Redefining the Human According to Essence

Will we have to admit at some point (already, maybe) that something is philosophically suggestive about the reality of the natural inequality among people’s life situations from birth? Does that strange inequality suggest that our Western values are in conflict somehow with the way things are? 

Ben Franklin imported the Enlightenment.
‘In conflict’, insofar as The Enlightenment quarrels with the ways things very consistently turn out, the patterns of humanity, and seeks to correct particularly heinous situations. Western values are in conflict with the nearly universally negative or painful patterns of the human condition (its flaws) by refusing to accept them, which is to say, to understand them fully.

This might be an interpretation of our egalitarian project writ large of which we should be aware: not allowing instances of manifest human weakness or frailty (including corruption, violence, psychopathy) to ruin others’ experiences, or everybody’s. It’s a cynical yet pragmatic interpretation, and not exactly the purely moral aspect of egalitarianism.

This human weakness can manifest as injurious albeit mundane everyday exchanges that are forgotten soon, or it can register as the decisions of powerful individuals or gangs that affect whole populations over generations. The Enlightenment proclaimed that enough was enough: everyone will be protected from human weakness however it crops up by the new definition of the human being as free and having innate, inalienable human rights (a base upon which social contracts and legal procedures eventually could form to protect people).

But, this is egalitarianism without attempting to explain the existential, phenomenological, or even ontological dimensions of human inequality, neither on the social nor on the personal level. It is materialist egalitarianism. This moral project probably seems generally good, at least oftentimes practical; yet who is to say that, without a deeper existential explanation, the project has been doomed to produce relatively ineffective social remedies thus far?

It could be that supplying this existential or deeper explanation for the very need to have egalitarian corrections and civil protections will require updating the Enlightenment’s definition of ‘human’ (an inherent ethical message). The Enlightenment freed the human being; there remains the crucial step of liberating the phenomenon of being human.

Only Half the Story

The dogma of egalitarianism in the West, if ever perfectly enacted, would appear to address directly only the cruelest inequities found in human societies (in how people treat each other), but not the cruel inequity of just being born, which is arguably anybody’s lot who is born in whatever way.

That may sound depressive. Yet to say birth is a kind of cruelty is unremarkable, since there are countless of us throughout history who have observed how becoming a human being is a perilous and fraught experience. (It is something that many weary souls have suspected is actually the hell realm.) Be that as it may, living as a human being is difficult on both the physical and mental levels -- even for those who are not cursed by added socio-cultural cruelty (such as persecution), or a mental-physical deformity gained in one of infinite ways.

It seems that we’re dealing with at least two domains of experience: 
  • the cruelty of humans upon one another, consistently, and,
  • the cruelty of existence upon humankind, universally. 

In each of those, it is the bad outcomes at issue for us (cruelty, bad luck, suffering); but of course the fortunate outcomes exist also, to contribute dualistic opposites that ground the meanings of any good/bad human situations. Many philosophical opinions (and other kinds) hold that human life, however, is primarily a ‘world of pain’. As such, the common (unexamined) world is a plane of suffering that is only punctuated by moments of relief or spikes of great stimulation, which are called happiness. Happiness is not necessarily the same as rock-solid contentment, or, wisdom.

In the Western ethical program logically it falls upon those born fortunately to offer the most potent aid and solace to people who find themselves abused by peers and laws, and, to help those people who simply are born in an unfavorable way (which also happens throughout Nature to all animals). 

Among the humans born fortunately, always there are a portion who feel naturally drawn to do the work of projects that help underprivileged members of society. Yet to be most effective, and ideally, even those people who are not drawn to doing social work would recognize and fully admit its necessity, which requires taking the time to understand it, and ultimately funding it as well. Funding would be an unavoidable gesture of real understanding.

No One Left Behind

What is the alternative to this sort of logical and pragmatic altruism -- and is it acceptable? 

We have heard of tribes, certain Eskimos perhaps, but let’s just set this up as purely hypothetical: tribes living in particularly difficult environs, that respectfully ostracize the most infirm members so that the group increases its chances of survival by the portion of communal resources that those tribe members used.

We even could add the logical and emotion-pacifying detail that each member knows and accepts the exact arrangement during one’s whole lifetime. 

But this grim fate does not apply to us, who live in towns or cities rather than in a deadly environment or in rural darkness. We indeed do have the astonishing wealth of shared knowledge and evolving technology (despite how most only ‘have’ or share it in a limited capacity); and, we are also part of unprecedented and immense wealth-generating social systems (again, systems which do not make the most people wealthy, just the few). 

So, in this kind of ‘developed’ megalopolis or hyper-populous setting, with a relatively tight social weave, the above picture of tribal fatalism and hardcore pragmatism is an unnecessary possibility, a moot scenario. That grim fate does not apply to us. If such an extreme survival orientation were to be found in the urban setting, then it would be evidence for the:

  • lack of a social contract explicitly with the inequity of existence, or else the
  • worrisome lack of technical means to ameliorate threats to survival.

But the first of those does apply to us urbanites and suburbanites, who are the majority of people on the planet in this day and age -- still we lack a shared and agreeable contract with existence itself, which gives us life. (This observation is the very reason to write this article.)

And the second does not apply to us, really, since we have a minimal degree of technological infrastructure that is considered a civic resource (such as public restrooms and dialing 9-1-1). That grim fate does not apply to us, in theory.

Kept Alive

The best question may be that if the explicit social contract with existence were to be added to the contracts that came out of the Enlightenment -- such as universal human rights, democracy and civil liberty, spiritual, existential and ideological freedoms -- then would it not provide a new and more level ground upon which to experience, explore, and relate our conjoined human consciousness freely? 

Human consciousness: more precisely it is the shared and universal consciousness that is the very source of the humanity of each being. This principle would be safeguarded by the inclusion of an explicit social contract with existence: worldly and social existence itself understood as a function of consciousness.

This thinking could be adopted on an international scale, as it were. It would be the nearly universal acceptance of an idea that consciousness is the core of freedom. As we wondered earlier, this development probably would require redefining -- or we should say further precising -- the basic definition that is accepted already and nearly universally: a human being is naturally free, which must be matched with socio-cultural and civic liberty.

Therefore we have an emergent approach: to accept consciousness as the most sublime, most important aspect, and the very essence of Humanism. (The reduction of worldly and ideological phenomena to generalized consciousness amounts to a practical Idealism, if you will.)

This sort of statement is expected to elicit varied reactions from opinionated points of view, such as instrumental materialists of all stripes. But the statement nevertheless holds much for neuroscientists to consider, and probably to test -- just like artists and philosophers.

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