August 21, 2017

Greasy Critters with Amazing Potential

Humility is a difficult thing to come by in the western world, particularly in the United States. This isn’t to say that we’re a bunch of arrogant asses, although we certainly can be if we try (or don’t try not to be), but just that our culture is the child of tough, pioneer grit and rebellious determination, for better and worse. So, we tend to retain this mindset as a cultural undercurrent of sorts. But, mankind overall has an instinct of domination, of ownership and superiority. It’s what gave us our survival edge in the old days of banging rocks together, and banging rocks into the heads of other creatures that we eventually outclassed in the evolutionary race to ownership of the planet. Not very pretty to think of, I’ll admit, but it’s just the truth of human history. Humility though, that’s the difficult stuff of the truly rational animal, the stuff we have to choose consciously and often with no small amount of effort.

There’s a kind of difficult self-awareness involved in humility which requires a broad and inclusive perspective on the human race overall. We members of this prestigious human race of ours were bred ever since our hairy, lice-picking and turd-throwing days to get even with those that wronged us and to always get the upper hand in any conflict. Doing so meant the success of not only the individual and family, but survival itself. The strongest, toughest, and most persistent of us got the best location to shelter in, the best and most attractive mates to reproduce with, the most food to feed all the hungry babies that popped out from such success, and the most comfortable lifestyle to grow old and feeble in as the years of slapping each other over the head raced by. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

We’re all still the same turd-chucking, skull-bashing jerks.
But, if we were all subject to the same basic principles of nature, all of us chucking the same turds at each other and fighting for the same awkward, stuck-up potential mates to cuddle up with at night, then how can any one of us really be any better than the other? Sure, some of us are stronger, faster, taller, have bigger sticks to swing, or whatever. But, the natural course of human development shows us that among all the strapping, violent primates and other dangerous animals running around, it was our intelligence that got us the upper hand, our kindness with our neighbors that led to having trusted allies, and our nurturing of our own offspring that built up our strength of community and that won us the top-dog status we have. So, part of this big-brained-ness of ours has to include the realization that deep down, regardless of our intellect, our achievements, our souls, and anything else we choose to claim fame with, we’re all still the same turd-chucking, skull-bashing jerks—we’re all kind of awful, in a manner of speaking.

Before you run with this idea to unhealthy places though, understand that it doesn’t mean that we’re all actually awful in the strictest sense, but just that we have to recognize that we all have faults, some greater, some lesser, some different, and some the same. All things considered though, we’re all equally awful, which then means that we’re all equally not awful, or at least potentially so. Therefore, humility isn’t self-deprecation, chronic guilt, or even subservience, but the realization that we all start with a kind of natural deficit of character as well as a natural potential for greatness, the former of which takes no effort at all to live up to, the latter of which takes a bit of work to realize.

There are some cultures in this great spinning ball of dirt we call home that operate, quite unapologetically, on social caste systems. This means that whatever strata of society you’re born into, that’s where you stay pretty much your whole life. The upper-class stays in their ivory towers, snacking unappreciatively on crème brûlée or whatever, and the lower-class stays shuffling in the dust, overjoyed with fairground fried Twinkies and other lard-infused garbage.* This is more common in the eastern world, but before we over in the west get all high and mighty about civil rights and equality and whatnot, we all need to wake up to a rather rude truth—we kind of have the same problem, we just don’t label it as such. Without digressing too far into a full-on social commentary, I’ll just say that if you ever doubt that we share some caste society problems with other cultures, just try to break out of your current life station or career and see how difficult it really is. While it’s not impossible (land of opportunity, and all that), it sure ain’t easy, quick, or cheap.

The best way to defeat these prejudices and attain real humility is through our own self-awareness.
I bring up the problem of caste-system society not to criticize other countries or even to expose America’s subtle problems. It’s simply to bring it to the forefront for a moment, to raise your awareness of our wonderful human nature in order to conquer it for the better. While we little brainy primates like to categorize, label, and package each other in our feeble attempts to figure out who the “best” monkey is, the truth is that we’re all screw-ups just trying to look awesome in front of other screw-ups. The best way to defeat these prejudices and attain real humility is through our own self-awareness. While you might think this is an article about race, bigotry, or other hot-topic issues (and it very well can be if you like), it’s more about understanding our ontological equality.

For those of you who saved your hard-earned money on superfluous education, the word “ontological” just refers to the state of existence or existing. Whether you believe in God, gods, or even just the idle or mathematical machinations of the cosmos, we all have an equal ontological opportunity, even if not equal opportunity in culture and society. That should be a humbling notion—to think of the fact that we’re all mere toddling meat sacks trying to make our way on a giant ball of dirt and stuff that flies through space at around 67,000 miles per hour. But, the truth of the matter is, meat sacks though we may be, the fact that any one of us can reflect on this means that we’re special in some way… rational, you might say. This rationality is a gift, regardless of your philosophical outlook, and one that shouldn’t be wasted on fighting for the biggest banana or the best tree.

We’re all little greasy critters with the divine spark of amazing potential.
Humility is how we exercise rationality. It’s how we demonstrate that not only can we put ourselves up on a pedestal or punch others off theirs, but also appreciate that we even know what put us there and how it happened, and perhaps, just maybe, how we can step down off of it long enough to lift others up onto theirs from time to time. In the grand expanse of creation, we’re all little greasy critters with the divine spark of amazing potential for wisdom, transcendence, and just plain old kindness. All we have to do is be humble enough to see our smallness, ask for help from others, give up a little here and there, be proudly ashamed once and a while, and own our mistakes in order to realize our greatness.

* Personally, I love lard-infused fairground garbage. Those of you who might look down your nose at it just don’t know what you’re missing.