On Being a HumanSeveral weeks ago we ran a post entitled, On Being a Man. It detailed a list of things we felt helped define what being a man in today's culture is about. In one of the comments, our friend Mary from Knock Knock asked us to consider a similar, if broader, question - what defines being a human?
Over the centuries, many people much smarter than the Poobah have pondered this question. There have been thousands of essays, books, articles, and studies, all in search of an answer to the question. Many of them, we're quite sure, were well-researched and thought out, while others, we're also quite sure, were swill. Loyal readers may have noticed that well-researched and thought out treatises are not the Poobah's usual style. Better to wing it and do what we do best - pontificate.
So here's what we think:
There are essentially three things every human - or for that matter, mammal - needs: air, food, and water. Many people also throw in shelter, but we maintain that given a gentle enough climate a human could do without it.
Besides, shelter brings with it many of the things that needlessly complicate human existence. You build a hut and the first thing that happens is you want new drapes to match the dirt floor. From there it's a short leap to working 80 hours a week to pay the mortgage on the hut, finance your iPod, and pay monthly payments for an "essential" SUV that gets 5 mpg. We are, after all, human and that's what we refer to as human nature.
So what else makes us uniquely human?
Language? Nope, lots of animals can communicate.
Opposable thumbs? Sorta, but some apes have pretty handy thumbs, so we're not buying it. Besides, even we can live without a thumb. Just ask soomeone who had their's blown off in Iraq.
Greater power of thought? Well, the 5 mpg SUV shoots that one down. You don't see dolphins driving one do you?
A great many people would argue that "faith" is an essential. We have to concede that it's important, but if it were essential, how do you explain deep cynics who survive quite nicely? But faith did send us down a trail that held some promise.
What about "will"?
You can't get the first three human qualities without it. If you lacked will, you'd sit and starve or die from hunger. You could even decide to deprive yourself of air and die. If you believe that some other quality is necessary, how would you obtain it without the will to do so? Even a PB&J sandwich is worthless, though still tasty, without the will to eat it.
If you believe that faith is all important, an honest person would have to concede that without the will to believe, faith is impossible. Will is what leads some people to believe in a God while it is the same quality that leads others to believe there is no such thing. We choose to believe what we want to believe and do what we want to do solely because we possess the will to make that choice.
Will is also what allows us to survive. Even people who are adequately fed and watered have to possess a will to live. Many a person has simply willed themselves dead and it became so. Many other people made the opposite choice and in many cases beat the odds and continued to shuffle around on this mortal coil.
So here's the punchline. If we have this essential quality in all of us, why is it we make such stupid choices with it? Why do we willingly allow people to starve or be mistreated? Why do we willingly let injustice and greed drive our lives? Why do we willingly destroy the planet - which coincidentally provides the air, water, and food we all need? Why do we willingly elect all sorts of charlatans, grifters, and imbeciles to make some of our decisions for us? And more importantly, when we see the those leaders for what they are, why do we make the willful decision to do nothing about them?
So in the end, we have an answer of sorts. You have to have food, air, water, and will to be a human. But that last thing we all have - the will - only provides more questions and almost never provides a clear answer.
Funny how that works out, isn't it?
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Thursday, January 26, 2006