On Human Nature

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green Desklamp

Among the most common battle cries of the reactionary and ill-informed political pundits these days is the infernal chant of- ‘it isn’t natural’. More often than not, it’s used as an attack on anything which fails to fit within the narrow confines of that particular person’s worldview, and is therefore considered unacceptable for anyone else to exhibit. It’s an ignorant and xenophobic reaction at its very best—but that’s likely giving it too much credit.

To speak of ‘normal’ when it comes to humans is an interesting notion. What can possibly be described as a ‘natural’ way for humans to act? Or the better question perhaps—what could possibly be unnatural?

Humans are unique, it must be said. We’re the only species known to use complex language—which does much to inform our ability to reflect on and consider our material world. More important still, we are the only living things we know of which are fully and fundamentally aware of our own mortality, a phenomenon argued by psychologist Ernest Becker to contribute to our psyche the drive of ‘mortality salience’, which binds our behaviours under the drive of what he refers to as ‘Terror Management Theory’ (Link).

These facets, combined with our incredible cerebral capacity, allow us to invent tools, define and solve problems, and create meaning in ways no other animal even comes close to achieving. Yet the fact remains that at the heart of this argument, our animal nature must be acknowledged. Most everything we do would seem foreign if exhibited in any other animal. Monkeys wearing hats? Unnatural! But…it may be natural to a person. At any rate, no one is going to make a political stance out of calling hats—or most any other clothing for that matter—unnatural.

If we’re being practical about the idea, the easiest approach to take would be to look back at our evolutionary roots, and conclude that anything beyond running around naked, scavenging whatever the greater hunters of the world leave behind, would be unnatural. But these ‘unnatural’ abilities we have are precisely what have gotten us here. Without clothing, tools, the harnessing of fire, and other such ‘unnatural’ acts, we would likely have been left far behind. The fire of reason that burns within us and allows us to defy our animal nature is the very key to our surpassing it.

So where might the line be drawn? Is clothing unnatural? If not, then why should we call kinky bondage clothing unnatural? Why is monogamy ‘natural’ (likely not the standard of early humans, and almost, to my knowledge, never in apes), but homosexuality unnatural?

Usually, the terms are meant more aptly to describe what is natural or accepted to the speaker in a pragmatic sense, rather than any true and intellectual consideration of what might be natural to human-beings as a whole. What one culture embraces as undeniable truth, another sees as lunacy. But in a worldview where exposed breasts are an unforgivable sin, yet veiled faces are a heinous affront, there is little room for rational discourse.

Ultimately, we may need to accept that the terms are nothing more than reactionary vitriol, unfitting of any discussion outside of ridiculous GOP debates. After all, with so much behavioural variance in an animal so far removed from true ‘nature’, there is truly no line to be drawn. Either everything we do is unnatural, and we are an aberration in the face of the natural world, or else nothing is. In the case of the latter, nothing at all could be considered unnatural. Just as it is the nature of the ape to draw ants from the hill with a blade of grass, so it would be within the bounds of our nature to clothe ourselves, and set fires, and split atoms, and alter DNA.

The human brain, at any rate, is a natural thing. So too then must be the products of that brain. So rather than waging our personal wars to define human nature, let us rather celebrate its quirky, unassailable depth. After all, we are the exceptions to a very broad rule, and our ability to seemingly defy nature is the very thing which has carried us out of the dark savannahs. It has led us from cowering at the sight of lightening to harnessing it, and taken us from the stony caves of our ancestors to the lauded cathedrals of our true worth.

So let us worry less about what is natural, and work rather to celebrate the diverse and divine nature that is common to us all.

-Brad OH Inc.

1 thought on “On Human Nature

  1. Pingback: Everything is Everything | Brad OH Inc.

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