On Being Human

Being human is to be in conflict. Our lives are a constant struggle between the ephemeral and the guttural. We aspire to ideals of beauty and grace, all while vomiting and defecating on the world we inhabit. We waiver from moment to moment between impossible feats of sacrifice and callous acts of barbarism. It is difficult to even grasp the range of qualities that comprise us. It feels particularly easy to see and focus on what we consider the flaws, as they are laid bare daily on the televisions and computer screens for billions of us to imbibe. I have heard us regularly referred to as a scourge, a cancer and a virus thanks to our impact on our environment and our treatment of other members of our own species. However, those same televisions, computers and networks are, to our knowledge, among the most complex creations of living beings in our universe, and the boundless spirit of inquiry, passion and cooperation that led to their invention is similarly omnipresent in humanity. And in addition to our technology and scientific achievements, we are also the only beings we know of that have both the desire and capability to even comprehend and attempt to manage our own impact, which many humans do at the cost of great personal sacrifice.

‘Noise’ — A drawing I did around 2010, which focused heavily on our extremes.

Perhaps there are other beings out there who are capable of more, but anything on that front is conjecture, and there is good theoretical reason to believe it is unlikely that they will overlap with us in experience or existence. On the unlikely chance we were to discover them and manage to contact them, why would we expect their range of qualities to be any less dramatic in scope and any more in line with what we consider good? Is there any reason to believe they would even conceive of existence in the way we do, or have any interest in our concepts of justice, love or truth? Considering that most of our morals and ethics are centered around our own species and its survival and happiness, it seems very unlikely to be a universal point of cohesion. Even the most basic of our evaluations of value, interest, and achievement are based on our own characteristics, meaning that any assessment of our universe or other beings is really only to rank their similarity to us, and there is no reason to believe they would be similar to us or have a significantly different criteria for judgement.

Realistically, our romanticized concept of human-like extraterrestrial species who can share and expand our desire for communion and connection is even more unlikely than our ability to contact them, and ultimately that fantasy is why most of us have interest in the concept of life beyond Earth. In truth, we are dreaming of a more ideal version of ourselves; beings who can help us understand and act as an example of how to move beyond our limited existence. The fact is, of all the beings whose existence we can verify, only we are likely to be able to observe, assess, grasp and notably affect our own future and place in the universe. That is at once utterly amazing and deeply unsettling, but any other conclusion is wishful thinking.

‘Relentless’ — from several years ago, but a painting very deeply tied to this subject.

The peril in this perception of our singular nature is a trap though. It is easy to believe us separate, distinct or more important. We are not. We are discreet, but natural. We follow the same laws, live by the same clock and occupy the same space as all other beings, rocks, moons and motes of dust. Our achievements and marvels are expected results of the same set of processes that led to blue whales, oak trees, ibexes and bacteria. We are made of the same stuff and bound to the same short, physical existence. We imagine ourselves more, and often seem to believe ourselves supernatural, dominant and elevated, but humans have no claim to authority or dominion. Our place in the universe and assumption of superiority are simply natural outcomes of our evolution. Our disruptions to our ecosystems are a likely shortcoming of said evolution that will eventually, possibly sooner than we expect, mean our own extinction. But that is simply the nature of us. It is not something to be treated as a malicious or deviant quality. If, instead, we are able to correct our short sighted nature, it will simply be evidence that we had a compensating evolutionary trait that managed to increase our likelihood of survival. We are simply one step in a vast sea of action and reaction over eons. For us to claim any true responsibility for our existence or capabilities as a species would be akin to giving water credit for its fluidity. We are an outcome.

‘Reverent: Sea’

Research indicates that we are significantly more sensitive to negative feedback than positive. It seems likely to be a significant part of why we have survived, as it has allowed us to avoid and overcome the litany of very real dangers and challenges our ancestors faced. However, like many of the qualities that have allowed us to persevere through the gauntlet of evolution, this sensitivity can have complicating side effects. It essentially makes us hypersensitive to our own perceived flaws. We are an emotional teen, full of intensity and passion, but embarrassed and self loathing as a result of our inability to control ourselves. We are conscious enough to want to be more, but incapable of even looking in the mirror long enough to really see ourselves clearly.

Despite our conflict, our uncertainty, our impact and shame, I love us. I love us because we are complex, dramatic, creative, vicious, loving, deranged, stoic and severe. We are exactly what we should be. We are the outcome of a chaotic cesspool of bacteria, planetary collisions and supernovas. Our universe feeds birth with destruction and oscillates between brilliant suns and the deepest, loneliest darkness. We are exactly what makes sense as the offspring of the cosmos. Beauty, pain, creation and death; we are the universe incarnate, and that gives me a deep, intrinsic sense of comfort and connection.

‘Mourning Joe’ — A memorial painting for my friend Joe, who was an amazing human.