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Human Nature

August 14, 2010

In “The Greatest Of All Evils“, I noted that Prejudice “is the one evil that is at the core of human nature, an evil that everyone is guilty of, and something so completely embedded in us that we might never be able to wholly rid ourselves of it!” But what does that mean? Why is prejudice so completely essential to humanity that it has become synonymous with being “human nature”? To answer these questions, we must first answer the question, “What Is Human Nature?”

I’ve given various answers to this question (albeit from a more spiritual standpoint) in several posts, most notably in my post “Idealism” (Don’t read it unless you want a headache!), but I must admit these answers are far from practical, often only serving to further confuse my readers. So I hope that the explanations provided in this post will provide more comprehensible explanations.

Human nature is not something that can be define with a single characteristic, as it is complex by it’s very nature. But there is a hint as what our nature is, in the word “nature”. No I’m not talking about Mother Nature; the nature I’m referring to is the framework that our very existence is built on. Defined as “the essential qualities or characteristics by which something is recognized”, the nature of something expounds well beyond attributes that determine a person’s behavior, and refers to the very nature of reality itself!

The reason why that prejudice is so difficult to rid ourselves of is because our entire conception of reality is built upon prejudice– it’s like being trapped in the matrix of humanity’s own creation!

To know where I am coming from on this issue, you must understand the nature of perception; that is, why do we see reality to way that we do? To appreciate anything as even existing in the first place, one has to (either consciously or subconsciously) apply a form and/or defining characteristics to those things first, so that one might be able to distinguish one [person, place, thing, idea, etc.] from another. Sound familiar? Yes, I am referring to the nature of something– the initial form that something must take (or more accurately, that humans give to it via perception) before it can be appreciated or made use of.

This is “only natural”, as something that does not exist is useless and irrelevant– after all, what’s the point of saying something exist if there is no characteristics applied to it? Such an object would be completely meaningless, and completely indistinguishable!

It might be difficult to follow that last paragraph, so here I will present an analogy, in the form of an extremely simple object: the letter “x”. We know a lot about “x”, such as its roots in various culture dating back to the first language (Cuneiform), that is symbolizes poison, and that it is the 24th letter of the English alphabet. So let’s see how many characteristics that can be taken away from “x” and while ‘keeping it in existence’:

Okay, so we are now left with one quality: “x” itself. At this point, “x” is little more than just a word with no definition (and a pretty useless word at that!). But there’s one problem: “x” still has a nature– even if “x” is the only thing that defines its nature– as long as something has qualities to define it, it still has a nature. Take away “x”, and you take away the nature”.

So what is “x” (or anything else for that matter) without it’s nature? Nothing! Everything in this world, including you and me, is nothing without a nature…or another way of putting it: Something that is not appreciated does not exist!

There is a famous philosophical riddle that deals with this problem: If a tree falls and no one is around, does it make a sound? My answer t0 this is “no!” Some might argue that even if we don’t perceive it, that perception is not required for something to exist. My counterargument for that is simple: Even if it does technically exist, what value does such an existence have? If something’s existence cannot even be acknowledged, its existence is completely meaningless, and as such might as well not exist!

So we’ve established what nature is, but what is human nature? It’s who we are.

There is one characteristic of Human Nature that is necessary for our existence, and that is perception— that is, the ability to appreciate reality. But here’s the rub: Everyone has a different perception of reality, because we all apply different characteristics to things to give them form. This problem has resulted in what I call Individualism, the propensity of humans to perceive reality differently from others.

Humans are social creatures in that we rely on the comfort of sharing and communicating with each other to exist. Furthermore, in order to exist that existence must be appreciated, preferably by someone else besides oneself. Sharing the same reality requires compromise, usually in the form of merging each other’s perception of reality into one (finding the LCD of communication, if you know math), and ignoring or rejecting any conflicting elements that would prevent proper communication, i.e. anomalies. But at this point we are getting into the more sociological part of human nature (norms and deviancy), and that is best suited for another post.

So how is human nature prejudiced? This problem is more fundamental than one might thing, and is best understand when applying a more base definition of “prejudice” to things: “An adverse judgement or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge of the facts.” The key word here is “judgement”, which more broadly refers to a formed opinion– but if you really think about it, also extends to refer to applying the form from which opinions are derived in the first place! In other words, prejudice is attaching characteristics to a [person, place, thing, idea] that might not be accurately, and are derived solely from judging something based on what you already know.

Here’s why prejudice is so difficult to rid oneself of: Almost everything that make us what we know about reality is assumed! Most of what we “know” about reality is just what we’ve been told by society, parents, friends, and people we know, and being unable to confirm this information (everything is an awful lot of information to cover!), we just take their word for it, because we trust them. There is a reason for everything, and when assume something to be true without knowing WHY it’s true, the end-result is prejudice.

It’s human nature to assume, because just deciding something is true is far easier and convenient then going to the trouble of finding out why. I would know, because I have spent the last few years trying to understand humanity’s nature (particularly humanity’s motivation(s), and it’s complicated– perhaps needlessly so.

The problem with assumptions, is that they override the truth, thus preventing people from truly understanding each other. Prejudice is convenient– it allows us to have a semi-complete picture of what reality is without having to go to the trouble of verifying that reality is in fact what it appears to be, and without having to understand why. Prejudice is the easy way out– to make a quick judgement on what appears to be reality, and then call that judgment “fact”.

Everything comes with a price, and the price of convenience seems to be the worst one of all. From the convenience of prejudice springs all the worst kinds of evils: War, rape, thievery, deception, violence, murder– every evil that is known to have originated from human nature, has originated from prejudice.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think “convenience” is worth its costs!

It’s human nature to be prejudiced, because assuming we know each other is easier than truly understanding each other. But because of this mass-reliance on prejudice, we barely know each other anymore– hell, we don’t even know ourselves anymore. Prejudice is destroying the very ability to communicate, because everything that we say has become warped by misunderstandings that are caused by bias– the bias created by the person who is already convinced that they know what you are talking about before you even say a word!

Now you can’t even meet a person without them putting their own labels on you within 10 seconds. That’s just going way too far, in my opinion. How can we expect to understand each other, or even communicate with each other, if we are too busy elevating our own preconceived notions of each other above the truth?

So what it comes down to, is that all the evils in the world are caused by the widespread propagation of false assumptions and forced-misunderstandings. We hurt each other because we don’t understand each other, and we misunderstand each other because we never try to understand each other.

It is human nature to misunderstand each other, because believing lies is far easier than seeking out the truth. But it seems that Jesus was onto something, at least according to what he said in this verse:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.”

It might be easy to follow human nature and be prejudice, but at this point it should be clear that living life in such a manner is purely destructive. Even though the path to the truth might be narrow and hard to find, it’s the only path by which we are able to truly understand each other, so I think it’s definitely worth the effort.

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