The first 20 pages of the Introduction from
A Species In Denial
by Jeremy Griffith, published 2003
Contents of A Species In Denial by Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, published June 2003, (528 pages).
Foreword by Charles Birch, Emeritus Professor of Biology and Templeton Prize Winner.
Extract: ‘There are two main streams of thought concerning the nature of things including human beings. They can be called the objective stream and the subjective stream…From time to time in history the two streams of understanding meet…In his book A Species In Denial Jeremy Griffith seeks to bring together the two streams of thought…supporters testify to the transforming influence of the [Griffith’s]ideas.’
Introduction—a 62-page introduction to the subject of the human condition.
The Introduction is followed by four extraordinary essays:
Deciphering Plato’s Cave Allegory—an explanation of how a biological understanding of the human condition can liberate humanity from its ‘cave-like’ state of denial.
Resignation—looks at the most important psychological event in human life. If humans are living in a state of deep psychological denial then the question arises, are we born with this denial, and if not, when and how do we adopt it? This essay explains how adolescents begin trying to understand the dilemma of the human condition. However, with humanity unable—until now—to explain this deepest of issues, young people eventually learn they have no choice but to resign themselves to a life of denial.
Bringing Peace To The War Between The Sexes and The Denial-Free History Of The Human Race—some of the deepest wounds in human life have been caused by the lack of understanding in the relationship between men and women. The bitterness, heartache, suffering and the damage to children has been immense. By understanding the human condition, it is now possible to answer these questions and bring peace to the ‘war’ between the sexes—and give a true account of human history.
The Demystification Of Religion—a powerful demonstration of how understanding the human condition and the phenomenon of resignation demystifies previously impenetrable aspects of human life, in particular, the world of religious metaphysics and dogma.
The following is the first 20 pages of the Introduction:
The elephant in our living rooms
Were someone to tell you that humans are unaware of something so significant in their lives that it is the equivalent of them not noticing an elephant in their living room, you would be likely to say they were being absurd. If you were also told that this ‘elephant’ was the underlying cause of all the problems and unhappiness in the world you would no doubt be even more disbelieving. And you would undoubtedly be totally dismissive if you were told humans can now rid themselves of this all-pervasive and troublesome ‘elephant’.
Well, the existence of this ‘elephant in our living room’ is actually true. It is also true that it is the cause of all our fears and worries. In fact this ‘elephant’ stands squarely between where humanity is now and a future for humanity, if there is to be one. Astonishingly enough, it is also true that this mammoth impediment can now be eliminated from human life.
Incredulous as you may be, I and others who have been studying these ideas, know from experience with what is to be presented in this book that before you have finished reading the first few pages you will already have a strong intimation that this ‘elephant’ does indeed exist—and that by the time you have read 10 pages you will be deeply aware of its existence. In fact, after 30 pages you will be saying to yourself that, ‘this is all too true for comfort’. Despite the discomfort, after 60 pages, you will be starting to see how we can at last expunge this monstrous problem from human life.
You are about to embark on a journey where humans have never been able to venture before, right into the very heart of the issue of Page 22 of
Print Edition what it is to be human. It is a truly astonishing journey, and it is exciting—but it is also deeply unsettling; so much so that it will demand all of your courage and capacity for perseverance. Indeed, someone who read the draft of this book said, ‘You should call this book The Truth—If You Want It, because people are going to start reading the book and discover it really is the truth about humans, and they might well find that it is too much for them to cope with, that they prefer to stay living in denial of the truth.’ Retreating to denial will, without doubt, be an initial response for many people. However, it will be a temporary reaction. After some time walking around with the knowledge that, while humans have had no choice up until now other than to live in an extraordinarily dishonest, superficial and, ultimately, humanity-destroying state of denial, knowing that such an existence is no longer necessary, and, furthermore, knowing that living that way is now both pointless and irresponsible, they will return to the book and say, ‘Let’s get on with the task of facing the truth’. Or, if they are not able to confront the truth about humans themselves, they will realise that now that the truth has at last emerged all they have to do is support it over their inclination to live in denial of it, and in time humanity will be free from the denial, and from all the resultant suffering. At last somewhere on Earth the truth about humans exists, it is simply a matter of people defending it now and in time humanity will be free of its immense historic psychosis.
As mentioned, once the truth about humans has emerged denial becomes a pointless, futile occupation. No matter how much the practitioners of the denial try to maintain it, once the truth is out the denial has lost its power. In Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fable, the Emperor’s New Clothes, once the child broke the spell of the deception—pointed out that the emperor was indeed naked—the whole edifice of deception crumbled. A person cannot very well think or say or write anything from a basis of denial that has now lost its currency. Once obsolete, the strategy of denial inevitably becomes ineffective as a strategy for living. As the Jesuit priest and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, said, ‘the Truth has to appear only once…for it to be impossible for anything ever to prevent it from spreading universally and setting everything ablaze’ (Let Me Explain, 1966; trs René Hague & others, 1970, p.159 of 189).
Further, the overall reality is that if humanity is to avoid self-destruction it has nowhere else to go but through the doorway of honesty. Page 23 of
Print Edition The situation is that the truth about humans now exists on Earth, the spell is broken, the hold that humans’ entrenched and once-necessary denial has had over humans is over. The ‘elephant’ is exposed. The truth is out. The ‘game is up’.
Drawing by Jeremy Griffith © Fedmex Pty Ltd 1988
The benefit of persevering with this journey of discovering what it really is to be human will be to arrive at a state of extraordinary freedom. It has to be immediately emphasised that this is not the sort of feel-good freedom that New Age and ‘self-improvement’ gurus promote through artificial forms of motivational reinforcement gained, for instance, from repeating mantras that ‘you have every right to love yourself’, and the like. Nor is it the reinforcement and comfort humans have long derived from religious faith and belief. This is a freedom achieved through being able to at last understand human nature, understand ourselves. It is not dependent on dogma or belief; in fact this ability to understand ourselves brings such a fundamental freedom to the human situation that it takes humans beyond the state where they need dogmatic forms of reinforcement and religious faith and belief. What is to be introduced is a scientific explanation, that is, first principle-based knowledge, but it is science of the most profound form; knowledge that so deeply penetrates the human situation, so completely ends human insecurity, that it actually ends the need for any dogma, mysticism, superstition or abstract metaphysics. It demystifies the concepts in religion and deciphers our myths. The whole human situation will at last be clarified. This is Page 24 of
Print Edition an astonishing claim, but nevertheless before you have read many pages into this book you will be discovering that it is true.
At the core of the issue of what it is to be human lies a subject that humans have traditionally found impossible to confront. It is this all-important yet unconfrontable subject that is the ‘elephant in our living room’. While it is the core, all-important issue that must be addressed if the truth about humans is to be uncovered, it is nevertheless an issue that has been so deeply distressing and depressing that for almost 2 million years humans have had no choice other than to live in almost complete denial of it. In fact so dominating has this practice of denial been in human life that if there were any enlightened intelligence in outer space it would likely regard us as ‘that species that is living in denial’. Indeed humans live in such denial and, as a result, are separated from their true situation and true selves to such an extent, that we could also be known throughout the universe as ‘the estranged or alienated ones’.
The question then is, what is this overwhelmingly daunting subject, this ‘elephant in our living room’, that at a conscious level humans are almost totally unaware of? It is the subject of the human condition.
So daunting has this subject of the human condition been that we have rarely ever referred to it. For example, while ‘human nature’ appears in dictionaries, ‘human condition’ never does. Only in moments of extreme profundity did we even mention the topic, and even then it was only ever a glancing reference. For example, in the mission statement of a philanthropic organisation in America called the Fetzer Foundation there are lofty words about the foundation’s dedication to research, education and service, and spliced in amongst them are these words: ‘as we press toward unique frontiers at the edge of revolutionary breakthroughs in the human condition’. Humans have lived in such deep denial of the issue of the human condition that when they encounter the term ‘human condition’ many think it refers to the state of poverty or disease that afflicts much of humanity. If you search ‘human condition’ on the Internet most references interpret it as being to do with humans’ physical predicament rather than with humans’ psychological predicament, which, as will become clear, is its real meaning.
What is the human condition?
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The greatest of all paradoxes is the riddle of human nature. Humans are capable of immense love and sensitivity, but we have also been capable of greed, hatred, brutality, rape, murder and war. This raises the question, are humans essentially good and if so what is the cause of this evil, destructive, insensitive and cruel side? The eternal question has been why ‘evil’? In metaphysical religious terms, what is ‘the origin of sin’?
More generally, if the universally accepted ideals are to be cooperative, loving and selfless—they are the ideals accepted by modern civilisations as the basis for their constitutions and laws and by the founders of all the great religions as the basis of their teachings—why then are humans competitive, aggressive and selfish? What is the reason for humans’ divisive nature? Does this inconsistency with the ideals mean that humans are essentially bad? Are we a flawed species, a mistake—or are we possibly divine beings?
The agony of being unable to answer this question of why humans are the way they are, divisively instead of cooperatively behaved, has been the particular burden of human life. It has been our species’ particular affliction or condition, the ‘human condition’.
In fact the fundamental issue of human life, the issue of humans’ divisive nature, has been so troubling and ultimately depressing that humans eventually learnt that the only practical way of coping was to stop thinking about it, block the whole issue from their minds. So depressing was the subject of the human condition that humans learnt to avoid even acknowledging its existence, despite the fact that it was the real issue before us as a species. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein made the point in his now-famous line, ‘About that which we cannot speak, we must remain silent’ (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, ch.7, 1921).
If we call the embodiment of the ideals that sustain our society ‘God’, then humans have been a ‘God-fearing’ species—people living in fear and insecurity, made to feel guilty as a result of their inconsistency with the cooperative, loving, selfless ideals. The human predicament, or condition, is that humans have had to live with a sense of guilt—although, as is explained in my earlier books Free: The End Of The Human Condition (1988) and Beyond The Human Condition (1991), a sense of guilt that was undeserved. (Note: these books will be Page 26 of
Print Edition referred to as Free and Beyond throughout this book. Also, the full text of both Free and Beyond are presented on the website <>.) Whenever humans tried to understand why there was such divisiveness and, in the extreme, ‘evil’ in the world, and indeed in themselves, they couldn’t find an answer and were eventually forced to put the question out of their minds. Humans coped with their sense of guilt by blocking it out, sensibly avoiding the whole depressing issue. T.S. Eliot recognised our species’ particular frailty, which was having to live psychologically in denial of the issue of the human condition, when he said that ‘human kind cannot bear very much reality’ (Four Quartets, Burnt Norton, 1936).
It is a measure of how accomplished humans have become at overlooking the hypocrisy of human life and blocking out the question it raises of their guilt or otherwise that, although they are surrounded by that hypocrisy, they fail to recognise it or the question it raises. Revealingly, while adults now fail to recognise the paradox of human behaviour, children in their naivety still do. They ask, ‘Mum why do you and Dad shout at each other?’; ‘why are we going to a lavish party when that family down the road is poor?’; ‘why is everyone so lonely, unhappy and preoccupied?’; ‘why are people so artificial and false?’; ‘why do men kill one another?’; and ‘why did those people fly that plane into that building?’ The truth is that these are the real questions about human life, as this quote, attributed to George Wald, points out, ‘The great questions are those an intelligent child asks and, getting no answers, stops asking’ (mentioned in Arthur Koestler’s 1967 book The Ghost in the Machine, p.197 of 384). The reason children ‘stopped asking’ the real questions—stopped trying to point out the ‘elephant’, the issue of the human condition—was because they eventually realised that adults couldn’t answer their questions, and, in fact, were made distinctly uncomfortable by them.
The truth is, the hypocrisy of human behaviour is all around us. Two-thirds of the people in the world are starving while the rest bathe in material security and continually seek more wealth and luxury. Everywhere there is extreme inequality between individuals, sexes, races and even generations. When a woman pointed out on a radio talk-back program that, ‘we can get a man on the moon, but a woman is still not safe walking down the street at night on her own’, she was acknowledging the hypocrisy of human life.
Humans can be heartbroken when they lose a loved one but are also capable of shooting one of their own family. We will dive into Page 27 of
Print Edition raging torrents to help others without thought of self but are also capable of molesting children. We torture one another but are also so loving we will give our life for another. A community will pool its efforts to save a kitten stranded up a tree and yet humans will also ‘eat elaborately prepared dishes featuring endangered animals’ (Time mag. 8 Apr. 1991). We have been sensitive enough to create the beauty of the Sistine Chapel, yet so insensitive as to pollute our planet to the point of threatening our own existence.
Good or bad, loving or hateful, angels or devils, constructive or destructive, sensitive or insensitive, what are we? Throughout our history, we have struggled to find meaning in the awesome contradictions of the human condition. Neither philosophy nor science has, until now, been able to give a clarifying explanation. For their part, religious assurances such as ‘God loves you’ may offer comfort but do not explain why we are lovable.
The real problem on Earth is humans’ predicament or condition of being insecure, unable to confront, make sense of and deal with the dark side of human nature. The real struggle for humans has been a psychological one.
The agony of the human condition
So necessary has denial of the issue of the human condition been that it is only when moved to extreme profundity that humans have acknowledged this underlying insecurity about whether they are at base good or evil beings. There have been innumerable books written about humans’ capacity for good and evil, but what will become clear as you read on is that very, very few people have been able to face down and grapple with the core issue of what it really is to be human; actually confront the dilemma of the human condition. The following few examples constitute almost the entire collection of such profound moments that I have found in the 27 years since 1975, when I first started to actively write about the human condition. (The handful of examples that are not included here, particularly examples from the writings of Olive Schreiner and Albert Camus, are mentioned elsewhere in this book.) The rarity of examples indicate just how difficult a subject the human condition has been for the human mind to approach. You will notice that it required the capabilities of Page 28 of
Print Edition some of the world’s most gifted writers to manage even to allude to the subject.
In 1988 Time magazine invited Alan Paton, author of Cry, the Beloved Country, to write an essay about apartheid in South Africa. He instead provided a deeply reflective piece about some of his favourite pieces of literature. In the essay, which turned out to be the great writer’s last written work, he said: ‘I would like to have written one of the greatest poems in the English language—William Blake’s “Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright”, with that verse that asks in the simplest words the question which has troubled the mind of man—both believing and non believing man—for centuries: “When the stars threw down their spears / And watered heaven with their tears / Did he smile his work to see? / Did he who made the lamb make thee?”’ (Time mag. 25 Apr. 1988). Blake’s poem poses the age-old riddle and fundamental question involved in being human: how could the mean, cruel, indifferent and aggressive ‘dark side’ of human nature—represented by the metaphor of the ‘Tiger’—be consistent and reconcilable with, and derivative of, the same force that created the lamb in all its innocence? It is the line, ‘Did he who made the lamb make thee?’ that, if you allow yourself to dwell on it, is so disturbing. In this essay, the culmination of a lifetime of thoughtful expression, Paton finally brings his focus to bear on this line, a few words that take the reader into the realm where there resides the deep fear about what it really is to be human, about the core issue—that one day had to be addressed and solved—of are humans evil, worthless, meaningless beings, or aren’t they? The opening lines of Blake’s poem ‘Tiger, Tiger, burning bright / In the forests of the night’, refer to humans’ denial of the issue of their divisive condition. It is a subject humans consciously repress but it is an issue that ‘burns bright’ in the ‘forests of the night’ of their deepest thoughts. As Paton pointed out, despite humans’ denial of it, the great, fundamental, underlying question has always been, are humans part of God’s ‘work’, part of his purpose and design, or aren’t they?
In the following quote the poet Alexander Pope considers wisdom to be the ultimate ‘system’ because it can make all things understandable or ‘coherent’. Like Paton and Blake, he believed that ‘in the scale of the reasoning’ involved in becoming wise, the ultimate ‘question’ to be answered (the one the human mind has ‘wrangled’ or struggled with for ‘so long’) is this question of whether or not humans are a mistake. In his renowned 1733 work, Essay on Man, Pope wrote: ‘Of systems possible, if ’tis confess’d / That Wisdom infinite must form the best / Page 29 of
Print Edition Where all must fall, or not coherent be / And all that rises, rise in due degree / Then in the scale of reas’ning life, ’tis plain / There must be, somewhere, such a rank as man: / And all the question (wrangle e’er so long) / Is only this, if God has placed him wrong?’
In his distillation of a lifetime of mentally grappling with what it is to be human, Australia’s only literary Nobel laureate, Patrick White, also gave a rare, honest description of the core agony in human life of having to live with this unresolved question. The following is the key passage from White’s 1981 autobiography, Flaws in the Glass: ‘What do I believe? I’m accused of not making it explicit. How to be explicit about a grandeur too overwhelming to express, a daily wrestling match with an opponent whose limbs never become material, a struggle from which the sweat and blood are scattered on the pages of anything the serious writer writes? A belief contained less in what is said than in the silences. In patterns on water. A gust of wind. A flower opening. I hesitate to add a child, because a child can grow into a monster, a destroyer. Am I a destroyer? this face in the glass which has spent a lifetime searching for what it believes, but can never prove to be, the truth. A face consumed by wondering whether truth can be the worst destroyer of all’ (p.70 of 260).
What is so brave about what Patrick White has written is that he has managed to put down on paper the core fear he is living with. If you allow yourself to think deeply about what it is that White is daring to articulate you will see that it is a terrifying issue that he is facing. Gradually, as this book unfolds, the full horror of the issue of the human condition, and the enormous difficulty humans have had trying to plumb the depths where the issue resides, will become clear. The essay in this book titled Resignation will especially bring home how difficult, indeed impossible, it has been for humans to confront the issue of the meaningfulness or otherwise of the dark side of themselves and our species. The reader will be brought into full contact with the issue of the human condition and see that we have indeed been a ‘God-fearing’ species, a species in denial, with only a handful of people in recorded history able to confront the ideals or God, face to face. It will become clear that the denial and its evasion permeates every aspect of human life. Even science, which is supposed to be a rigorously objective discipline, free of personal bias, is full of subjective evasion, saturated with the denial.
Sharing the same sentiments and even using the same imagery as Patrick White, William Wordsworth wrote of the agony of the dilemma of the human condition in his celebrated 1807 poem, Intimations of Page 30 of
Print Edition Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. With extraordinary honesty, Wordsworth recalled all the beauty in the world that humans were able to access before ‘the fall’; before the human species departed from the fabled state of harmony and enthralment in which it lived prior to the emergence of the alienating state of the human condition. He ended the poem by alluding to the reason for humans’ loss of innocence and sensitivity, adding, ‘The Clouds that gather round the setting sun / Do take a sober colouring from an eye / That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality / …To me the meanest flower that blows can give / Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.’ The emergence of the human condition made humans red-eyed from being worried—or ‘troubled’ as Paton said—about their life’s value, meaning and worth. Wordsworth is saying that worrying about our mortality is ultimately due to being insecure about our life’s value and worth—hence the reference in the poem’s title to the ‘intimations of immortality’ humans had during our species’ pristine, uncorrupted ‘early childhood’. The thoughts that are now buried so deep that they are beyond the reach of humans’ everyday emotional selves—they are ‘too deep for tears’—are the thoughts about humans’ present corrupted state that the beauty of even the plainest flower has the ability to remind humans of, if they let it; if they have not practiced burying the issue deeply enough.
Morris West is another distinguished Australian writer. The author of 26 novels, including The Shoes of the Fisherman, he has been described as one of the 20th century’s most popular novelists. Many times he was asked to write the story of his life and declined, until in 1996, at the age of 80, he reviewed the chronicle of his life and belief in A View from the Ridge—the testimony of a pilgrim. In this book he confided: ‘Evil, you see, is not explainable. It is not even understandable. It is what the writers of the Dutch Catechism called “the great absurdity, the great irrelevancy”…brutalise a child and you create a casualty or a criminal. Bribe a servant of the state and you will soon hear the deathwatch beetles chewing away at the rooftrees of society. The disease of evil is pandemic; it spares no individual, no society, because all are predisposed to it. It is this predisposition which is the root of the mystery. I cannot blame a Satan, a Lucifer, a Mephistopheles, for the evils I have committed, the consequences of which have infected other people’s lives. I know, as certainly as I know anything, that the roots are in myself, buried deeper than I care to delve, in caverns so dark that I fear to explore them. I know that, given the circumstances and the provocation, I could commit any crime in the Page 31 of
Print Edition calendar’ (p.78 of 143). It is the ‘caverns so dark’ that are going to be explored in this book, and, despite what Morris West has said, evil will be explained, it will be made understandable.
As Alan Paton, William Blake, Alexander Pope, Patrick White, William Wordsworth and Morris West bravely express, it took virtually all humans’ courage merely to exist under the duress of the human condition. Having no answer to this core question in human life—of humans’ meaningfulness or otherwise, of are humans part of God’s ‘work’ or aren’t they—meant that trying to think about the problem led only to deep depression. As Australian comedian Rod Quantock once commented, ‘Thinking can get you into terrible downwards spirals of doubt’ (Sayings of the Week, Sydney Morning Herald, 5 July 1986).
Another renowned Australian literary figure, Henry Lawson—whom Ernest Hemingway greatly admired, and whose work he referred to in his 1970 book Islands in the Stream—wrote extraordinarily forthrightly about the dangerous depression that awaits those who might try to confront the issue of the human condition. In his 1897 poem, The Voice from Over Yonder, Lawson wrote, ‘“Say it! think it, if you dare! / Have you ever thought or wondered / Why the Man and God were sundered? / Do you think the Maker blundered?” / And the voice in mocking accents, answered only: “I’ve been there.”’ Implicit in the final phrase ‘I’ve been there’ are the unsaid words ‘and I’m not going there again’. The ‘there’ and the ‘over yonder’ of the title is a reference to the state of depression that resulted from trying to confront the issue of the human condition—trying to understand ‘why the Man and God were sundered’, why humans lost their innocence, departed from the cooperative, loving, ideal state, ‘fell from grace’, became corrupted, ‘evil’, ‘sinful’. To avoid depression humans had no choice but to repress the issue of the human condition, block it out of their conscious awareness, and cease trying to decide whether ‘the Maker blundered’.
Alluding to the unconfrontable and horrifically depressing issue of the human condition, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote about an underlying ‘despair’ in human life, and succinctly described the depression that results from that despair with the title of his 1849 book The Sickness Unto Death. In it he wrote, ‘there is not a single human being who does not despair at least a little, in whose innermost being there does not dwell an uneasiness, an unquiet, a discordance, an anxiety in the face of an unknown something, or a something he doesn’t even dare strike up acquaintance with…he goes about with a sickness, goes Page 32 of
Print Edition about weighed down with a sickness of the spirit, which only now and then reveals its presence within, in glimpses, and with what is for him an inexplicable anxiety’ (tr. A. Hannay, 1989, p.52 of 179). Kierkegaard described the depression that is like a living death, which the ‘tormenting contradiction’ of the human condition has caused in humans, when he wrote that, ‘the torment of despair is precisely the inability to die…that despair is the sickness unto death, this tormenting contradiction, this sickness in the self; eternally to die, to die and yet not to die’ (ibid. p.48).
In his 1931 book, The Destiny of Man, the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev referred to Kierkegaard’s experience of deep depression when he described the ‘terror’ and ‘fear’ that trying to think about the tormenting contradiction of the human condition evokes in all but those with a ‘clear conscience’, those who are ‘prophetic’. Berdyaev says that while thinking about the human condition is terrifyingly depressing for most people—he refers to the ‘deadly pain in the very distinction of good and evil’—he emphasised that only by thinking about it can real knowledge be found. Clearly if you are living in denial of a problem you are not in a position to solve it. Berdyaev wrote: ‘Knowledge requires great daring. It means victory over ancient, primeval terror. Fear makes the search for truth and the knowledge of it impossible. Knowledge implies fearlessness…Conquest of fear is a spiritual cognitive act. This does not imply, of course, that the experience of fear is not lived through; on the contrary, it may be deeply felt, as was the case with Kierkegaard, for instance…it must also be said of knowledge that it is bitter, and there is no escaping that bitterness…Particularly bitter is moral knowledge, the knowledge of good and evil. But the bitterness is due to the fallen state of the world, and in no way undermines the value of knowledge…it must be said that the very distinction between good and evil is a bitter distinction, the bitterest thing in the world…Moral knowledge is the most bitter and [requires] the most fearless of all for in it sin and evil are revealed to us along with the meaning and value of life. There is a deadly pain in the very distinction of good and evil, of the valuable and the worthless. We cannot rest in the thought that that distinction is ultimate. The longing for God in the human heart springs from the fact that we cannot bear to be faced for ever with the distinction between good and evil and the bitterness of choice…Ethics must be both theoretical and practical, i.e. it must call for the moral reformation of life and a revaluation of values as well as for their acceptance. And this implies that ethics is bound to contain a prophetic element. It must be a revelation of a clear conscience, unclouded by social conventions; it must be a critique Page 33 of
Print Edition of pure conscience’ (tr. N. Duddington, 1960, pp.14—16 of 310).
This collection of quotes about the agony of the human condition shows how fearful humans have been of the issue. At the very end of his 1948 book Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton alluded to humanity’s dream of one day finding understanding of the human condition and by so doing free itself from this ‘bondage of fear’. He wrote: ‘But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.’
In truth, human self-esteem, which at base is the ability to defy the implication that they are not worthwhile beings, is so fragile that if a man loses his fortune in a stock market crash, or his reputation from some mistake he has made in the management of his life, he all-to-frequently will suicide or, if not suicide, then completely crumple as a person, lose the will to actively participate in life. The truth is that the limits within which humans feel secure and can operate are extremely narrow. Humans’ insecurity from the dilemma of the human condition has been such that their comfort zone is only a tiny part of the vast, true world that humans are capable of living in. As the full extent of humans’ insecurity under the duress of the human condition becomes clear it will become apparent that, in terms of the true potential of the universe, the world that humans have lived in has been merely a miserable, tiny, dark fortress of a corner. Humans’ psychological circumstances—which, at base, arise from their struggle with the human condition—are extremely fragile. Although they have had to live in denial of this truth to cope with it, the fact is humans are an immensely insecure species.
Humans’ historic denial of the issue of the human condition
Tragically, unable to explain and thus resolve this deepest of dilemmas of the human condition, humans had no choice other than to live in denial of the whole issue. While they lacked understanding of the human condition, denying it—extremely dishonest, false and, as we will see, limiting a response as that was—was their only sensible means of coping with it. The truly extraordinary aspect of humans, and a measure of their immense bravery, is that they have managed to keep a bright and optimistic countenance despite the awful realities Page 34 of
Print Edition of their circumstances. The courage to live in denial, despite the dishonesty of this behaviour and the extremely artificial and superficial existence it left humans with, has been the very essence of our species’ immense bravery. Humans may be the most alienated species in the universe but they must also be among the bravest.
Humanity’s historic denial of the issue of the human condition began when consciousness first emerged from the instinct-dominated state some 2 million years ago and has been reinforced ever since. (The emergence of the dilemma of the human condition with the emergence of consciousness in our human ancestors, and our resulting departure from the fabled Garden of Eden where humans lived instinctively in a state of cooperation in the so-called ‘Golden Age’, is summarised in the early part of the Plato essay, the first essay of this book, and is comprehensively explained in Beyond.) As a result of having practiced the denial of the issue of the human condition for so long, humans now live in a state of almost complete denial of the issue, to the point effectively of being unaware of it at a conscious level. The issue of the human condition is now deeply buried; a part of humans’ subconscious awareness.
Common to all the human race at a subliminal, subconscious level is an immense insecurity, a deep sense of guilt about being divisively behaved.
On the face of it, to be told there is a crux, fundamental, all-important issue facing humans that they are currently not consciously aware of must seem absurd. It is not easy to accept that there is an ‘elephant in the living room’ that people have lived in such denial of that they are no longer aware of its existence. While this situation may sound unbelievable at first, the mental process involved is no different to that which takes place in the minds of, for example, incest victims who, after finding they cannot comprehend such violation, realise that their only means of coping is to block out any memory of it. ‘Repressed memory’, living in denial of an issue, is a common occurrence. In fact blocking thoughts from our mind has been one of humans’ most powerful coping devices.
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Print Edition Plato’s ‘cave’ allegory for life in denial
The great writers mentioned earlier were brave enough to refer to the agony of the dilemma of the human condition, but it was the Greek philosopher Plato who described more clearly than anyone else, albeit allegorically, the whole situation associated with the human condition. This astonishing description, which employed the allegory of a cave, appeared in Plato’s great work, The Republic, which he wrote in about 360 .
Considering how penetrating Plato’s description of the human condition is, a much more detailed analysis will be presented in the first essay of this book, Deciphering Plato’s Cave Allegory—And in the Process Explaining How The Human Condition is Resolved. For the purposes of this Introduction, a brief interpretation is sufficient.
Since the full version of Plato’s allegory goes for eight pages, the following summary from the 1996 Encarta Encyclopedia offers a succinct description: ‘The myth of the cave describes individuals chained deep within the recesses of a cave. Bound so that vision is restricted, they cannot see one another. The only thing visible is the wall of the cave upon which appear shadows cast by models or statues of animals and objects that are passed before a brightly burning fire. Breaking free, one of the individuals escapes from the cave into the light of day. With the aid of the sun, that person sees for the first time the real world and returns to the cave with the message that the only things they have seen heretofore are shadows and appearances and that the real world awaits them if they are willing to struggle free of their bonds. The shadowy environment of the cave symbolizes for Plato the physical world of appearances. Escape into the sun-filled setting outside the cave symbolizes the transition to the real world, the world of full and perfect being, the world of Forms, which is the proper object of knowledge.’
Plato’s parable says that between the natural, radiant, all-visible, sunlit world and humans’ ‘cave’ existence stands a ‘brightly burning fire’ that prevents them from leaving the cave. In the full text of the allegory in The Republic, Plato says that ‘the light of the fire in the prison [cave] corresponds to the power of the sun’ (Plato The Republic, tr. H.D.P. Lee, 1955, p.282 of 405). What the ‘sun’, and its Earthly representation, the ‘brightly burning fire’, represent is the condemning cooperative ideals of life, the ideals that bring the depressing issue of the human condition Page 36 of
Print Edition into focus—the question of why are humans competitive, aggressive and selfish when the ideals are to be cooperative, loving and selfless. The ‘sun/fire’ represents the confronting glare of the ideals and the burning heat of the issue of the human condition that those ideals bring into focus, the issue that humans have had to live in denial of, the issue that has forced humans to, metaphorically speaking, hide in a dark ‘cave’.
So intense was ‘the power’ of the ‘sun/fire’ to condemn and depress humans that they could not face it, let alone approach it, and they were so held in bondage by the unconfrontable issue of the human condition, so ‘chained’ up, as even to be estranged—alienated—from each other. As the Encarta summary translated it, they ‘cannot see one another.’ (It is worth recalling that, like Plato, Alan Paton described humans as living in ‘the bondage of fear’ of the issue of the human condition.)
Also, because the human condition is the crux issue before us as a species, living in denial of it meant humans were living an extremely fraudulent, artificial and superficial existence, they were living in a world that wasn’t ‘real’, a world of delusion and illusion. Plato’s ‘shadows’ on the back wall of the cave symbolise this world of illusions that humans have been living in. In the full text of the allegory in The Republic, Plato says that, ‘if he [a prisoner in the cave] were made to look directly at the light of the fire, it would hurt his eyes and he would turn back’ (Plato The Republic, tr. H.D.P. Lee, 1955, p.280 of 405). The prisoner had to face away from the fire and could only look at the shadows cast by the real world on the back wall of the cave.
I have always admired the 1976 Francis Bacon painting titled Study for Self Portrait (owned by the NSW Art Gallery in Australia) for its honest portrayal of the human condition; in fact I once unsuccessfully sought permission to use it on the cover of my first book, Free. Bacon depicted the human condition as honestly as anyone has ever managed to write about it. Study for Self Portrait shows one of Bacon’s characteristic twisted, smudged, distorted—alienated—human faces (in this case his own, which makes the painting that much more honest), but it also shows the body’s arms to be chained up behind the body, which is constrained in a box. The entire image is reminiscent of Plato’s representation of the human predicament under the duress of the human condition. The two William Blake pictures that I have used on the cover of this book are also dramatic depictions of the story of humans’ struggle with the human condition. The top Page 37 of
Print Edition picture marvellously represents Plato’s sunlit, liberated state above ground, while the bottom picture dramatically depicts humans’ tortured, cave-like existence below ground. (The top picture was a black and white etching by Blake that an artist friend colourised to complement the bottom picture, which Blake did in colour.)
The use of fire as a metaphor for the cooperative ideals of life that barred humans’ escape from their ‘restricted’, alienated condition, is common in many mythologies. In Christian mythology, for example, in the story of the Garden of Eden, there is ‘a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life’ (Genesis 3:24). Later in the Bible it is recorded that the Israelites said, ‘Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire any more, or we will die’ (Deut. 18:16). While fire is a metaphor for the cooperative, loving, selfless ideals of life that so condemned humans, the metaphysical, religious term humans have historically used for these ideals is ‘God’.
This interpretation of God as the embodiment of the cooperative, selfless, loving ideals of life will be much more fully explained when Plato’s allegory is more completely deciphered in the first essay of this book. It will be explained there that the cooperative ideals of life are a manifestation of the most profound—and confronting—of all truths, that of the negative entropy-driven, matter-integrating, cooperation-dependent, teleological, holistic purpose or design or meaning in existence.
The following quote offers an example of how the ancient Zoroastrian religion used fire to represent the Godly, upright, pure ideals of life: ‘[In the Zoroastrian religion] Fire is [considered] the representative of God…His physical manifestation…Fire is bright, always points upward, is always pure’ (Eastern Definitions, Edward Rice, 1978, p.138 of 433). God, of whom fire is representative, is ‘pure’, the personification of the all-meaningful cooperative, loving, selfless ideals of life, however because these ideals are in such contrast to humans’ apparently non-ideal and thus apparently non-meaningful competitive, aggressive and selfish nature, humans have naturally feared God. They have been a ‘God-fearing’ rather than a ‘God-confronting’ species. Humans have been fearful that they may be a horrible mistake: White wondered whether a human was ‘a monster, a destroyer’, Blake asked ‘Did he [God] who made the lamb make thee?’, Pope pondered ‘if God has placed him [man] wrong?’, and Lawson asked ‘Do you think the Maker blundered?’
In the biblical account, Job pleaded for relief from confrontation with the issue of the human condition that the Godly, meaningful, Page 38 of
Print Edition cooperative, loving, selfless ideals of life brought into issue when he lamented, ‘Why then did you [God] bring me out of the womb?…Turn away from me so I can have a moment’s joy before I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and deep shadow, to the land of deepest night [depression]’ (Job 10:18, 20-22).
Job’s ‘land of gloom and deep shadow…the land of deepest night’ perfectly equates with the analogy of life in a cave; that state of deepest and darkest depression caused by trying unsuccessfully to confront and make sense of the apparent extreme lack of ideality in the human make-up. Only by turning away from the ‘fire’, avoiding the condemning glare of the cooperative ideals of life, could humans find some relief from the criticism and resulting terrible—even suicidal—depression. Again, as the Israelite people said, ‘Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire any more, or we will die.’ When reading the Resignation essay, it will become palpably clear how terrifyingly depressing the issue of the human condition has been for humans.
The reader may wonder how it is possible to confront and talk about the subject of the human condition so completely and with such ease if it is so dangerously depressing. The reason it is possible is that humanity has at last found the dignifying biological explanation for why humans have not been ideally behaved. It has found the explanation that liberates humans from the insecurity that the dilemma of the human condition has for so long caused them—and, thankfully, with the elimination of that historic insecurity all the products of that insecurity, in particular humans’ angry, competitive, selfish, egocentric and alienated behaviour, subside and eventually disappear forever. In religious terms, that question of questions of what is the ‘origin of sin’ has been answered. The explanation is presented in Beyond and elaborated upon in this book.
As is made clear in Beyond, it is not me, but humanity as a whole that has found this explanation of the human condition, because it is only as a result of the discoveries of science, the peak expression of all human intellectual effort, that I have been able to synthesise the biological explanation of the human condition. In fact it is ‘on the shoulders’ of eons of human effort that our species’ freedom from the human condition has finally been won.
The evidence that the human condition has been solved is that it is being talked about so openly and freely here. The human condition is such that you cannot talk about it until you have understood Page 39 of
Print Edition it, and, by so doing, broken free of it. The biological explanation for humans’ ‘corrupted’, non-ideal condition has been found, and thus the criticism from the Godly ideals of life has been removed—humans’ historic ‘burden of guilt’ has been lifted—the ‘great fire’ has been doused.
NOTE: The Full Edition of A Species in Denial is available online to be read or printed.