The Dawn of our Emancipation: IS IT TO BE Terminal Alienation or Transformation For The Human Race? by Jeremy Griffith
(This book review first appeared at goodreads.com on 8 Jul. 2014)
From time to time we are stopped in our tracks. Something disrupts our veneer and strikes a deep chord in our psyche, transcending our day to day lives, leaving a lasting imprint.
Jeremy Griffith’s summa work IS IT TO BE Terminal Alienation or Transformation For The Human Race? left me in a state of shock, awe and hope for our future. (Note: In 2015 IS IT TO BE which was published for the scientific community was recast for general release under its current title FREEDOM: The End of The Human Condition.) It captivated and stirred me, awakening my senses from a world in turmoil and a world drowning in superficiality. It also unsettled me–the subject matter and implications for me as an individual and for us as a species ensured this. Even the title unnervingly confronts us with the stark reality of a planet seemingly on the brink of self-destruction.
To context the significance of the realm Griffith works in; Professor Harry Prosen, renowned psychiatrist and former President of the Canadian Psychiatric Association said this about the importance of the book for humans; ‘This book of books, indeed this greatest of all books, effectively takes humanity from a state of bewilderment about the nature of human existence to a state of profound understanding of our lives. It is a case of having got all the truth up in one go! I believe this is the most sensational information to ever appear on planet Earth’. ‘I have no doubt this biological explanation of the human condition is the holy grail of insight we have sought for the psychological rehabilitation of the human race.’
As to the seriousness of this ‘psychological rehabilitation of the human race’ Griffith quotes the great Scottish clinical psychiatrist R. D. Laing who starkly articulates just how compromised he feels the human psychological situation is; ‘We are dead, but think we are alive. We are asleep, but think we are awake. We are dreaming, but take our dreams to be reality. We are the halt, lame, blind, deaf, the sick. But we are doubly unconscious. We are so ill that we no longer feel ill, as in many terminal illnesses. We are mad, but have no insight [into the fact of our madness]’ (Self and Others, 1961, p.38 of 192).
Griffith himself says this about the direful state of human affairs;
“Conflict between individuals, races, cultures and countries abounds; there is genocide, terrorism, mass displacement of peoples, starvation, runaway diseases, environmental devastation, gross inequality, racial and gender oppression, rampant corruption and other crimes, drug abuse, obesity, family breakdown and epidemic levels of depression, unhappiness and loneliness… In short, the situation is now so dire the human race is, in fact, entering end play or end game, where the Earth cannot absorb any further devastation from the effects of our behaviour” (Chapter 2:2, FREEDOM: The End Of The Human Condition).
With this backdrop to our human situation, Griffith puts forward that ‘the issue of the human condition is the ONLY question facing the human race, because its solution has become a matter of critical urgency’ (Chapter 2:2, FREEDOM). A biologist by trade, Griffith’s working life has been spent writing about, understanding and explaining the human condition (he has written seven other books, including Australasian best seller A Species in Denial). Grounded in biology, his writing is bold, upfront and honest, cutting a swathe through the world we live in. Yet, for all the confronting truths he unlocks about our human condition, and there are many, Griffith has the uncanny ability to walk in the reader’s shoes, to make sense of all that seems inexplicable in our world and in ourselves in a way that will deeply resonate.
Griffith’s discourse is comprehensive, and doing justice to the depth of insight and subject matter covered is not possible in this short review, however it is suffice to say that Griffith moves with apparent ease through profound and consequential subject matter. He draws on the likes of Plato, Nietzsche, Van der Post, Darwin, R.D Laing and others and he deals head on with explaining men and women, politics and religion. He takes the reader on a journey of enlightenment from explaining the development of order of matter on Earth and the meaning of life to leading the reader through the psychological maturation of humanity from the origins of our conscience, the development of consciousness and the emergence of the human condition.
What lies at the heart of Griffith’s insight is his biological explanation of the human condition and the liberation from life under the duress of the human condition that he claims is now possible. To that end, in Chapter 1:2; ‘The true nature of the human condition’, Griffith presciently reconnects the reader with the deeply buried-inside-us-all issue of the human condition. He confronts us with narrative on the contradictory nature of our behavior, describing both our capacity to be loving, selfless and compassionate and paradoxically to be selfish, aggressive and brutal. Griffith then raises the fundamental questions that he suggests we face as a species: Why are we the way we are? Where does our contradictory nature and this dark side to our behavior come from? Does this divisive behavior mean that we are fundamentally ‘bad’ or ‘flawed’? and; How will this behavior ever be bought to an end?
With these all-encompassing questions posed, Griffith then fearlessly, logically and compassionately, through first degree biology goes about answering them. In essence he suggests that we have a cooperative past and that our original instinctive orientation, the representation of which is our conscience or soul was to the ‘universally accepted ideals of life, to be cooperative, loving and selfless’ and that in fact we once lived in an all loving and selfless ‘Garden of Eden’ state. Griffith then goes on to explain that the human condition, this paradox of good and evil that we have in our make-up only appeared with the development of consciousness. Griffith identifies this key moment as happening some two million years ago:
“… once our nerve-based learning system became sufficiently developed for us to become conscious and able to effectively manage events, our conscious intellect was then in a position to wrest control from our gene-based learning system’s instincts, which, up until then, had been in charge of our lives… Moreover, at the point of becoming conscious the nerve-based learning system should wrest management of the individual from the instincts because such a self-managing or self-adjusting system is infinitely more efficient at adapting to change than the gene-based system, which can only adapt to change very slowly over many generations. HOWEVER, it was at this juncture, when our conscious intellect challenged our instincts for control, that a terrible battle broke out between our instincts and intellect, the effect of which was the extremely competitive, selfish and aggressive state that we call the ‘human condition’” (Chapter 3.3, FREEDOM).
With this established Griffith reasons that without understanding of this dilemma or paradox of the human condition, of why when the ideals in life are, and our original instinctive orientation was, to be cooperative, loving and selfless are we humans capable of such ‘extremely competitive, selfish and aggressive’ behaviour that we have been left carrying a deep ‘burden of guilt’ and insecurity about our fundamental sense of worth. However, and the simplicity of this can seem beguiling, Griffith explains that it is through being able to understand why our human condition emerged and the very good reason for all of our behaviour, or put another way through now having the biological explanation of our fundamental worth, that this burden of guilt can lift from our psyche enabling the behavior to subside and the cycle of destruction plaguing our planet to end, bringing about real and transformative change to the world. In fact, Chapter 8:2 is inspirationally titled The ‘dawn…of our emancipation’! And this future that Griffith sees clearly needs inclusion;
“Everyone in every situation and predicament can now rise up as radiant new beings from their corpse-like state. Everyone can now come back to life–can wake up from their human-condition-afflicted torpor and look outwards and see each other and the world for the first time, and move across and help each other, and do anything and everything that needs to be done to end the suffering and pain that plagues this planet. We humans have, in truth, all been asleep, owned by so much pain and suffering. And, certainly, we are going to be in shock for a little while absorbing the realisation that we have finally won our freedom from the agony of the human condition–but it’s on, the great awakening, the rising up of the human race from its deep slumber. From the festering, stalled state it has been in for far too long, waiting for these liberating understandings of the human condition, the human race is finally on its way!” (Chapter 9:2, FREEDOM).
In a world consumed by suffering, anger, desperation, corruption, violence and despair, and with society disintegrating and rotting in dogma and meaninglessness IS IT TO BE is timely and seismic. Timely in the desperately needed answers, meaning and understanding it brings to our world, and seismic in the truth and hope that this knowledge brings to our future. Every human needs a copy of this book.