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02 February 2015

on Humanity

The Pagan Experience prompt for this week: How do you define “humanity”? What is your contribution to the collective space of humanity? How does your spiritual path support this definition and contributions? -

“It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.”
― Neil GaimanGood Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

[I should note that while says this quote is from Neil Gaiman - and it very well may be - this book was written by both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. So it could have been written collaboratively or by Terry Pratchett. Or, perhaps goodreads has secret knowledge about who wrote which parts, and therefore knows that Neil Gaiman wrote this particular bit. This seems unlikely to me.]

Humanity, literally, is all members of homo sapiens.

Metaphorically, humanity is whatever we want it to be. Metaphors are tools, after all. Very malleable tools. 

The idea that humanity - members of our species, that is - has something that is uniquely ours in the animal kingdom, and that this thing raises us above other animals morally, is so longstanding that it has shaped our language since... well, how old is the English word 'humane'? How about the same meaning in other languages?

Humane means to treat kindly, respectfully, or with mercy. Compassion is, supposedly, what makes us better than other apes. Except that other animals show compassion too, and sometimes better than we do. Perhaps altruism... no, that isn't it either. Altruistic behaviors have been observed in many other species.

Hmmm. Well, what is unique about us? Perhaps if we get away from concepts that categorize us as morally superior, we'll find something.

We're not the only ones who use tools or language (other primates, and corvids, come to mind immediately).
We're not the only ones who have sex for fun or for companionship (lots of animals - no really, it's not just bonobos).
We're not even the only ones who engage in organized warfare (chimps do that). 

As far as I can tell, the only thing exclusive to our species is the development of advanced technology (as opposed to simple tools). So if we really wanted to be accurate (which we don't - humans aren't big on accuracy), "humane" would mean something about figuring out tricky sciency things, to include philosophical pursuits and, of course, bureaucracies. (Obviously bureaucracies are symbolic of our innate tendency toward cruelty. That, or our distrust of strangers. Take your pick.) 

 It's our higher executive functioning that makes us unique among animals. 

There is no spiritual difference, that I can see. Our thoughts about spirituality are probably unique, but that falls under the higher executive function umbrella. When I say there's no spiritual difference, I mean that there's no innate difference in our spiritual qualities or value. We are part of the same unidentified spiritual energy that exists in all things. (Maybe some awesome quantum physicist will figure that out someday, but until then I'm calling it spiritual energy, because that's how it functions.)

Knowing that we - humans - are basically smart, distrusting animals who are connected to every thing and every one else in the world, makes me want to put as much compassion out there as possible. I think this is something most people do, with varying degrees of awareness, ambition, and success. 

Basically, we're all just people, trying to get along. 

1 comment:

  1. "Obviously bureaucracies are symbolic of our innate tendency toward cruelty. That, or our distrust of strangers."

    This made me snort! Well done. I like your literal and ever so slightly humorous take. I also heartily agree - we aren't different or superior than the rest of the animal kingdom. For all we know, gorillas and dolphins have whole religions and spiritual experiences that we will never know. Either way, we're all made of stars.