Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Human Condition

"Can't we all just get along?" Those famous words were uttered by Rodney King during the height of the LA riots. And the answer to that is, of course, no. We are not designed to live in peaceful coexistence. From the time we are able to reason, we look for ways to separate ourselves from others. We, individually, or in a group start labeling those around us. We start looking for ways to make ourselves feel superior as soon as we become self aware. 

Often the question is asked, how did the holocaust happen? The answer is as easy and as predictable as every time it has happened since then. The pattern goes something like this, our innate feeling of superiority leads to a feeling of entitlement which leads to frustration which leads to resentment which leads finally to anger. Once we reach the point of anger all that we need is a target to focus that anger. It has happened time and time again. Whether it was the Armenians or the Jews or the Japanese or the Chinese or the Blacks or the Tutsi or the Mayans or the Muslims or any other group that has faced genocide in human history. It happens time and time again. It leads one to the inescapable conclusion that we, as a race of beings, are born with the ability to commit the most haneous of crimes against each other.  

The only question to how far we are willing to go is how much the "target" has been dehumanized or devalued. In the case of the victims of genocide, the target has been so devalued that they are no longer viewed as worthy of the same right to life as the perpetrators. The victims are viewed as "monkeys" or "innately evil" or "sub human" or "dirty" or something less than <.I would ask those on the left whether they feel "superior" to those on the right? Do you think that you are better because you care more about the preservation of our planet? Or because of your more tolerant attitude toward people who are different? Or because you are against war? Those on the right may feel superior because of their religious beliefs, or because of their greater sense of patriotism or because the color of their skin. Are you superior to your neighbor because you have a higher IQ than they do?  Are you superior to your neighbor because you have more money than they do? Are you superior because your kids go to better schools? Are you superior because you shop at better department stores than do? The fact is that doesn't matter what the reason is, we are always looking for a reason.

Our ability for cruelty, hatred and disdain toward our fellow human beings is seemingly limitless. Our current political discourse is just an example of our seemingly congenital need to feel superior to someone or some group. Those on the right see Godless, unpatriotic hippies on the other side and they feel superior to them. Those on the left see racist, hypocritical rednecks on the other side they feel superior to them. It is just a continuation of our need to subjugate someone to make us feel better about ourselves. The thing is that there are lots of shared views on both sides of the debate. I'm fairly sure that at church on Sunday, there are representatives from both sides of the isle. I'm pretty sure that both sides pray to the same God. I'm fairly sure that both sides have their fair share of patriots, rednecks and hippies. There are Gays, Blacks, Jews, Asians, Mexicans, etc, who vote Republican at every turn. And there are Whites from Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, etc, who are dedicated Democrats. 

As Abraham Lincoln once said, there is much more that unites us than separates us. But as we use terms that devalue others based on something as insignificant as political views, we are fulfilling a basic tenant of the human condition. Does it matter what we issue we use to separate ourselves? Does it matter whether we open a boiled egg from the big end or small end? Not really. We will find what makes us different and someone will always be there to exploit our need to feel superior. Whether for political gain or monetary gain or a power grab, those looking to gain something will always be able to manipulate some portion of the masses to go along with them as long as they appeal to one of our most basic needs. The Human Condition allows us to commit the most horrible of acts without a second thought. I guess we can be grateful that our current political discourse has not yet devolved to the point of an armed conflict. Yet we are only a few short steps from taking up arms under the guise of protecting ourselves against an as yet unnamed enemy. If history has shown us anything, it is that every society (regardless of how supposedly enlightened it may be) is cable of turning against itself. That is the Human Condition.


SJ said...

Hopefully the balance of traits in the character of our species is enough compenstaion to get us through.

"there is much more that unites us than separates us."

How right you are my friend.

Beach Bum said...

Great post, I admit it, I catch myself at times when I'm around teabaggers thinking I am in some fashion better than them. Of course I correct myself because while I disagree with their politics I actually have no idea how they live their lives.

Where I get mad at them is when they assume that because I am a "Godless commie" that I eat babies or conspire with terrorists.

Mycue23 said...

I guess this sort of explains the reason I've given up writing about politics. First of all it seems pretty futile to me and frankly I'm just sick of the name calling, the needless insults and the general lack of decorum that takes place in name of being right. And in being right you are therefore somehow superior to those who disagree with you. It has all become a missing contest to prove superiority on a social or intellectual level. No one cares anymore about finding common ground or exploiting the things that make us the same. Because If we're the same then we can't be superior to each other. Maybe if I just let everyone know that I am more than willing to admit their superiority to me, they might get on with doing something constructive.

Leslie Parsley said...

I was with you the entire way until the last sentence in your comment. That kind of thinking is no different than that of an abused wife who thinks if she'll just keep quiet, all be well. Nope. It won't happen.

But I know what you're feeling because I too am tired of the name calling, the lack of decorum and civility, etc. But, having said that, I just let go on someone at another blog - a conservative who makes a habit of visiting progressive blogs, insulting everyone there, and then accusing us of being so full of hate! Like we're supposed to bend over and say, thanks pal? So, I guess you can say I'm human. ; )

SJ said...

I saw some of those exchanges on your blog. Why people waste their time trolling is beyond me.
Recently a blogger stumbled upon a post by our own Kersting on the dilemmas facing teachers a few months back. I didn't agree with one of their points (a blanket free market justification,) and they took it very, very personally; resorting to calling me "arrogant" just because I pointed out that "L'aissez Faire" wasn't something they had to educate anybody about (whereas the blogger had made already made a few assumptions about my own understanding/knowledge of it, etc.) then inviting some bloggers to swarm the comments on that post, -to teach us a lesson I guess.
It didn't work.
I actually wanted to hear what they had to say/write, and I generally do, if the arguments are cogent, and based in actual fact, or somebody's actual first-hand experience. A few of them made several good points; -nothing entirely new to me or conclusive enough to counter my own politics, but they made comments that at the very least informed me about why their positions (we wound up hyper-parsing deregulation pretty far) mattered to them, and why they held them. -i.e. far beyond the usual cable news talking points. Bottom line, I don't think we wound up changing each other’s' minds but we found out we weren't quite that far apart on a few key points (the blogger who set this all off by the way just stayed pissed off,) the major remaining disagreements between us on that post centered on what to actually do about certain problems in the end. We agreed on the problems at least, and that’s a start for the country and the world. I don't think there's much point to winning arguments anymore, because I've done it (we all have) and it settles nothing.
Sadly, predictably the comment thread (like I mentioned, that first blogger who set it all off stayed angry,) devolved into some pretty reactionary statements and Mycue23 had to cut some of it off. I welcome anybody who doesn't agree with me to post comments. I respond to rudeness and condescension in kind, in equal measure.
I don't think it's rude to point out to someone who is lying, or disingenuous, that they are lying or disingenuous.
If somebody has a good point to make, some real reasoning to offer, I’ll gladly hear it out no matter whose party or political alignment it’s coming from.
Certain nonstarters (racist remarks, sexism, classism, etc.) just don’t merit a response from me anymore, unless someone is trying to cloak something like racism as being logical or legitimate thing.

Toxic Drums said...

"The Human Condition" is defining I think. Just because a bunch of trapped whales tend to beach themselves doesn't mean it is a "Whale Condition" as if all Whales just do that. It is perhaps a thing that whales do when they are in a non-ideal environment. I suspect the terrible violence and destruction perpetrated by humanity is aberrant behaviour instigated by a negative environment. Admittedly it is complex because it is humans who have constructed the negative environment. But I don't think it is inevitable just because we are human. I wrote a bit called Authoritarian Paradigm Collapse at which outlines a perspective on how this cascading violence happened and how we might just get out of it if we are lucky. Accepting that it is just the human condition and therefore inevitable is perhaps simply making it a self fulfilling prophesy.

SJ said...

@Toxic Drums,
True. Good points. We'd all be going down a rabbit hole just trying to define "human" by using past behavior and actions as descriptors. It probably remains inconclusive at best...
I'll check out your link. Thanks for stopping by.

Mycue23 said...

Very interesting piece. I think you have a little more faith in the human race than I do. I hope for all our sakes that you're right.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Heat takes time to revert back to cool. I mean that we are all kind of unhappy with torn asunder state of our political dreams. And here we come again, another national election. I'm in the doggie house with the local Dems and the new Chair of the Party for not joining the party gear up... I was very helpful last time. I am taking up the work to help elect several Democrats and Indies / Greenies for this election. It's a good post, Mycue! I feel you. And I still feel a strong UNITY with most Democrats. I don't see it so much as a monetary gain among us voters... or power grabbing... I see it as being exploited or not being exploited by those we invest our hopes and dreams in. In that, you and I, like Abraham said, have more in common than anything that might separate us. Good work. Keep writing my friend! I'm reposting. :-)