Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Reasons for Being

In the paradigm of evolutionary psychology a human being’s essential impulse is to project his particular genes into succeeding generations. This is not simply the instinct for survival or self-preservation, despite that it will manifest itself as such under many circumstances. If a man believes that his own death is necessary for the survival of his family, who possess a greater combined store of his genes than he himself does, he will be more willing to die.

A philosopher’s perspective is universal. He is concerned for the family of man. Like a parent he invents a conception of his child’s healthiest condition and uses his most effective means of persuasion to bring his conception to reality. His own motivation therefore appears to be for the preservation of the human race, even though it is doubtful that such an instinct exists as an evolved human trait. Perhaps out of the impulse to perpetuate our individual genes grows the impulse in a special few to protect the species as a whole, without which our own particular manifestation could have no life.

Following this line of thought a philosophical definition of good and bad would call that which perpetuates the species good and that which threatens it bad. However, it is difficult to understand, in scientific terms at least, how an individual could harm the human race as a whole. Each person follows his own urges for the purpose of perpetuating his genes and acts in ways not only natural but also necessary. He is not capable of an unnecessary act. In what context could he be bad? Is any individual human being capable of doing something that is harmful to the health of man?

“The human race must survive, and one is nothing until all ones are unified.” This is an ironic idea, insofar as its gravity becomes its own levity. Every society has its taboos and sacred cows, and yet each seems to enjoy laughing at those other than its own. If as a species we unite our perspective and strive simply to perpetuate ourselves as a whole, nothing will remain outside the range of comedy. We will laugh at everything, even and especially death itself, because nothing is more vital for our unified life than death. Moral truth in its entirety says, “Spread your seed, then die and make way.”

The moment we laugh for the first time at what was previously considered moral, we grow wise. In an age dependent on ethical ideals, systems of morality are repeatedly invented, and their founders fight like epic warriors over moral valuation and become the heroes of their age. When we look back over the span of history, we see these thinkers waging war on our behalf, and the other people and other events diminish by way of comparison. Peering closely enough we see that even artists have been only officers in the ranks, handing down, in decorated terms, the sage commands of their farsighted generals.

In the end however each and every one of these heroes is defeated. Another takes his place as the victor of the day, then another after him. In the long run their struggles appear pointless, if it is true that they are trying to help the human race and not simply to gain immortal fame for themselves. What accomplishment are we able to see in all this? If we return to “perpetuation of the species” as an object, do we perceive some manifestation of success in all these systems taken together? In order to answer this question we need to disregard the differences among them and seek the similarities. Each in fact is like the other in that it takes human life itself seriously. By seeking the meaning of life, each suggests that life is important and worth preserving. We therefore have been taught to preserve human life, or at least to believe that it is worth preserving. And through habituation this belief has become part of human nature.

Each system of morality gives us reasons for believing in the importance of ourselves as a species. We give up the reasons of each, only to replace them with the next. These reasons though, not seen individually but collectively, have created in us the impression that deep down we are not blind impulse. We have assigned purpose to that which is really spontaneous, and by consequence we have made it impossible for us to laugh at ourselves. We are creatures of purpose and are therefore seriously and even tragically interesting to ourselves. Perhaps we are laughing now at a rejected system of morality, but we do not laugh at the creation of morality itself. In fact we are addicted to it. We need to know why we exist. Therefore we continue to worship the latest creators of purpose, because they reaffirm our personal significance. They give us the ability to be serious about ourselves and to contemplate ourselves with the approving and disapproving eye of a parent and in the end to call ourselves good.

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