? Maybe it is. Do you truly believe that killing that person is for the best? Maybe you feel you have no choice. But make the choice yourself. Don’t convince yourself an action is good when it’s not. Don’t skip merrily down the Road to Hell.
Stand for yourself and your values.
Ending Note: It’s now Sept 19th and the rains have finally come, washing away the smoke. If only we could as easily wash away the rest.