The Human Condition

The human condition — such an odd phrase. Critical? Stable? Comatose? Improving? In medical terms, an individual’s condition is summed up in a single word. One gets the impression there’s a withholding of information. Yet when we consider the human condition — the current state of all humanity — we have so much to say.

I guess that’s a product of inductive reasoning. We focus on one or two things like poverty or politics and project our concerns onto the entire world, as if the human condition were a homogenous smear of peanut butter. Can such generalizations be accurate when each person’s condition is different? You are a totally unique individual, just like everyone else.

I like the word homeostasis. It’s comforting somehow. Wikipedia: “In biology, homeostasis is the state of steady internal, physical, and chemical conditions maintained by living systems. This is the condition of optimal functioning for the organism and includes many variables, such as body temperature and fluid balance, being kept within certain pre-set limits (homeostatic range).” But I have no control over any of that. It seems to happen all by itself. All I must do is remember to eat and stay hydrated.

Homeostasis is comforting because I know I don’t have to keep track of these processes. It frees up my mind to worry about the human condition or more prosaic things like whether so-and-so hates my guts, the ins-and-outs of doing my job of maintaining the nuclear power plant, and whether I can put off doing the laundry.

Religions attempt to address the human condition by prescribing specific behaviors, activities and beliefs. Many argue that each religion is so different from the next that none of them can be correct, though most of them have a common thread: Be nice. Nevertheless, we don’t like to be told what to do.

Science, rooted in pure reason, attempts to address the human condition through rational unbiased observation and analysis. Ironically, if one engages in truly rational unbiased observation one must conclude that the origin of every problem is a solution, often a scientific solution.

Not that the practices of religion or science are intrinsically destructive. If one can consistently be nice or find even a temporary solution to a vexing problem, it’s better than nothing. Without religion we wouldn’t have magnificent cathedrals or Michelangelo, and without science we wouldn’t have airplanes or antibiotics.

The term the human condition implies there are problems and maybe if we put our minds together we can fix them. Stagnation is the result of disagreement. But, be careful what you wish for — you may get it. When we do finally manage to implement a specific solution it is likely many arms have been twisted and many opinions ignored.

I would argue that each of us cares about the human condition. We want people to be happy and feel safe in the world. Whether this is some vestige of holy altruism or mere pragmatism — happy, safe people are less threatening — is anyone’s guess. Like the homeostasis of one’s individual body functions, we don’t want to have to worry about the human condition or, as some put it, the state of the world.

Knowledge is power, but it comes saddled with worry. One may find out that cancer runs in the family, ruining trust in homeostasis. Like an annoying Billy Joel tune, once exposed you can’t get the damned thing out of your head. One way to combat cancer worry is to engage in personal research, that is, gather more knowledge. Sometimes this helps devise a strategy for the future. If nothing else, it keeps the mind occupied on something other than worry.

Another approach to the human condition is apathy. Although bleak, apathy can assuage worry, but only if one is good at it. You can treat the human condition the same way you treat the homeostasis of your physical body, by ignoring it. Unless you’re pathologically OCD, you eat healthy foods, exercise a little, and get a good night’s sleep. You enjoy and don’t worry much. The state of the world can also effectively be ignored. A donation to a cause, a helping hand to a neighbor or struggling student is all that’s required to reduce any guilt feelings of not doing enough to improve the human condition.

I suspect the Save The World impulse was cultivated in childhoods immersed in superhero fantasies. This is grandiose nonsense, yet we seem to thrive on it. The latest Spiderman movie is grossing hundreds of millions. Are we really that emotionally immature? Oh, well. When asked if I thought Americans are apathetic I replied, “Who cares.”

James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, which states that planet Earth is a self-regulating organism, is largely rejected by the scientific community for technical reasons such as Earth’s inability to reproduce — there are no new Earths being born. But there’s a deeper objection: a self-regulating Earth doesn’t seem to require any human based scientific or religious solutions. It can take care of itself, thank you very much. If humans are the Earth’s biggest problem — for example, consumerism and the reversal of climate change are mutually exclusive — perhaps Earth’s techniques for its own homeostasis include reducing the human population. The current pandemic and impending nuclear war may be how it self-regulates. If one looks at a satellite photo of any large city one is struck by its resemblance to a cancerous tumor on an otherwise green Earth.

Wow, what a misanthrope! No, I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand. Just kidding. More optimistically speaking, perhaps human solutions are included in Gaia’s self-regulating homeostasis. Maybe simple moderation is all that’s required of us. Maybe unhealthy worry is the first step toward finding solutions. Maybe we can all agree to get vaccinated and wear masks. Maybe we can dismantle all nuclear weapons and forget the science that created them. Maybe we can redesign consumer products and make them all biodegradable. Maybe simple acts of kindness will ripple out until everyone is cared for. Maybe generosity of spirit and wallet will eliminate all worries.

Naaah. We’re doomed.



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