Who Are We As A Species? (A Contribution to the Science of Psychology, Part 1)
by Ron Dultz
Human beings are extraordinary creatures. I think even the most advanced beings from outer space, if they exist, would be impressed with the engineering specifications needed to design a human being. Human accomplishments in science and technology indicate the great potential of the human mind. ….. Humans have a rich capacity for feeling as well as for thinking, and are capable of behavior which is enlightened and noble, colorful and dramatic, imaginative, creative and meaningful. ….. In every town, there are many people who are kind and generous, sensible, industrious, virtuous, conscientious, compassionate, courageous, considerate and well-mannered. These people are a credit to their species, and exhibit many wonderful qualities in their thinking and behavior.
I cannot think of a single, complimentary adjective which cannot be attributed to humans. Humans can be eloquent, profound, inspired. They can be enthusiastic, tolerant, forgiving. They can be esthetic, spontaneous, expressive, sensitive, serene. They can be humble, selfless and wise. To complete this picture of the nature of human nature, it is of course necessary to state that humans can also be contemptible, foolish, self-destructive and evil. They can be harsh, indifferent, inflexible, mean. There is probably not a single derogatory adjective that does not describe some human being’s thinking or behavior somewhere at some time.
This dichotomous nature of human nature can be explained by the following considerations. ….. Due to the complexity and sophistication of human nature, humans have many legitimate needs and many legitimate (and imagined) wants. Human needs and wants are not easily satisfied, and the living environments of humans contain many obstacles which hinder, or interfere with, human happiness and fulfillment. Also, humans are aware, sensitive, vulnerable creatures, constantly feeling and reacting to all that impinges on their senses, and continually thinking, making choices and planning actions. ….. This explosive mixture of intense feeling, strong thinking, demanding needs and wants, and an abundance of problems and obstacles in the path of human happiness and fulfillment, causes humans to be volatile, temperamental, moody and sometimes unpredictable. Both the best and worst of human nature are constantly being tempted and tested.
Contained within the mental/emotional structure of humans is an advanced capacity to choose between opposite actions across a wide spectrum of possibilities. Humans can listen to their conscience or ignore it. Humans can love or hate, build or destroy. Humans can be good or evil, gentle or cruel, patient or short-tempered, humble or arrogant, greedy or generous, confident or timid, courageous or fearful, honest or deceitful, trustworthy or treacherous, likable and well mannered or rude and offensive, shy and quiet or boisterous and gregarious, consistent or unpredictable, lazy or industrious, etc. Furthermore, the same human can be all those things over a period of time; especially when exposed to a multitude of different situations and circumstances. A human can be fearful of a bumblebee (my wife is), and fearless when facing death. A person can be likable and well mannered with some people and rude and offensive to other people. A person can be sometimes greedy and sometimes generous. A person can love with passion and hate with equal passion.
Humans can make complex decisions that include many variables; and devise complex goals and strategies over a long duration of time. Humans can experience a wide range of feelings and moods; and are changeable, with chameleon-like possibilities of feeling, thinking and behavior. The volatility and flexibility of human thinking and feeling is creative, imaginative and has a great range of expression. It is sometimes difficult to predict human behavior. It is theoretically possible for a person to be your friend one day, and devise a plan for revenge against you the next day. One day, a person can manifest a calmness and serenity; and the next day the individual can be considerably agitated.
Humans can be easily hurt and offended, and can hold grudges for indefinite periods of time. Humans have an advanced ability to assess the value and merits of things, and often make moral and esthetic judgments. Humans have an advanced capacity for pretense and concealment, and even for subterfuge if they feel it is warranted. Humans can contemplate the past in great detail, anticipate or foresee the future; and remember complex sets of information for a lifetime. Humans can develop complex attitudes, value systems and philosophies of life.
History and Future of the Human Species
The history of humans is a history of success and failure, both individually and as a species. When countries go to war, and thousands, tens of thousands or millions die, it can hardly be considered a successful venture. When individuals commit serious crimes or become addicted to drugs or alcohol, their lives cannot be considered successful. Human failure and incompetence are abundant in: the personal lives of people (evident in their high rate of divorce, crime, litigation, mental illness and poverty); the organizations and institutions people create; their national and international affairs; and the structure of human societies and governments. When humans can live in peace with one another, and can be happy and productive, when civil rights and justice triumph, when good works and good deeds are common among a people, when environments foster sensible living and assist people in meeting their needs, humans can be said to be successful. Many individuals, some communities and perhaps some societies (currently and throughout history) can be said to be successful in the most human sense of the term. This dichotomy of proven success and proven failure indicates that the human being is still evolving, and has a long way to go to prove itself.
Our species may self-destruct due to: war; overpopulating the globe; depleting our natural resources; or failure of our major organizations, institutions and governing entities to conduct themselves in a sensible, responsible and ethical manner. Massive inability of individuals to manage their lives effectively, and to conduct themselves in a sane and responsible manner, (which can be caused by disruptive environmental conditions, such as a faltering or failing economy), can also erode the stability of society. The verdict is not yet out on whether the human species will survive or self-destruct.
Problems of Being Human
Although nature has equipped humans with many attributes and capacities, and with some direction-finding intuitions and sensibilities, humans are not guaranteed a successful process of self-development, or successful adjustment to their environment, or successful maintenance of their own needs and wants.
Every person inherits many problems of being and becoming which are unique to the human species. Like no other living creature, humans are (and adults realize they are) responsible for most aspects of their own destiny, and even for the destiny of the Earth. The reasoning powers of humans, and the tools at their disposal, dictate that this is so.
It is only humans who are equipped to understand the total picture of life on Earth, including the forces of nature, the inner workings of the human mind and body, the concept of other planets beyond ours, the requirements for building complex societies and governments, the need for laws and ethics, etc. Humans have the potential to grasp all the essential pieces of the puzzle of existence; and this capacity is not something they can easily discard or even ignore. Once awareness is in place, how do we get rid of it even if we want to? Sure, we can numb our brain with drugs or alcohol; but when our full consciousness returns to us, we are again reminded of all that we know, should know, can know and do not know.
Humans know too much to be indifferent to, or oblivious of, what is going on around them. They realize they have an advanced capacity to analyze and understand; and that if they do not know the answer to a problem or question, some person likely does. The division of labor into separate areas of expertise that is characteristic of every successful, modern society (the plumber, carpenter, auto mechanic, doctor, gardner, pilot, internet provider, etc.) mutes our ability to seek refuge in our ignorance. Humans know they have the capacity (sometimes after seeking the advise of experts) to figure out options and alternatives in most situations; and the ability to restrain themselves from foolish or unproductive choices, and to take corrective action once mistakes have been made. Thus we humans are the final arbiters of our own behavior; and adults are ultimately fully responsible for their own actions, or lack of action.
So humans must enter the mainstream of life fully aware that they are here to play for keeps, and that their battles will be fought in the main arena. They are not a sideshow, but the main event here on Earth. There are ultimately no safe getaways from the multitude of responsibilities placed on the shoulders of humanity.