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On… Humanity

September 18, 2012

Not in the sense of amusing melodrama; “Oh! The humanity!”.

No, no, no. Not that at all.

What I mean to write about today is more about what makes us human; what makes others think of us as human; and the meat the issue, what makes us discard our idea of another person as human.

One word answers to all three questions suffice:

Records. Selfishness. Horror.

But elaboration always helps, so here we go with the first question.

What makes us human?

Better philosophers than myself (not a philosopher) have tried to answer this. There’s a lot of unquantifiable answers like our capacity to be super nice or supremely evil or have higher order thinking – whatever that is. But my answer is records. Writing. Art. Tweets. Sandcastles on the beach. Blog-fuckin’-posts.

Humans have a compulsive need to put into form what they experience. This human does, in any case. And so do our ancestors, judging from all the cave paintings. Perhaps it’s because we are so particularly aware of our own mortality?

Today we ooh and aah at the cleverness of the barely-evolved primates. But think of the stuff they drew about. Hunting antelopes and suchlike. How mundane! Why bother? They’ve done this shit every day for the last thousand years and will for several thousand more. But record they did, and record we do. It’s what we have in common; what makes us human. No other species has invented writing (aka fancy drawing).

Also, fun as the thought is, dolphins don’t draw. Not in the wild. You can train chimpanzees, elephants, puppies and such to ‘draw’ but as far as I know, it’s largely abstract art. Splotches and splashes of random paint. Children, though largely terrible artists, depict. Animals, I stress again, splotch.

What makes others think of us as human?

Selfishness was my answer. It’s not a very good one, because I doubt I could explain it well without sounding jaded and/or bitter. Anyway this is all about self-interest. As in, everybody is selfish except ourselves. Obviously.

With this question it’s easier to flip it to face myself. What makes me think of other people as human?

(This one was hard to answer, I’ve been waffling over it for days a week.)

Here’s a little driftwood of thought:

There’s just about 7 billion people on Earth. Assuming the number remains constant – unlikely, I know – if I took three seconds to look them in the eye and learn the name of every one, it would take me (or you, or Joe Whoever) just under 666 years to meet every last person on Earth. Tall, short, fat, thin, dog-ugly, godawful and Jessica Alba.

Golden rule. Silver rule. Disclaimer: the Silver rule / negative Golden rule is my treat-people-like-this doctrine. Ultimately both (though they’re both flip sides of the same coin) are externally focused – and exceedingly selfish, don’t you think? Treat others the way you want to be treated and don’t treat people the way you do not want to be treated. You, you, you, that’s what it’s all about.

Two paragraphs are pretty measly for having procrastinated for at week but that’s it, sorry.

What makes us discard our idea of another person as human?

Horror is my response. What does that mean? In the movies it would be the cue for dramatic music and sinister laughter following grisly murder, but often all it takes to turn a person into a monster is a word.

Muslim.

Pedophile.

Terrorist.

Homosexual.

Jew.

Rapist.

Banker.

Alcoholic.

Hitler.

Catholic priest.

Yes, sorry, the last one was cheating because it was two words and rather in poor spirit. But I think you get the idea. Simple labels make it blindingly easy to strip people of their humanity. “Convicted pedophile” carries with it a whole lot of scenery, right? What pops up in your head? Male? White? Bushy mustache? Pot belly? Terrified little boys? Lock ’em up and throw away the key, we cry out, because they’re not people at all. And then you read about this.

Every single person in that list has a mother and father. Perhaps a family and children. Friends. Coworkers. And a crapton of haters who haven’t a clue who they are.

Maybe the Golden Rule is a pretty good idea after all.

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