Monday, September 22, 2008

The Essence of Humanity

By: Michael Akerman

The following is concerned with heterosexuals. Consistent readers (both of you) probably know that I tend to consider homosexuality a kind of deviance, a choice that is not harmful, but not a biological imperative. That stance is not something that I will further consider or discuss here. Regardless, I’m inclined to believe the musings below still apply to homosexuals, but I have no experience in the field, so I shan’t guarantee it. Below is how I see the natural state of humanity, as far as I can understand my own beliefs. I may consider the question of homosexuals in relation to these philosophies at some later point, but I currently make no stand.

Humankind is born incomplete. Half-formed, half-sufficient, half-wise, half-filled, we retain our inherent flaws throughout our life. No man can fulfill all he needs without help. So, it is incorrect to say that man is a social animal. Rather, man must be social, because man is a flawed animal. Earth’s strange bipeds spend their lifetimes seeking those that can fill the wound that we arrive with. Our needs are simple at first: our families are the salve to our pain when we’re very young, then we turn to friends, filling in ourselves piecemeal, adding to our pool of allies so that five, six, seven close people aid us and comfort us. It is not rare to see these groups being extraordinarily gender-specific. Boys are the friends of boys and girls the friends of girls, the inherent similarity of sex serving as a point both of connection and comfort.

This gender selection is a product of fear in our young and simple lives. We can survive without being completely fulfilled at that young age, a boon granted by youth to save an overly-complicated time from growing impossible. This is good, because we are naturally terrified of letting ourselves become something unfamiliar. In our time of youth, it is difficult to accept the opposite gender because they are far more likely to complete us, filling the void within us and allowing us to be whole, but changing us as they do so. As we grow, we are confronted by our sexuality and our persistent internal struggle. We begin to seek those who are increasingly unlike us.

The aphorism “opposites attract” reflects in its bi-word simplicity the eternal struggle of mankind: we lack that which we are not. To obfuscate my point, the completion of ourselves cannot negate that which we are, but must fit the bill of that which we are not. It is abysmal to us to think of pairing with a friend or, worse, a love who stands opposed to the ideals we cling to, whether they be moral, religious, ethical or fiscal. However, successful couples are consistently similar, yet surprisingly different: the introvert pairs with the extrovert, the scientist with the artist, the fighter with the lover, the peasant with the princess, but they always hold much in common. To fill the emptiness that resides in us since birth, we seek continually, looking to fill out that gap with people who complement our self without negating the same.

I want to clarify, since I don’t believe I’m being universally comprehensible. We seek to complete ourselves throughout our lives, but with varying degrees of courage. In our youth, we find those who offer no threat to us, filling out a large roster of comrades who are like us in most ways, not opposed to that which we hold dear. Naturally, with the astounding natural variety of humankind, each of our youthful friends fills some small or large part of our selves out. We avoid the very different by some apparent natural drive: little girls and little boys seldom consort. This is because we fear the change that the very different can present: a confrontation of our hang-ups and ideals, a forced consideration of that to which we hold, a reshaping of our souls in light of these strange encounters with other beings. But these only happen when these others speak to you in a language you understand, when the other is not opposed to you fundamentally.

These individuals, who can potentially change us completely, are what we seek as we reach adulthood. Our courage grows, and, realizing finally that our souls are unavoidably incomplete without these challenging, maddening, heart-breaking few, we seek to confront ourselves through the eyes of others. Those born in the 18th century may despise me for this statement, but this is what love is: finding someone who challenges you without accusing you, who presses your minor beliefs without standing against that which is fundamental to you, who expands your self to include new ideas and attitudes. This is why a lasting relationship is so often one of pedagogues who can teach each other new things, new ways of looking at the world.

And this is why relationships are maddening. Not only do we seek a partner who can teach us and accept us at the same time, but our potential partners seek the same. Additionally, we risk and, to a degree, seek the radical shift of self we feared as children. It is no surprise that we face difficulty: impossible odds stack with a goal bound to cause pain, but that is our lot in life. Even the rarest and strongest of relationships must face difficulty in the adjustment of two souls to each other.

To reinforce my point, consider great art. The celebrated pieces of mankind, especially in literature, force us to confront this tragic flaw of our species, looking in upon the struggle of the characters as they seek to fulfill themselves or revealing more about our own nature through extraordinary literary accomplishment or the pressingly instinctual twinge of a painted masterpiece or musical perfection. Great literature is painful, showing to us that loss is vital if we are to become complete. The great romances are the most obvious, the standoffish Mr. Darcy, for instance, infuriating, offending, distressing and completing the social Elizabeth Bennet, but every great novel, and, I would maintain, every great poem, touches upon this facet of humanity. “The Raven” speaks of a lost love, a woman who completed a man, who shall know that fulfillment nevermore. “Romeo and Juliet” is an obvious, though simplistic, example of the same. “Steppenwolf” tells the story of a man who has given up hope of completion, yet finds a woman who echoes strangely in his soul, forcing him to face something he fears more than anything by the end of the novel. “Bridge to Terabithia”, the first novel that had any serious affect on my life, is the story of a quiet boy and an exuberant girl who build each other through a shared passion for the imagined and the good. “Lolita,” the finest novel in the English language, is the tale of a man who finds himself complete only through the forbidden, the inconsistent, the unsteady and unfaithful Delores Haze.

It is no surprise that we can so easily fear love, retreating into ourselves as if we can be complete alone. The stories that English teachers love engender in us the message that love is terrifying, painful, hopeless, and, finally, wondrously, inescapably beautiful. It is easy to lose the last point, but that is what we must cling to in the face of fear. Past pains and loss cannot be allowed to conquer us when what we seek, what we must seek, are those who are so beautifully like us that the fact that they are extraordinarily unlike us is no hindrance. Therefore, we soldier on, pressing past our worries, the pains of our past, and the fears that tinge the future, because we humans, we flawed, beautiful humans, must do so.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman