I was sitting here meditating over lots of things I need to get to on a too long “To Do” list and reflected back to my last post that I titled “Human Being.” If you read it, and I hope you did, I was musing on the idea that the meaning of life is simply about “being.” Sure, we can assign any other meanings we choose including religious or other spiritual beliefs, physical beliefs, purpose or mission oriented beliefs. But, in my simple, pragmatic way of thinking, having attached religious, spiritual and purpose/mission related meanings to my own life at various times over the years, I’ve come to embrace simplicity and to me that just means my life is about being – in the here and now. Perhaps, at my somewhat “advanced” age (at a time when 60 is considered the new 40 – it still makes me pretty young) I’ve reached a point where most or all of the past beliefs just aren’t holding any water for me now. As my friend, Rear Admiral Roger Gilbertson, USN (retired), a brilliant man and philosophic thinker, recently reminded me, “With age comes wisdom.” Could this actually be happening to me? Could I actually have acquired some wisdom over all these years?
Well, however you choose to believe is your absolute right. It’s not my purpose to make you believe and accept my views or opinions. If something I babble about here inspires you to search your own heart and mind for your own answers, that’s great. If you reach similar conclusions to mine, about any of the “great questions” of life, that’s wonderful. If you reach very different conclusions, that’s wonderful, too. The important thing is that you searched your heart and mind for your own answers. I still feel, no matter what any of us believe, each of us as a human being should ultimately accept that the being part of human being is about just that – B-E-I-N-G! All other beliefs are added to that basic belief.
Notice, however, that the title of this post is reversed from that last post. If a human being is about being, then are there certain qualities that are specific to being human? I maintain there is otherwise we’d be no different then an amoeba, a goldfish, a sparrow, a wolf, a lizard or any other animal, even an ant, for that matter. I don’t want to get into a discussion or debate on creationism, intelligent design and evolution in this blog. Once again, that goes to your own personal belief systems. I will simply state in my own belief system there are traits in the human species that are virtually identical to those traits found in each of the various groups of living things I just mentioned.
We hear the term “reptilian brain” used when referring to certain basic instinctual behaviors of humans. This reptilian complex is the earliest developed basic brain or basal ganglia. I don’t want to get too scientific about this, but basically, this is the part of the brain that controls four primary functions: self-preservation (fight or flight), hunger (which when allowed to function at it’s most basic level means we’ll do whatever we have to do to get food), sex (the need to procreate and perpetuate the species – and in its most savage and involuntary form includes rape) and sleep (the necessity to relax and let the body rest to regenerate). Breathing and other involuntary bodily functions are also part of this reptilian brain. The physician and neuroscientist, Paul MacLean, further says that this part of the brain complex is also responsible for aggression, dominance, territoriality and ritual displays.
Thinking about the idea that each human being has this most basic brain as the foundation of the very ability to exist should make it easier to comprehend many of our own actions and reactions in life. But, when you examine the meanings of the basic functions you can see why humans have spent most of their history involved in wars and other violent and primitive behavior. What are the typical reasons for most wars? Dominance, territoriality, rituals (like religious convictions), need to have and control resources like food and water and similar. And, of course, this is where we display aggression, sexual and other forms of violence and the determination of whether to fight or retreat for self-preservation. In other words, the same basic animal behaviors we see in all forms of lower animals.
The part of the brain that has evolved (I’m not using the word evolved to create controversy, it’s simply the easiest way for me to explain my thoughts) is what makes us human. The human brain has developed other lobes that give us the ability to create language and communicate, to reason and use logic, to think abstractly, to be perceptive and to plan. These functions are usually attached to the left and right brain hemispheres. This is where our humanness comes from. This is what separates us from the lower forms of life I listed earlier and control the basic functions I listed. So, as I see it, the meaning of life (for all forms of life) is to be or being in the moment and the unique qualities of the way our brains have developed makes us human, thus, human beings. I hope I’m not going in circles on you.
Now, here is how we relate this all to living free. All forms of life (and for practical reasons, I’m not going to include plant life in its many forms) are naturally born free. However, this humanness that human beings solely possess allows each individual and as part of groups of human beings to alter our behaviors, structure our lifestyles, create change in our social order and create structures and organizations to improve our species. This is only part of what our humanness allows us to do. However, we still possess all of the basic instinctual and functional characteristics of our reptilian brains. This becomes apparent in such things as the observations I made in the first two posts entitled The Apolitical Strategist, Part 1 and 2 where I spoke about lemming, gang, mob, herd and crowd mentality. We can add to that “pecking order” which can be observed in a hen house.
Being human means we have the brainpower to modify our behavior. We can choose to live in communal environments or in more solitary environments. We can be more or less assertive and aggressive. We can create laws and rules to maintain order in the communal environment and penalize those individuals who, for whatever reason, are not able to conform on a regular or occasional basis. Those individuals who are more adaptable to conforming will, for the most part, live harmoniously with friends, neighbors, family, co-workers and others in the social structure. They will “play well with others” and exhibit various forms of “team spirit.” For the most part, we will be conformists. That’s not to say that we each won’t display some degrees of individuality, but for the most part we will pretty much follow the pecking order and herding mentality, all pretty much as unconsciously as breathing in and breathing out.
This humanness also is responsible for our ability to be responsible for our own actions and be held accountable – again, keeping the more reptilian instinctual functions in check. It is why we can experience both giving and receiving various forms of love and affection from pair bonding with a mate to parental to familial, to close friendships, to team spirit and loyalty to a general concern for the welfare of all members of our species. It’s also what allows us to drop into negative patterns of human behavior such as various forms of substance abuse, abusive, violent, immoral, unethical and illegal behavior. It’s why; when we join a military organization voluntarily or involuntarily most men (and women) can be trained to dehumanize those humans we are either being aggressive towards or defending from their aggression. We change the identity of these other humans from humans to enemies. Our action now is to destroy the enemy, to take the lives of these other individuals that we are trained not to see their humanness, just as they don’t see ours.
There are, of course, various individuals within this broad range of human beings who do not necessarily conform to the standards, laws, rules, pecking order and herding behaviors of the societies as a whole. Some of these individuals may have unfortunately been born with some forms of genetic anomalies or chemical imbalances in their brains and, thus, may not be able to function and perform on the same level as the majority of the population. Some will perform well below the average, while others will excel and perform well above the average. In reality, I’m not sure if we can honestly define what average is regarding human behavior. I guess it is whatever the group we assign the responsibility of determining such things decides it is. We typically call them “the government.” In some societies the population has the ability to choose, at some level, who this government is. In other societies, there is no choice, the population simply most conform or suffer various consequences. And this introduces another facet of humanness, fear.
Much of our lives is controlled and consumed by various fears; we sometime assign the words “worry” and “anxiety” to these feelings. We fear not being able to take care of ourselves and/or our families. We fear our employers that we may lose our employment. We fear the various taxing authorities. We fear success. We fear failure. We fear rejection and loss of love. We fear sin and going to hell. Sometimes, for various reasons, we fear those we pay to protect us. We fear bullies. We fear creditors, mortgage companies, landlords and so on. Sometimes we allow fear to overcome us and we fear other people because of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, ideology, etc. We fear terrorists even though the likelihood of ever being a victim of a terror attack is miniscule. We fear flying in airplanes, being attacked by a shark at the beach, drowning in a lake if the boat sinks or tips over. In essence, pretty much everyone lives with some kinds of fears, worries and anxieties. And, our humanness has allowed us to create artificial ways to deal with these fears, worries and anxieties, we call them alcohol and drugs, both controlled prescription drugs and illegal recreational drugs. We also self-medicate with gambling, overeating, shopping, sex, exercise and so on.
So, a major part of our humanness is fear, worry and anxiety. It is impossible to be free if you live in any form of fear. And, of course, if you have multiple forms of fear, it’s only worse, if there is anything worse then impossible. And, if you aren’t free due to fear, then other then a small snatch here and there, it’s impossible to enjoy real happiness, contentment, joy and peace of mind as your normal status. So, if the meaning of life is being and you live in fear, worry and anxiety most of the short time we will “be” in this life, then the big question is . . . is life really worth living? Thankfully, we are resilient beings, thanks to our humanness. We are also able, for the most part, to adapt to whatever situation we are in, happy, depressed, oppressed, sad – and mostly, even though we tend to simply accept our lot in life, whatever it may be, we still hold onto a flicker of light we call hope. If we didn’t we’d all be drinking Reverend Jim Jones’ “spiked” Kool Aid or stoned on drugs or drunk on booze or jumping off the George Washington and Golden Gate bridges.
There is, of course, another group of individuals who don’t have all the faculties of humanness that the majority of us typically exhibit. These are individuals born without the ability to deal in a civilized world. They have various forms of personality disorders, as we’ve learned to term them. We call them sociopaths, psychopaths, bipolar, pedophiles and other names. Many of these people don’t have a conscience. They don’t know when they are hurting someone else mentally, emotionally or physically nor do they care. They have no remorse for evil deeds they may have done, including taking someone else’s life, unintentionally or intentionally. These individuals, when they can be legally apprehended and processed through the justice system (which itself is flawed), populate the jails and those mental institutions that still exist. There they prey on one another, create their own society, pecking order, herds and gangs. It’s a world that most of us can’t comprehend nor do we want to.
And finally, there are those of us who are very normal, however, we tend to be non-conformists. We are not anti-social. We don’t do anything that negatively impacts any of the conforming society nor do we wantonly or knowingly infringe on anyone else’s rights or freedom. We simply choose to live free. We choose to live with the least number of laws, rules, covenants, restrictions, limitations, oppression, confinements and so on. We choose to live free of most fears, anxieties and worries. We choose to define what we do with our own lives and how we live and dress and what we eat and how we generate whatever form of income and how much we earn and what kind of shelter we dwell in and where that dwelling is. We choose to limit the amount of material possessions we have. We choose to move to another location at will. We choose to live a stationary and sedentary life or one that may be nomadic.
For us, freedom begets happiness and we’re willing to forego much of what the majority of the population accepts as “normal” to retain the freedom and happiness we cherish more then just about anything else. For us, our humanness may be displayed more overtly because we are free and we choose this freedom knowing that our days of being on this Earth are numbered and we want to get the most out of every single day we have. The way we each display our living free philosophies and lifestyles varies by as many of us as there are. While most have accepted the societal conditioning and have chosen to conform to the norms, standards, laws, rules and so on of what is considered to be a traditional, mainstream life, for whatever reason, we have chosen a different path and to march to the beat of our own drums.
Being human means being able to choose how we experience being on this planet from the time we are able to fly on our own and leave the nest until the day we stop breathing and cease being any longer. There is so much more to being human that I can’t go into in this post. There’s at least one book that could be written on the topic and maybe I’ll write such a book someday. But, those who live free and happy and without constant fear, worry and anxiety, in my humble opinion, will ultimately experience and display more of what being human is all about then those who conform to a much more confining and restrictive lifestyle. And, here’s the best part – anyone can start being more human and living free at any time during his or her life. Right now is as good a time as any. It’s simply a choice. EVERYTHING is a choice.