Meditations: A New Theory of Human Nature
A New Theory of Human Nature
As absurd as it must appear in much of the rest of the world, the ''theory of evolution'' is a big controversy in America these days. Like the flat-earthers of the Middle Ages, who couldn’t stand the thought that the sun and stars did not revolve around the earth, many Americans remain incensed at the notion that humans evolved along with all other life.
Behind the babble is more than just the traditional American disdain for the intellect (except as it’s applied to technology and the domination of the natural world of course). Anti-intellectualism runs parallel with a deep-seated weakness in the American character, which psychologically manifests in the desperate need to believe in the special creation of humans (that is, ‘me’).
Even so, one of the big mistakes intellectuals and progressives have made is dismissing fundamentalists as dimwits. Twenty years ago I enjoyed spirited arguments with an evangelical Christian brother-in-law on the subject of evolution. This fellow is a graduate of one of the best universities in the US, and is one of the smartest people I’ve known.
One day I was looking over the books on his bookshelf, when he pulled out an illustrated text on human evolution, and said, with a straight face, “here, you can have this, I don’t believe in evolution anymore.” Did you stop believing in gravity too, I asked?
The ‘theory’ in the ‘theory of evolution,’ as any 16 year old with a decent education can explain, has to do with how, and not whether evolution occurred. Evolution is no more disputable than gravity. But because it is as hard to scientifically explain as gravity, the religionists who see it as a threat to their belief system have misused their brains devising sneaky ways around teaching it in America’s schools.
On the other side of the coin, many progressives exercise a clever kind of existential evasion when they imply that humankind is irrelevant, utterly unimportant in the cosmic scheme of things. To misanthropically assert that nature will wipe out humanity and thereby clear the way for another potentially intelligent species is simply just the other side of the coin.
Humans are obviously primates and members of the animal kingdom. Without making us special, it is nevertheless true that the human brain, possessing ‘higher thought,’ represents a quantum leap in evolution, a quantum leap that has come to threaten the viability of the biosphere itself! That raises questions not just about 'Man,' but about evolution itself. How is it that one species, a sentient (though certainly not yet sapient) species, could be bringing about only the sixth major extinction in the entire history of life on Earth?
Is humankind evolution’s mistake, which we must consciously correct through awakening a transmutation in ourselves? In a sense yes, though obviously the ‘mistake’ is preprogrammed into the evolution of ‘higher thought.’
That is, when life evolves to the point of producing a creature capable of symbolic thought (which is based on the principle of separation), a trajectory of fragmentation is inevitably set in motion, resulting, without an insight into thought, in a growing ecological crisis.
The present ecological crisis is then seen as the outward expression of an intensifying crisis of thought-based consciousness. It impacts every dimension of human life, and neither science nor religion can solve it.
The crisis of thought-consciousness can only be resolved through a conscious breakthrough in the evolution of the would-be intelligent species. Such a breakthrough would mean that humans radically change from the divisive and destructive sentient creatures we are, to the awakening and aware sapient beings that we can be.
To my mind, there’s tremendous beauty in this insight. When I reflect on it, I feel a compassion for humankind that transcends the individual or collective mind. The popular hope of restoring ‘balance’ between humans and nature is a mirage however. Once cities and civilization emerged, returning to an idealized time when humans lived in harmony with nature was never an option.
How can this theory of human nature be tested? Most astronomers now believe we’ll know within a few decades how rare or common ‘intelligent life’ is in the universe. Contact with or even knowledge of another sentient (and since they survived, presumably sapient) species would validate or invalidate this theory of human nature.
There has never been a time and never been a people who weren’t conditioned. Some and perhaps most cultures in our indigenous past (and perhaps a few peoples still) managed to balance conditioned human nature with the deeper stream of life’s nature, which is unconditioned.
But we’re a long way from that time, and there is no way back. We can only go forward, through fully awakening ourselves one at a time until the flashpoint of a revolution in consciousness occurs. Is it close, or is it far away? No one can know, but everyone has the responsibility to help bring it about.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.