The Human Condition Documentary Proposal
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Print Edition Part 4 The Human Condition: The Question of How to
Reconcile and Ameliorate Our Estranged, Alienated
The following synopsis outlines the subject matter of Part 4 of the proposed documentary. It is envisaged the views of biologists, philosophers and psychologists will form a particularly important component of this concluding part of the proposed documentary series.
(Note to reader: All underlinings have been added for emphasis.)
The riddle of human nature must be one of the greatest of all paradoxes. Humans are capable of immense love and sensitivity, yet we have also been capable of extreme greed, hatred, brutality, rape and murder. It raises the question: are humans essentially good and if so, what is the cause of our 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 then why are humans competitive, aggressive and selfish? Does our inconsistency with the ideals mean we 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 we are the way we 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 the only practical way of coping with it was to stop thinking about it, avoid even acknowledging its existence, block the whole issue from our minds, despite the fact 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 refer to the embodiment of the ideals that govern our society as ‘God’, then humans have been a ‘God-fearing’ species—a people living in fear and insecurity, made to feel guilty as a result of our inconsistency with the cooperative, loving, selfless ideals. The human predicament, or condition, is that humans have had to live with a sense of guilt— albeit an undeserved sense of guilt, as will shortly be explained. Whenever we attempted to understand why there was such divisiveness and, in the extreme, ‘evil’ in the world, and indeed in ourselves, we couldn’t find an answer and eventually had to force the question from of our minds. T.S. Eliot recognised our species’ particular frailty, of having to live psychologically in denial of the issue of the human condition, when he said, ‘human kind cannot bear very much reality’ (Four Quartets, Burnt Norton, 1936).
It is a measure of how adept humans have become at overlooking the hypocrisy of human life and blocking out the question it raises of our guilt or otherwise that, although we are surrounded by that hypocrisy, we 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 see it, asking a myriad of confronting questions: ‘Mum, why do you and Page 64 of
Print Edition Dad shout at each other?’ and ‘why are we going to a big, expensive party when the family down the road is so poor?’ and ‘why is everyone so unhappy and preoccupied?’ and ‘why are people so fake?’ and ‘why do men kill each other?’ and ‘why did those people fly that plane into that building?’ The truth is these are the real questions about human life. As Nobel Prize-winning biologist George Wald pointed 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). The reason children ‘stopped asking’ the real questions was because they soon realised 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 world’s population starves while the rest bathe in material comfort and still go on seeking more wealth and luxury. Humans can be heartbroken when they lose a loved one yet are capable of shooting one of their own family. We will dive into raging torrents to help others without thought of self but are capable of molesting children. We torture one another but are so loving we will give our life for another. A community will pool its efforts to save a kitten stranded up a tree yet humans will ‘eat elaborately prepared dishes featuring endangered animals’ (Time, 8 Apr. 1991). We have had the sensitivity to create the profound beauty of the Sistine Chapel, yet are so insensitive as to knowingly pollute our planet to the point of threatening our very own existence.
Good or bad, loving or hateful, angels or devils, constructive or destructive, sensitive or insensitive, what are we? Throughout our history we’ve struggled to find meaning in the awesome contradiction 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 provide temporary comfort but fail to explain why we are lovable.
Until the clarifying explanation for our contradictory nature was found, humans had no choice but to live in denial of the issue—extremely dishonest, false and limiting a strategy as that was. In fact so practiced have humans become at denying the issue of the human condition many people no longer believe it even exists—and that human behaviour is in the main normal, natural and essentially unchangeable.
However the truth is humans’ divisive nature is not an unchangeable or immutable state, rather it is the result of the human condition, the inability to understand ourselves, and therefore subsides when that understanding is found.
Due to our species’ historic denial of the issue of the human condition, it does not come as a surprise that it is extremely rare to find clear acknowledgment and description of both the denial and the underlying task of finding understanding of the human condition; we had to play the ‘game’ without ever admitting what we were doing.
Literary Nobel laureate, Albert Camus, is one of the few who has been capable of such acknowledgment. In his 1940 essay, The Almond Trees, he wrote: ‘men have never ceased to grow in the knowledge of their destiny. We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know that we live in contradiction, but that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it. Our task as men is to find those few first principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must stitch up what has been torn apart, render justice imaginable in the world which is so obviously unjust, make happiness meaningful for nations poisoned by the misery of this century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But tasks are called superhuman when men take a long time to complete them, that is all.’
Camus proceeded to talk about a state of near terminal depression and alienation overcoming the world, but says that even in this ‘winter for the world’ there will still be enough strength left in the human race to defy the rampant denial (he talks of the ‘strength of character’, the ‘sap’, that ‘stands up to all the winds from the sea’ of denial) and find ‘the fruit’, which is the liberating understanding of ‘our condition’. He wrote: ‘This world is Page 65 of
Print Edition poisoned by its misery, and seems to wallow in it. It has utterly surrendered to that evil which [Friedrich] Nietzsche called the spirit of heaviness [depression]. Let us not contribute to it. It is vain to weep over the mind, it is enough to labour for it. But where are the conquering virtues of the mind?…Before the vastness of the undertaking, let no one in any case forget strength of character. I do not mean the one accompanied on electoral platforms by frowns and threats. But the one that, through the virtue of its whiteness [innocence] and its sap [defiance of the alienated world of denial], stands up to all the winds from the sea [of denial]. It is that which, in the winter for the world, will prepare the fruit’ (Summer, 1954, pp.33—35 of 87).
Camus referred to a ‘world which is so obviously unjust’ and to ‘nations poisoned by the misery of’ the ‘infinite anguish’ of our depressing state of ‘contradiction’. To deny the issue of the human condition successfully, humans had to deny the reality of their corrupted state. Part of that strategy of denial was avoiding the true extent of our devastation of the world around us, and indeed within us. We had to, as we say, ‘put on a brave face’, ‘keep up appearances’. This delusion sustained us but it also blinded us to the extent of the devastation about us and within us. Hence the importance of Camus’ exceptional honesty.
Despite our ‘brave face’, our denial, the reality is humanity had reached the stage where for any real advance in the human journey to be achieved this question of the human condition had to be solved; in fact finding the solution had become a matter of urgency. The human race was entering end play, the situation where the Earth could not absorb any further devastation from the effects of our corrupted condition, nor could the human body itself endure any more alienation.
Humanity had arrived at a situation where we desperately needed clear biological understanding of ourselves, understanding that would make sense of our divisive condition and liberate us from criticism, lift the burden of guilt, give us meaning—‘calm the infinite anguish’. There had to be a scientific, first-principle-based, biological reason for our divisive behaviour and finding it, finding ‘those first few principles that will…stitch up’, reconcile and ameliorate our estranged, alienated, damaged, ‘torn apart’ state was, as mentioned, a matter of great urgency. We were involved in a race between self-destruction and self-discovery.
It is true that some now feel humans have become so alienated we no longer have the strength to cope with facing the truth about ourselves. They feel there is too much soul damage to have to look at and that the human race should remain living in alienation/denial forever; ‘wallow’ in our predicament as Camus said—but they are underestimating the healing power of the ‘fruit’ of understanding.
The arrival of understanding of the human condition does bring truth-day, honesty-day, exposure-day, self-confrontation-day—in fact ‘judgement day’. However this historic term imparts the wrong impression for it is not a ‘day’ of critical judgement, but rather a ‘day’ of compassionate understanding. Understanding is the means by which we can at last love ourselves. It is the means by which we can finally put an end to the criticism that has so upset us. An anonymous Turkish poet expressed this point when he said judgement day is ‘Not the day of judgment but the day of understanding’ (National Geographic, Nov. 1987).
Euphemisms that state ‘understanding is compassion’, ‘the truth will set you free’ (John 8:32), ‘honesty is therapy’ and ‘in repentance lies salvation’ are true—but first we had to find the ‘understanding’ of ourselves, find ‘the truth’ about our condition to be able to be ‘honest’ about ourselves. We had to explain why we have been divisively rather than cooperatively behaved and, in so doing, end our insecurity. Only then would we be in a position to be able to ‘repent’, change our ways and ameliorate our lives.
The real need on Earth has been to find the means to love the dark side of ourselves, to bring understanding to that aspect of ourselves—because that is where the inability to Page 66 of
Print Edition love others comes from. As Carl Jung emphasised, ‘wholeness’ for humans depended on the ability to ‘own their own shadow’—or as philosopher Laurens van der Post said, ‘True love is love of the difficult and unlovable’ (Journey Into Russia, 1964, p.145). Real compassion is ultimately the only means by which peace and love can come to our planet and it can only be achieved through understanding. Drawing from van der Post once more: ‘Compassion leaves an indelible blueprint of the recognition that life so sorely needs between one individual and another; one nation and another; one culture and another. It is also valid for the road which our spirit should be building now for crossing the historical abyss that still separates us from a truly contemporary vision of life, and the increase of life and meaning that awaits us in the future’ (Jung and The Story of Our Time, 1976, p.29).
Some people have become so fearful of the exposure associated with facing the truth about ourselves they have hoped humanity might ‘solve’ the problem of our corrupted condition by simply forbidding its expression, by imposing an ideal state upon it. However repression was not a real solution; it simply added another form, or layer, of denial to the alienation on Earth, driving humanity closer to the end play situation of terminal alienation. On a more dangerous level, repression inhibited the search for understanding by denying humans the freedom to explore and question, thereby distancing humanity further from the only doorway to freedom and peace on Earth. As philosopher Thomas Nagel said, ‘The capacity for transcendence brings with it a liability to alienation, and the wish to escape this condition…can lead to even greater absurdity’ (The View From Nowhere, 1986).
Over time a litany of movements have emerged, attempting to dogmatically impose upon humanity an ideal world. These include the Socialist or Communist Movement, the Peace Movement, the New Age or Alternative Movement, the Think Positive Self-Improvement and Human Potential Movements, the Green or Environment Movement, the Animal Liberation Movement, the Feminist Movement, the Multicultural and Disenfranchised People Movements, the Politically Correct Movement and most recently the Deconstructionist, Postmodern Movement. Lead by false prophets, merchants of delusion and dogma, these movements were false starts to a new age for humans and seriously discredited that potential state, for rather than bring about peace and freedom, they lead humanity deeper into alienation. These movements were in fact pseudo-idealistic in nature because they attempted to shut down human thought and dogmatically enforce an ideal world. True idealism depended on having the freedom to pursue the search for understanding, ultimately self-understanding, understanding of the human condition. Only understanding could truly ‘deconstruct’ or remove the hurtful ‘good versus bad’ differentiation within and between humans.
Karl Marx, whose theories underpinned socialism and communism, wrote, ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is [not to understand the world but] to change it’ (Theses on Feuerbach, 1845). By ‘change it’ he meant make it social or communal or integrated. Marx was wrong—the whole purpose and responsibility of being a conscious being is to understand our world.
Science historian Jacob Bronowski appreciated the great danger of dogma and delusion when he wrote: ‘I am infinitely saddened to find myself suddenly surrounded in the west by a sense of terrible loss of nerve, a retreat from knowledge into—into what? Into Zen Buddhism; into falsely profound questions about, Are we not really just animals at bottom; into extra-sensory perception and mystery. They do not lie along the line of what we are now able to know if we devote ourselves to it: an understanding of man himself. We are nature’s unique experiment to make the rational intelligence prove itself sounder than the reflex [instinct]. Knowledge is our destiny. Self-knowledge, at last bringing together the experience of the arts and the explanations of science, waits ahead of us’ (The Ascent of Man, 1973).
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Print Edition Despite having helped inspire the artificially utopian, pseudo-idealistic 1980s New Age Movement with her book The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980), Marilyn Ferguson got it right when she wrote about the real need being to reconcile our ‘inner conflict’: ‘Maybe [the Jesuit scientist] Teilhard de Chardin was right; maybe we are moving toward an omega point [final unity]—Maybe we can finally resolve the planet’s inner conflict between its neurotic self (which we’ve created and which is unreal) and its real self. Our real self knows how to commune, how to create …From everything I’ve seen people really urgently want the kind of new beginning…[that I am] talking about [where humans will live in] cooperation instead of competition’ (New Age mag. Aug. 1982). To bring about the peaceful, integrated, environmentally considerate world we all seek, we ultimately had to understand our divisive nature. Without the reconciling, ameliorating explanation for why humans have been divisively behaved the underlying insecurity about being so would only result in ever more upset, angry, divisive behaviour.
In summary, the real problem on Earth is humans’ predicament or condition of being insecure, unable to make sense of the dark side of human nature. The real struggle for humans has been a psychological one.
It should be emphasised that finding understanding of humans’ non-ideal, upset, corrupted, divisive behaviour does not condone such behaviour, it does not sanction ‘evil’; rather, through bringing compassion to the situation, it allows the insecurity that produces such behaviour to subside and ultimately disappear.
The reason past tense has been used throughout this synopsis when referring to the human condition is because science has finally made it possible to explain and understand the human condition and, in doing so, bring about a new human condition-free, psychologically healed world.