Monday, April 12, 2010

Human Nature

So, I was planning on doing the second part of the robot list (non-giant) when the Movie Tavern Mug stopped me. It seemed it had a question that it really wanted me to answer.

All right, Mug. Let's see it.

"If you could eliminate any single trait from human nature, what would it be?"

Oh great. A deep question. Grab your pillows and blankets, folks. This could be a while.

So there are plenty of less than noble qualities that exist in mankind. Every Literature class likes to teach the big seven:


The Enneagram of Personality, a psychospirtual model designed to define personality types, add another two "vices" to that list: fear, and deceit. These traits demonstrate some of the worst aspects of humanity, and at their extremes, can be utterly reprehensible. So, elimination of one of these would surely be a benefit to all mankind, right?

Well, slight problem. From another standpoint, you can argue that these traits exist for a reason: when it comes to ensuring survival and the passing down of genes, these vices are damn useful, and have been parts of survival strategies for millennia. Gluttony, envy, and avarice all come from the desire of resources to ensure our own survival and the survival of our offspring. Lust exists because, evolutionarily speaking, your genes have a better chance of surviving if you mate as many times and with as many different partners as possible. Sloth, pure abject laziness, is both the parent and offspring of innovation, as it comes from trying to create a more energetically efficient way to evolutionarily succeed with the resources at hand. Wrath, violent anger, is a simple, runaway version of aggression. Pride can be seen as an excessively long mating display. Fear is a necessary survival response; if you weren't afraid of that rampaging lion, you would be eaten very quickly. And if you don't know how deception is tied to survival, look at all forms of camouflage.

Look at some of the strange examples of success out there in the animal kingdom. There are cuttlefish males who get to mate on the basis of being the biggest, angriest badass in their patch of water, and then there are others who sneak up to the big guy's mate disguised as a female who get to slip in a session or two. Or take brood parasitism; a cuckoo slips an egg into the nest of another bird. The baby cuckoo hatches, and quickly outgrows the other baby birds (or pushes them out of the nest entirely). Because bird parents are wired to put the bulk of their care on the biggest, loudest one of their offspring (honest signals of good health and good genes), the baby cuckoo ends up getting all the food. Or Batesian Mimicry: why go through the trouble to manufacture a toxin when it's so much easier to just produce aposematic coloring similar to that nasty, disgusting guy who lives down the stream a ways?

So, indeed, being a completely amoral, sociopathic, misanthropic bastard who indulges in all manner of heinous acts can, in evolutionary terms, be considered a viable survival strategy. Having trouble finding your own food needed for survival? Kick that guy's ass and take his. Want to reproduce? Lie and cheat your way into bed. Or kick that guy's ass and take his. Being approached by a deadly predator? Pretend you're more dangerous than you are. Or kick that guy's ass and throw him in front of it.

But that implies that humans are not but animals. Are we? Is love no more than an exercise in mate guarding, designed to ensure that only your offspring are produced? Are our innovations simply attempts to ease our chances of survival to mate one more time? Is life no more than, "The guy who gets the most fuzz wins"?

Do we or do we not have souls?

I am not qualified to make that determination for all mankind. I like to think that there's more to us than that. That in this great big world of ours, there's something special about us, that makes us human.

Nor am I qualified to say that, "X should be eliminated from all humans." I don't know. I can't see the whole picture.

I do know, however, what I'd eliminate in myself, had I the power.

I'd rid myself of fears.

Not the big ones, mind you. Not the ones that tell you to get out of the way of that oncoming truck. No, I'd rid myself of the ones that start small, but then grow until they become almost paralyzing. That fear that a task is too damn big, and that in attempting it, you will only hurt yourself and those around you. The fear that telling someone three little words would throw their world into turmoil. Forever would I silence that shadow that creeps in at night to whisper, "You're just no damn good."

Imagine how much I could get accomplished without those nagging little doubts. Imagine how much more I would attempt, how much good I could do, just by not being so afraid. Imagine how much we could ALL accomplish if those voices would just shut up.

But then again, it's a slippery slope. Those fears exist for a reason. Without that terror of being wrong, without that fear of hurting someone I cared about, how long could I be held in check? How long would I still feel remorse? How long would it be before I made my worst nightmares come true?

How long would it be before that spectre I'd banished became the most honest voice of all?

So, my friends, I'm afraid there's no easy answer to what aspects of human nature should be banished entirely. There's just too much to us. We exist as creatures of balance. Still, if we listened to those doubts a little less, maybe the world would be a little better. We wouldn't be weighed down quite so much. Maybe, just maybe, we could fly.

And now you see why I try not to tackle philosophical questions. This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now.


  1. Au contraire! Your philosophical breakdown made a good read

  2. Reminded me in fact of the movie 'Waking Life' (which everyone should def see), in which a guy makes a similar point, considering fear and laziness the chief enemies to human progress