By Alex Blum
The human being is, to modify a classic viewpoint, an ape with an eye for becoming an archangel. Morally, this is what we seem to be, but on the level of productivity we are far more. The beaver makes a dam. The ant makes tunnels. The chimp makes a straw to suck ants out of tunnels. But humans destroy the entire forest to make a city and put all these creatures in a zoo made by engineers and architects, based on mathematical formulas we’ve created and then go home to our private domiciles and watch television, life recreated through technology and beamed into the eyes of us ‘apes’. We make a Large Hadron Collider, invent law, invent medicine, invent philosophical theories, make art and invent art theories, write books, put on plays, build nuclear weapons, speak in baby voices to little animals and shoot apex predators dead and skin them to mount on our walls.
The diversity of action in the human species, as well as the capabilities open to the species, are without a doubt transcendent beyond those of any known other. An elephant may be intelligent, but does an elephant do anything but eat, mate, defecate and in other words, simply live? The human being is bored with life. We seek to create something beyond it, we seek to transcend it – we feel immense existential guilt and go to cathedrals to confess. We feel intimate longing, lose ourselves in dreams, become depressed and lose our capabilities while living in a man-made world. A bear walking through a city is like a human walking through the kingdom of God. What does a deer do on an open highway? It runs into it because it doesn’t know what the hell a highway is. Were a human being to gaze upon the divine, our reaction would be the same – we wouldn’t know what the hell it is. We’d run wide-eyed and screaming, burned by the flames of Truth, haunted by the dark night of the soul. Read Ralph Waldo Emerson and then watch a chimp live. Without intellectual dishonesty, tell me that Emerson’s thoughts do not elevate him above the chimpanzee in the same way that an angel’s deeds would elevate them above a human being.
Indeed, a human can be less than human. A human being who lives like an animal is essentially an animal. Humanity is a possibility, a burden, and a curse. It is the whispering of the Goddess Sophia into the ear of a creature who is not ready and cannot face her. However, we must live as if we can. Humanity, like courage, is a wager – to become something impossible, at the cost of all complacency.
Philosophically, narrowly, we can ascribe the human/animal divide to a combination of the faculties of reflection and intervention. Reflection and intervention go hand in hand. The reflection upon any single thought and then the ability to act in accordance or in opposition to it. As an example: I’ll go drink coffee, then followed by another thought, Wait, I always drink coffee at this time. Why follow pattern? Followed by I’ll drink tea instead. Without the ability to reflect and act in this way, a human is hardly a human. We must reflect upon our behavior in order to change it. Indeed, we reflect upon our own genetic code and seek to change it. No other animal can have any pretense to this domain. Purposive rationality arises from this inherent reflection, this inherent thoughtfulness, in being human. Humanity rests upon the worth of truly human thoughts.
Thus we return to the moral dimension, to the conceptualization of humanity as a moral ideal. An animal yearns for power, because power is its only recourse in a world without humanity. There is a reason why we call cruelty inhuman. It is forfeiting our exceptionalism, our ability to speak and to create, to love and to harmonize, and instead embracing the fear-struck and spear-prodded beast running through the jungle in search of a weapon. An animal yearns to possess the very fear which destroys it, and the wielding of fear is power. Our current ‘human’ world, for all its transcendence, is based on fear and power. It is a world where might makes right, where the human is a machine in the service of the production of wealth, where the only ‘higher goal’ is to produce enough money to survive. International relations is a game of whoever the biggest bully is, and how much they can sculpt the world in their image while casting that image as that of the beautiful savior. Any behavior can be justified, the destruction of individual lives means nothing: the interests of states and corporations are elevated above humanity itself. We have used our institutions, made through human will, to become less human. To deny the individual the value of their own life. A world where individual lives can be thrown away for the greater good is a world where your life or mine can be thrown away for someone else’s greater good. It is the absolute undermining of the human soul. This world has doomed itself, as we consume and consume and draw forth dark oil from the Earth, we race toward our own doom. Nuclear weapons and climate change are our twin reckonings, endemic to our power-hungry nature. If we do not become human, then we will make ourselves into dust.
There are two futures open to the human race: the death and despair of self-destruction or the illumination of a truly human world. Liberal capitalist democracy cannot provide a human world, for even the ‘liberal’ president Barack Obama presided over the unchallenged Sword of drones, mass incarceration, free trade, taxes without universal healthcare, the illusion of grace and the reality of the fist of inhuman Judgement. When Barack Obama kills civilians in Pakistan, he is killing his own family. Unless he is a solipsist, he must view his innocent victims as those potentially just like him. I guess solipsism is easier.
There are strains of optimism, there is cybernetics and the hope of a disembodied future of consciousness without a body. Without bodies to destroy, evil is limited. But this world, until Ray Kurzweil tells us all he told us so, is a fantasy. Artificial intelligence is an attempt to model something we do not understand. It is the attempt of fish to make sense of water. Can brain understand brain? Can a human understand humanity? Immersed in truths, can we speak of Truth? We hit an inevitable ceiling.
A being immersed in being, a living thing living in life, cannot rise above life or being. The hope of a final philosophical synthesis is reserved for archangels and God. However, the reality of subjectivity cannot stop us from being human. It is, if Soren Kierkegaard is to be believed, Truth itself. Each of our lives is a fruit on a branch of the tree of life. All branches return to the same tree, and each one has its own truth to fulfill. The part, expressed to its fullest, reaches the universal whole. All we can do is fulfill our own individual part in being human, and through our own lives, seek to reach the universal whole from which all emanates and which we call God. That whole is the undifferentiated flow of all meaning, all being, all beauty and all truth. Every meaningful piece of art is a finite representation of this infinite ocean of life and soul.
So then, I would like to put forth my truth, a subjective thing that I ultimately must fulfill, and in fulfilling it I become a complete part of the world. I do my part to be human through a lens that helps me become human. The harnessing of this lens is the development of the individual into their own, and any tradition that they seek to represent. For me, it is evolutionary existentialist Christianity. Each of these terms informs the other, and the result is neither evolution, existentialism nor Christianity. It becomes a crystal through which my humanity may grow.
Evolution, an essential element in any serious worldview. With the medium of time, in this universe, being builds upon itself. From the nebulous plasma of the Big Bang formed planets, upon one planet arose life, and from life arose conscious thought and all that we have made. It’s all still matter. That’s all it’s ever been, matter-energy, and yet it can be a rock or a hand grasping the flag. Time is all that seems to decide the state of matter, and the universe packs its greatest achievements into the smallest and darkest of corners. Evolution is a reason to hope. It is the story of habit, and of novelty, and it is the force of novelty which allows the hand to break free from inanimate matter and possess a will of its own. The universe is incomplete: it is incomplete because there is novelty, it is an unfolding masterpiece and in this there is hope, that there are states of being still missing, still waiting to come into existence. If we are biology’s crowning achievement, and our own consciousness is the most baffling thing to a scientific account of the universe, then why should the novelty of the future be alien to us? Being builds upon itself. If there is pre-life, then life, then thinking life, the next step should logically emerge from within thought. What is it? Will we be able to anticipate it? Is a deer able to anticipate the emergence of highways? It will come from where we least expect it, when we least expect it. Even within our own minds, there are places so distant and so forlorn that the rising of a God from their waters would baffle the greatest of souls.
Beyond evolution, there is existentialism. The burden of biology’s greatest heights is upon our shoulders, and there is no Truth to find. Existentialism is the beauty and the humbling, the recognition of inability and in opposition to it, truest ability. It is the wisdom to realize that all truths are not True, that in the end, the only Truth is that which we affirm for ourselves. In this, there is freedom. The Truth is whatever we grasp with our own hands and assert as such. The part that is our lives becomes a fulfilled whole when the Truth becomes a World. A World is a Truth that is brought to light, that is given to something more than the self. Deepest frustration emerges from the rich soul that is unable to give its freedom to the world, that lacks a World of its own. But the beauty of existentialism is that it makes absolute Truth possible! The truth that is yours, fulfilled, becomes a Truth. It becomes its own World. Existentialism is the despair and the will, darkness and power set against one another and the will mediating between the two as the double-helix of light which shines in all our souls. There is now novelty, and hope. There is now freedom, and Truth. All that is left is a burden, a morality. A willingness to forfeit the self for the sake of itself, to forfeit the world for the sake of a World.
Christianity is the molten core of the human being. It is, finally, the recognition that we are truly human and that matter is not enough. Matter must aspire to something more, the spirit, the reconciliation of beast with archangel and the ultimate fulfillment of the being trapped between – in the burden of the cross, the burden of all humankind is realized. The Crucified surrenders his power and forsakes himself for the world: the divine itself is killed by state power for the light of resurrection. It is the principle of resurrection, of life for the Crucified, the poor, the homeless and the destitute, the trampled and those betrayed by the world of matter – the burden of humanity is the burden of the cross, carried for those who have been destroyed by matter. Christianity provides not reason, but rather an aesthetic. A context, a framing, a history based upon the cross and emanating from its salvation. The world of matter shall become the kingdom of God. The world will not be rejected, or refused, but redeemed. This is the message of the Christ, and the ultimate power of the powerless. Christ is paradox, He is light. Defeat is triumph. In death, life. The sublime madness of Christianity is the sublime madness of the conscious ape – in absolute absurdity is the breaking of the chains. The Christ is a demand for humankind to step outside of the cycle of power and fear, and aspire to the beyond. The infinite waters of Truth are the domain of the human being more so than any other thing in the material world. Without tangible angels, without a God that can act or intervene, there is only us. It is all in our hands. This existentialist Christianity, without even a God, is empowered by novelty. The completion of the universe is in our hands. God did not create us, nor did we create God. God is an ideal to be attained in the future; it is the completion of all being and the longing that the human strives toward, and that stings us most deeply when we turn away from it.
Create and express that which deserves to exist, that which must exist. Complete your part in the world through the creation of your own World, a shared Truth, give voice to the intuition which no one else has. A truly human world is a world where the individual matters, where individuality is not tethered to materialism but rather stands as a monolith, a tower, of soul. By virtue of the human brain, this potential is open to all of us. The human is that which is the above, which transcends the state of the animal and thus seeks to transcend life itself. The human being settles at nothing. The human being is an impossibility.
Humanity is a wager, a burden. It is living ‘as if’ the heights of evolution are unfolding and are yet to unfold. From a vacuum of plasma and dust, life. From life, thought. From thought, the divine. To me, this is the arc of the universe. It is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man, it is neo-Hermeticism, it is the ‘magical’ view of human beings, opposed to original sin and casting humanity instead as the prodigious children of a great light, tasked with bringing that light into the world. The waking world is only a testing ground, a place where one’s soul passes through matter, and through matter it makes the case for its own existence.
To quote the great God Zarathustra: “Man is something to be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?”