HOW WE VIEW THE WORLD
By Roland Watson
In the last article, I covered human needs. Now I will consider the implications of the ways in which we satisfy them.
A frank appraisal
To begin, for all of our advantages as a life form, we also have many disadvantages. Among the most important of these: we are slow, and weak, and not only in physical strength, but also in the power of our senses.
Life is a fight, and in a fight speed and strength are what count. Compared to other life forms, which in many ways were our competitors, we had neither. It is a wonder that we survived at all.
We compensated for our weaknesses with our opposable thumb, our ability to hold tools, or weapons - weapons, after all, are the ultimate tools, and our highly-developed brains. Indeed, our brains evolved to be able to conceive of, and construct, these tools and weapons.
It is a very dangerous precedent, from which we are still suffering and remain at great risk, that the earliest uses of science and technology were in weapons production. The stone, bronze and iron ages, respectively, were defined by the fact that in them men created, and used, stone, bronze and iron weapons.
It is also a significant form that it was men who did the bulk of the weapons creation, and that men for the most part remain in power today. Men, even in the present day, are regularly preoccupied with war, with defense, and offense, to a far greater extent than women. A woman's primary traditional preoccupation was with defense, of her person, and even more so, of her children.
Hostility towards other life
The approaches that we have used to satisfy our needs have also led to our approach to the environment in which we do so. By this I mean, our views of the natural world, and of the other species that inhabit it.
In general, this view can be described as one of hostility, or at best indifference. It is no accident that the great task to which technology has been applied since the Industrial Revolution has been the taming of nature. Technology has been used as a weapon against nature, to control it, and to make it more pliable and accommodating to our needs.
Man is weak. It is very hard for us to catch and kill wild things to eat, because the defenses they have evolved are so effective. Therefore, when we do accomplish it, it is a big event. I can add, if you doubt this, you should live in a hunter/gatherer village for a while.
Also, the focus of the celebration is on us, the heros and victors. In most communities, both traditional and modern, there is little or no consideration given to the vanquished, to the dead animal, except perhaps that it tastes good. It is only in rare cultural circumstances, such as with the bison and certain Native American groups, that the prey is - or was - also celebrated.
Through this process, the other form of life is totally deprived of value, with the exception of its role as human sustenance.
Finally, since it is so hard to kill, whenever man got, or gets, the opportunity, he kills with a frenzy, kills more in fact than he can use, and lets the rest go to waste.
The balance has tipped
Today, we are no longer weak, because of the technology we have invented. This has tipped the ecological balance, and overpowered the defenses of other forms of life.
However, our psychology remains the same. It has not evolved. We have not developed a sense of humility to match our new power.
So, we continue to kill, whenever we can, but now it is regularly an orgy. Now we kill so much that little gets away, little survives in our wake. This in turn means that if we persist in acting this way, in the long run we will kill everything that we need to survive, and then we will die.
As I concluded in the last article, in many ways humans are a primitive and ignorant species. But, if you do not agree with this, consider that we bankrupt ourselves to fight wars, rather than live in peace; and that we judge people solely on the basis of irrelevant details, such as their skin color or sexual orientation.
One basis for our primitive attributes is the behavioral trait of killing that I have just described. But, there is a physical reason as well. Humans have evolved from predecessor species, a process that has been underway for literally billions of years.
During this time our DNA has also evolved, new genes have been added, but, our old genes have not been eliminated. Our DNA contains many of the genes from our predecessor species, including genes that drive savage behavior.
I believe it is possible that in situations of great life stress we call upon these genes; they remain active and available for our use. And, when we do so we effectively "de-evolve." We temporarily abandon our higher needs, and concentrate all of our resources, with wild abandon, solely on the need to survive. I can also comment that this de-evolution can be caused by extreme social forms as well.
What I am driving at here, is that humans are not so different from other species. We already saw that there is not much difference between us as individual humans. There's not much difference between us and other forms of life, either. We live in the world of kill or be killed, too, and we are predators: carnivores. We kill other life all the time.
All species have the instincts to live and to procreate, which is the source of selfishness, which makes them the center of the universe, and indifferent to the suffering of others. And, this is not only of other species, but also of other members of their own species. We share this trait as well.
As George Orwell said in his great work, Animal Farm, "Man serves the interests of no creature except himself."
The other side of our lack of appreciation for other forms of life is our high opinion of ourselves, which I term human chauvinism. In a formal context, this is also referred to as anthropocentrism, or more generally as speciesism.
However, I believe that the use of anthropocentric misses the aspect that we think we are better than other species, and that we therefore should dominate them. "Chauvinism" captures this sentiment.
Of course, in many ways we are different from other forms of life. We have a far broader range of behavior, and role specialization. We can, in a way, experience more of life.
This is because we have a more advanced form of consciousness. And this in turn is based on the differences in our brain. Our frontal cortex is much larger, and our brain also has lateralization, or specialization between its hemispheres.
We are not so special
We have developed the tool of communicating with symbols, which we use in many ways including to understand our environment, to make plans, and to solve problems. But, we are not alone in our ability to execute plans, or even to use symbolic reasoning and language. We share these traits with gorillas and chimpanzees, and perhaps other species as well.
Indeed, we are for the most part ignorant of the nature of the consciousness, the state of mental development, of these and other mammals such as elephants, dolphins and whales. Furthermore, given the systemic limitations on understanding that I described in my theory of knowledge, we are doomed to stay this way. Inter-species communication will never reach fluency.
For instance, the social behavior of the great apes, of chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas, is not so different from that of humans with traditional hunter/gatherer lifestyles. All of these groups allocate a fair amount of time to feeding, and to grooming each other, and they regularly get involved in romances and petty disputes. We are not so special after all.
Let's also not ignore the similarity of our behavior to that of dogs, particularly of dogs who live in environments where their behavior is not constrained. Dogs are territorial, and they seek to protect and increase their territory by killing off threats. Strong dogs attack weaker dogs, and if they don't kill them then other dogs in the strong dog's pack move in to finish them off. Humans do the same. To this we can add the way male dogs fight over female dogs, when the latter come into heat. And, the female dogs accept this.
Of course, it is not only the negative traits that we share. Dogs have personality, which varies greatly by individual. They feel a variety of emotions, and they also have dreams.
They feel happiness - some researchers even believe that they laugh, as well as loyalty, and power, and also desire, fear and sadness.
And, to continue, some of our other unique attributes are not so worthy of commendation. Only man kills for sport, and tortures, and acts irrationally.
Finally, one other way in which we are different, which is also evidence of our "higher" form of consciousness, is that we can reject our instincts. Some species, under conditions of duress, will choose not to procreate - this is the case with many animals in zoos. It is only humans, though, lemmings and beached whales notwithstanding, who as individuals choose not to survive, by committing suicide.
Of course, just because we are different doesn't make us better. Under what system of judgment could we possibly reach the conclusion that we are better? The answer is: Our own system of judgment, which by definition is fundamentally biased and self-serving.
In the next article, I will further define the human experience.
© Roland Watson 2014