Insights Into Human Nature & The Human Condition


I want to continue, flesh out, and give some concreteness to that which I shared in this  post: What Is Our Fundamental Nature? Is It All Made Up?  What better way to do that than share the insights of ‘sensitive’ human being (Ted Simon) who spent four years travelling around the world on a motorbike in order to come face to face with life, and experience-feel all that goes with being truly alive:

The concept of the Self seemed to connect with my own thought …. of being made of the stuff of the universe, all pervading and imperishable.  The Truth was in the stuff itself, revealed in the natural order of things.You have only to merge with the world to know the Truth and find your Self. 

There are shapes and forms which arise out of the natural order. Trees, caves and animal architecture lead naturally to thatched roofs, stone houses and mud walls. If you knew this you would not choose to put up a roof in corrugated iron. Nor would you think of throwing a plastic bag in a stream, not because of what you have been told about pollution, but because the idea of a plastic bag is offensive in itself. Without this sense of what is naturally fitting you can be cleaning up the world with one hand and spreading poison with the other.

It surprised me to discover that this sense of rightness does not appear naturally in people, even though they live in the heart of nature. In my own village in France the same people who fished the stream shoved every possible kind of refuse and sewerage into them, even when offered a convenient alternative. In Nepal, where not a single engine or power line disturbs the mediaeval rusticity of the Himalayan valleys, people shit in the rivers with a dogmatic persistence ensuring that every village is infected by what the people upstream have got.

The Truth obviously does not reveal itself unaided to humans. It has to be uncovered by an effort of consciousness. Or, more likely, it exists only in human consciousness. Without man to recognise it, there is no Truth, no God.

Yet it is not consciousness that governs the world, nor even ideology, nor religious principle nor national temperament. It is custom that rules the roost. In Colombia it was custom to do murder and violence. In a period of ten years some 200,000 people were said to have been killed by acts of more or less private violence. Yet I found the Colombians at least as hospitable, honourable and humane, as the Argentines, whose custom is merely to chat. Arabs have the custom of showing their emotions and hiding their women. In Sudan it is customary to be honest. In Thailand dishonesty is virtually a custom, but so is giving gifts to strangers. 

Every possible variation of nudity and prudishness is the custom somewhere as with eating habits, toilet practices, to spit or not to spit; and almost all of these customs have become entirely arbitrary and self-perpetuating. Above all it is customary to suspect and despise people in the next valley, or state, or country, especially if their colour or religion is different. And there are places where it is customary to be at war, like Kurdistan or Vietnam.

Speaking of the more vicious customs, and of men who should have known better, St Francis Xavier  said a long time ago: ‘Custom is to them in the place of law, and what they see done before them every day they persuade themselves may be done without sin. For customs bad in themselves seem to these men to acquire authority and prescription from the fact they are commonly practiced.’

Custom is the enemy of awareness, in individuals as much as in societies. It regularises the fears and cravings of everyday life. I wanted to shake them off. I wanted to use this journey to see things whole and clear, for I would never pass this way again. I wanted to be rid of the conditioning of habit and custom. To be the slave of custom, at any level, is much like being  a monkey, an ‘ape of the wayward senses’. To rise above it is already something like becoming a god.

Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels

What Is Our Fundamental Nature? Is It All Made Up?


What is our essence, our nature, human nature?

If there is one question that truly matters and thus pervades our existence it is the question concerning human nature: what is our essence, our nature, human nature?

essence
ˈɛs(ə)ns/
noun
  1. 1.
    the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, which determines its character.
    “conflict is the essence of drama”

There are no shortage of answers. It occurs to me every speaker who speaks on the essence of human nature is convinced that there is a such a thing as human nature. And that he/she has the right answer:

  • Some say that human nature is selfish and competitive. In this school of thought even altruistic acts are recast and explained as selfish.  Others say that human nature is fundamental kind, altruistic, cooperative.
  • Look underneath western management and you will find the taken for granted truth that human beings are fundamentally lazy and will do the least work they can get away with: theory X.  Then there are others who say that human beings are eager to learn, to improve their condition, to contribute and do work – as long as the works shows up as meaningful, worth doing.
  • There are those who say that essence of human beings is reason and rationality.  And others who say with equal conviction that the essence of human beings is emotion/affect.
  • Some say that our essence is to pair bond and live in monogamous relationships. Others say that the polygamous relations are more in tune with nature and the imposition of monogamous relationships has come about through the white man’s domination of the world.

Who has generated the right answer to the essence of human nature?

I don’t know and I have little interest in debating right-wrong.

What I can share with you is the insight that hit me when I was around 8 years of age. To make sense of this insight it is worth pointing out that I was born in the East into a muslim culture. And at the age of 5 I arrived in the UK with my mother and younger brother. So by the age of 8, I had been living a dual existence: one way of thinking-living at school (the English way) and other way of thinking-living at home (the Pakistani Muslim way).  What was this insight?

The insight that struck me forcefully, which blew away my confusion-bewilderment, which set me free was this: “It’s all made up!”  

Once I got this, I got that I was free to choose the practices, from each culture, that worked best for me. As a result I chose not to have an arranged marriage.  I also choose not to drink for the sake of drinking – just to show that I am a man and be one of the boys ……

What is a great place to stand in relation to the question of human nature?

Back to the question of human nature: what is our human nature?  What is natural to us, our essence?  What is not natural to us, not in line with our essence? Heidegger, the 20th century philosopher and some say one of the two most important philosophers of the 20th century, says:

“The ‘essence’ of Dasein lies in its existence.”

– Heidegger

If you do not have background in philosophy then what Heidegger is getting at may not be clear. So allow me to share, what shows up for me as, the most pithy insight into the human condition:

“Custom is our nature”

– Blaise Pascal (1632 – 1662)

Put simply, human beings don’t have a fixed nature, we do not have an essence. We are shaped by the cultural practices (customs) into which we are born. This shaping starts from the moment of our birth (possibly earlier) and happens without our consent.  By the time we are in a position to think for ourselves our nature has already been shaped-moulded towards a certain style of being-living, and away from other styles of being-living.

I say that this is a great place to stand in relation to my nature, your nature, human nature. Why? By taking this stand we liberate ourselves and our fellow human beings.  If you/i stand and operate from this stance then we get that you/i can shape our nature (no matter what we say it is today) by who we live amongst and what we do and do not do. Put differently, if i/you want to change our natures we simply have to change our customs. Furthermore, in this stand you get that a powerful access to influencing others is to effect changes in customs.

Summing Up

Please remember: Its all made up! If you stand in “It’s all made up!” then you are in a place to remake it – all of it. When you get this, really get this, then I say your experience of yourself, and of life, is transformed.