What does it mean to be human
As I write this, Britain has been subjected to another terrorist attack, ”in the name of Allah“, they shouted. They framed themselves as jihadi heroes, but hearing eye witness reports they were rather cowardly guys who used the moment of shock and surprise to stab people already lying on the floor. They inflicted death and injury. They are perpetuating the circle of pain, fear and violence – opposing that of freedom and love. It has made me ask the question, what does it mean to be human?
I can only guess what drives someone to commit such an atrocity as this. Let’s face it, nothing will be gained from it, for anyone. Not for any British citizen, not for any Muslim, immigrant, nor for anyone living outside of the UK. And, just for the record, if Allah created the world and is a just God, nothing will be gained for Allah. No one will receive gain, but a lot will be lost for some. I assume that the three men who murdered in London, strapped on fake explosives to ensure they were killed in the attack by the police (as they were). As the media broadcasts amply and ad nauseam demonstrate to us – and thus furthering the intent of those mislead men –, the human capacity to hurt, mutilate and kill others seems to be endless and beyond imagination. What a desolate state of being human that seems, where you are so lost that all that is left for you is to get killed and in the process hurt and kill as many others as you can.
We are nature.
While reflecting on those atrocities, I don’t want to join the chorus about what needs to be done now, but rather pause and take a moment to look at what it means to be human. Doing our daily do, it is so easy to get lost in the mundane and forget about the bigger picture. Despite of all the things that go wrong about us humans, we are an amazing species. One of the great misconceptions of our Western worldview is the idea that we are separate – of a different kind – of all the other beings of the earth. One does not have to be spiritual (even though it helps a lot) to see this. To experience it.
All species are part of the evolutionary process of this planet. 93 % of our bodies are water and carbon, very much like that of other beings, plants and animals alike. 60 % of our genome is identical that of a banana plant, 90 % with that of a cat. We breathe the same air, we walk under the same sun, we are nourished by the same soil. And we are embedded in intricate circles of nature on which we depend to be able to live. Apples don’t grow in plastic bags on supermarket shelfs.
As I write this, I am sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun, wind playing around me, birds flying. A bumble bee has landed on the armrest of the chair I sit in, seemingly taking a pause from flying and eating. It’s been sitting there as I am writing, all still. Then suddenly one leg kicks out. Just like me, when I fall asleep and let go of my tension. We’re not so different from each other.
As humans we have come a long way.
And yet, we are very different from each other. In our bodies we carry the genetical and cultural memories of single cell organisms that have become multi-cellular. That of plant and animal life. Of oxygen breathers. Of mammals. Some six or seven million years ago we hominids began to explore the upright position and use tools. About one and a half million years ago we discovered cooking, which allowed us to ingest enough calories to sustain our brain that is unmatched on earth and gives us the capacity to learn from experience, to imagine and thus to expand our awareness beyond that which is immediately in front of us. Based on those – and many more – capabilities we were able to grow, to function coordinated in groups, which made us strong and allowed us to not only survive, but to flourish. We developed techniques and knowledge to sustain us through harsh winters and arid droughts.
This stuff is hard-coded into our bodies. We stand on our hind-legs, even to a point that they no longer are our hind-legs. We have front legs that developed opposing thumps to investigate and create, manifest. We create with our hands (which contains ‘mani’ the latin word for hand).. We have eyes and ears that are placed on the highest point of our bodies, so we can gain an overview over things. We have a brain to take in what we see, hear, perceive, and to reflect on it. We have developed a throat and mouth that allows us to form intricate speech as to convey and exchange information, thus allowing us to draw on experiences we didn’t make ourselves. A thing that is even hard-coded into our language in the form of words (like manifest), idioms and proverbs, and narrated in stories and teachings. We have this incredible capability of abstract thought that allows us to conclude one thing from another and literally ”see“ around corners.
What does it mean to be human? To grow up!
Seeing humans in perspective (If this is empty, click here)
As a species, though, humanity is rather young. The whole homo branch of mammals is maybe 7 million years old. Elephants have been around for 60 million years, crocodiles for around 70 million years. There are no other species on earth (besides maybe viruses) to threaten us. Yet, humanity as we know it is very much threatened at the moment in its existence. There are no alien invaders, no terrible beasts. We ourselves are the deadly threat. We are about to cause our own extinction. And this not primarily done by terrorists and suicide bombers; it is just as much or more done by mining companies poisoning rivers, by food companies draining ground water, by cutting down primordial forests to plant palm oil mono cultures. Through weapons industries that create jobs producing deadly products, even by western people moving 2.5 tons of metal with an enormous amount of fossil fuels to move around 60 kilograms of human being. ”It’s not going to stop,“ as singer-songwriter Aimee Mann has put it, ”until you wise up.“ As humans, we need to wise up. Being human is to wake up, grow up.
My hope and intention in writing this is that by reflecting on those things, it will change our perspective on what it means to be human. It is important to remind ourselves where we have come from, the enormous succession of shoulders we are standing on, the incredible capabilities we have, simply by being human. What makes us so special is that which Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and Space X, has called ”the light of consciousness,“ and which is worth being preserved (this is why he started his companies, to do just that). But this light of consciousness will not survive unless we use it. It is up to each one of us to chose where we will be going from here.