Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Thoughts on Human Nature

When I was in college, the school decided that their liberal arts mission would be “Exploring the Human Condition.” I never figured out what that meant when I was there.

But I have a different vibe nowadays. However, it’s not the grandeur that many focus on. It’s not the humanistic achievements that so much of the liberal arts is grounded in. Instead it focuses on the gloomy side. In short I can’t believe the amount of debasement and cruelty we humans are capable of. Examples abound. Medieval tortures and executions, Shariah head and hand choppings, tribal punishments. All that human creativity directed towards hurting each other as painfully as possible is sometimes astounding. Why do we do it?

One answer is that is simply life, or sometimes it is simply war. All that gives me is a yeah but feeling. Yeah but what a crappy answer. That implies that it is simply part of being human. Since that’s the best answer we have, I guess it’ll have to do.

Other, more optimistic folks, will point to the great things humanity has accomplished. But that in no way makes the negative “worth it.” It simply states that the equation balances out. Hmm, that leaves me cold.

Others live in the hallucination that somehow, we moderns, we westerners, are different. Would be nice if it were true. But let’s face it. We’re human too. Our nation started as a religious experiment. How much blood was spilt in pursuit of the city on the hill? Then the US genocidally depopulated the land it wished to occupy. All the while building much of the nation’s wealth on the backs of slaves. This doesn’t make me a US hating liberal. Just an honest guy.

But what does it feel like to experience this stuff? What is the experience of having your ear nailed to a post while you’re whipped, until you are cut free? What is the experience of standing on the verge of the 90th story thinking of your family but knowing you can’t stand the heat another 30 seconds? What is the experience of having a burning coal placed into your kneepit and bound in until it cools – because you ran away from your husband? What is the experience of being a 7 year old girl, watching your family murdered, your little brother raped and murdered, and yourself raped for weeks? What is the experience of watching the cavalry gallop down onto your little village, with your grandparents and your children in the village? What is the experience of hearing the bombers and looking up only to see the world explode as in Hiroshima or Dresden?

I guess this is where god would help. It would feel good to think that there was some greater plan and all this human suffering actually meant something. But what if it is just the nature of humanity? Our cruelty and creation might be no different than other carnivores killing their prey so their young can grow.

That thought will make you existential quickly. Especially realizing that you really have no control at all. Japan invaded China for reasons that no citizen of Nan-King had anything to do with. And in the invasion, butchery and slaughter were the good parts. Imagine the cruelty of having to rape your daughter, which fathers were forced to do. Imagine having to choose which of your children to leave in the school occupied by terrorists in Russia last year. How does someone deal with that? How do you go through life after that? Better to just leap off a bridge.

Then I look at my own kids. All I can think is that if I can help it, not them. But this is knowing that this crazy shit does happen to regular people. On a regular basis. And sometimes it is our people who are doing it.

I don’t know if my alma matter had this pessimistic existentialism in mind when they started exploring the human condition. The existentialism is important though, because in this valley of sorrows, any love, any beauty, any life and creation that can be snatched momentarily from entropy, misery, and nonexistence is beautiful. In short, it’s the little bit that we do have.

No comments: