My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

My ebook
Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
" is available at
this link

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The ABC of the Human Condition: Part 2

What are we?

The first question we need to answer before we realize what is important or not important for us is to understand what we are. Readers would be well versed with the facts that we are Homo sapiens coming from the lines of the likes of Homo erectus from Homo ergaster and so on. Many would also be familiar how our genes have more than 90% similarity with that of many other mammals. We seem to suffer from similar diseases and similar emotions as many animals. Like male bowerbirds decorate their nests to attract females, our males often buy $100,000 Swiss watches to entice women to nest with them. We often cannot get along with our step children, rather similar to the lions. Like chimpanzees, we are capable of showing extreme empathy towards our own social groups while organizing pogroms on others. So, nothing exceptional, from a lot of life that we see on National Geographic. Even our well publicized ability to alter atmospheric composition is rather similar to that of cyanobacteria whose oxygen belching habits drastically altered the earth. At the same time, there is enough divergence from the closest species, courtesy of our ability for complex thinking, resulting in megalithic art all the way to inflatable dolls. In essence, what we are is defined broadly by the interaction of these two forces at play, our basic animal instincts and our complex thinking.

At the same time, while our innate animal instincts are acquired at conception, our complex thoughts rely a lot on our understanding and reaction to complex thoughts of others, and thus affected by our conditioning, inclinations, and our intelligence. So while everyone can hate an immigrant laborer instinctively, not everyone can be aware of or appreciate the Cobbs-Douglas function. As a result, while our basic animal instincts are rather universal; the results of our complex thoughts, the political systems, the religious systems, the economic systems, or even the arts and culture vary immensely. Our preferences for each of these systems also vary at an individual level. The other factor that distinguishes these two forces at play is that while animal instincts through genes have influenced our and our ancestor’s lives for as long as life has been around, complex thoughts probably originated only 30,000 years ago, as evident from cave art. And civilization is less than 10,000 year old.

This explains why numerous belief systems have come and gone without establishing a permanent foothold. Even Judaism, one of the oldest contemporary religions, is rather young compared to shamanistic religions in Africa. In addition, the strong inertia arising out of our basic animal instincts continues to severely impact our social, cultural, economic and political systems. As a result, feminism has failed to disrupt patriarchal structures on a wider scale. Capitalism, the system most aligned with our basic animal instincts, has dominated our civilized history, in various allied forms, feudalism, master-slave systems, etc. We still rarely question the institution of the family, one of the greatest hindrances to human equality, and as some might argue, to human freedom. At the same time, there has indeed been a general trend in history. Greater education, scientific developments, ever increasing recognition of human rights and human equality; despite occasional blips, has been the general direction for human nature. At the same time, socio-political-economic systems have slowly but surely become more evolved and complex. This shows that the force of complex thinking has been gradually having a larger influence on our lives.

All this means that human history is too short to declare conclusively the superiority of any ideological system. But it will always be. Even when our basic animal instincts are completely overwhelmed by our complex thinking, one wave of complex thought will always be under threat from the next. In other words, there will never be a utopia, for there will always be a better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hardly intellectual. merely a verbiage of trivia sewn together to make sense. nonetheless insightful.