Friday, 20 September 2019

The Past among Us: The Persistent Origin

This piece was written originally in purpose to pass an online course in Coursera: The Modern and the Postmodern (Part 1)

It has always been in the interest of human being to find out the origin of our existence. Although the presence of religion has attempted to provide some consoling answers, but actually the question itself is more than just about belief and search of consolation. People often ask why on earth we have come into the very state of human itself as of today, and yet we consist of different races and cultures despite being told that we came from one single human being. People ask how traditions and societal norms have become the accepted custom and thus practiced widely within society no matter how illogical they are. We ourselves wonder why we establish a certain kind of political system along with the law and moral standard regulated by the authority.

Charles Darwin set himself into a journey in his search for the answer. He observed various species from various areas. He took notes of the similarities and differences among species he found. He studied the behaviors of those species and compared them to each other. Eventually he found the trace of past in his present time, and most of all, he saw how even humans are related to all of those animals and plants out there.

Darwin once wrote in his book titled The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex that “man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” He noticed that how humans and animal share similarities in embryological and anatomical structures and mental characteristics. Darwin further argued that the difference between humans and animals is in the matter of degree, not of kind.

Historically, as Darwin argued, we can see some human’s behaviors in the past civilizations that still resembled the behaviors of animals. These behaviors, however, evolve over time and thus construct moral and social values. The evolved construction of moral and social values can be seen as an adaptive mechanism on how humankind tries in their best to maintain their survival both as an individual and a group.

Albeit we have evolved so far from our primitive forms, however, those animalistic traits are still present within as our natural instincts. It can be traced to the analogue behaviors in animals such as compassion, evil, greed, sexual competition, etc.

Similarly, although through different approach, Nietzsche believed that morality is a merely a tool for controlling stronger members in society for the benefit of the weaker ones. He argued that originally humans are supposed to be free, not constrained by social regulations.

Back in the original form of how humans once lived according to Nietzsche, there was no distinction between good and evil; everyone only lived instinctively as in their nature and capacity. Speaking of the history of humankind, we can see how some past civilizations favored the stronger members of society either by physical traits or by birth, thus put the weaker in disadvantageous position.

Although the civilization keeps progressing and hence gives birth to better moral and social circumstances, these natural instincts of humans, however, cannot always be confined. There are occasions when someone will stop caring about moral values set by their surroundings and thus show their true form.

For Nietzsche, morality is merely a pretentious and fake convention set up by people to suppress our true nature. Deep down, people want to express their very original and instinctive behavior. We can compare this idea to how Darwin argued that “man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” People are still connected to their past behaviors, even further, to their animal self. These past behaviors, not to mention, are exactly the very reason why we create moral standard and implement lawful regulation to control people from exercising their desire to exhibit their animal self. It is a proof on how the past has a persistent effect on our today’s daily lives. In fact, the past itself is exactly what shapes our presence.

Although Darwin and Nietzsche came to the conclusion that would sound like a reduction of the idea of humanity, more especially for religious people, their arguments can be found alive as we try to look for the answer of our origin as we trace back the history and behaviors among species, including humankind. However, Darwin also viewed that “morality is the most noble of all attributes of man.” As much as it is inevitable for our primitive evil behavior to reside with us, it’s also inevitable for us to be moral to survive, no matter how we must be faking it according to Nietzsche.

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