Human Beings: As It Turns Out, Not Made With An Erector Set


Here’s a new thing I want everyone to try. Try to stop saying that human beings are “built” for any particular state or way of being. Because at least 99% of the time, when you make such a claim, you are patently wrong.

Here’s a list of things I have heard that humans/people are built for, or aren’t built for. And in most of these examples, I’ve heard both “are” and “aren't” used about equally — indicating less differences of opinion and more a whole lot of people talking out of their asses.

  • To live in clean and neat spaces
  • To live in chaos and clutter
  • To be solitary
  • To never be alone
  • To grasp the wonders of the perceivable universe
  • To ignore what we know about the wonders of the perceivable universe
  • To live their life in the spotlight
  • To live their whole life without ever being in the spotlight
  • To believe in a higher power
  • To function without the belief in a higher power
  • To be monogamous
  • To be polyamorous
  • To live in sustained grief or depression
  • To live in a sustained state of peace or happiness
  • To change their fundamental nature
  • To live for years without their nature being changed
  • To live in places where it’s very cold
  • To live in places where it’s very hot
  • To live in places where it’s very dry
  • To live in places where it’s very wet
  • To be in Sub/Dom relationships
  • To be in relationships with no power play component
  • To sit for work all day
  • To be on their feet all day
  • To work third-shift
  • To work first-shift
  • To work second-shift
  • To work rotating-shifts
  • To stay at one job their whole life
  • To move from job to job
  • To be indoors all the time
  • To survive without adequate shelter
  • To handle too much information
  • To function on too little information
  • To make all our own decisions and always know what is best for us
  • To leave important choices for our lives up to others to decide

This is literally just a small sample of what I’m talking about. Let’s make one thing very clear here. There are a ridiculously small number of things human beings are so obviously biologically predisposed to do or be, that you can say as a species we are “built” for them. Consuming food and ejecting waste. Inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. Blinking. Okay if I’m including every entirely autonomic human biological function, the list of things we are genuinely built to do isn’t tiny — but it’s still infinitely smaller than many people would make it out to be. You could even argue that we’re not all built to procreate, as some of us are born sterile or without other necessary bodily functions it would take to produce off-spring.

But the other thing that’s being ignored in this particular choice of words, is that even most of the things we are physically built to do/not do, we can choose to overcome by force of will and ingenuity. There was time when living in remote parts of Nevada or North Dakota would’ve been wholly inconceivable, because no human could endure the heat or cold for long. But we didn’t just invent a way to control the climates we live in, we made it possible for humans to live in much harsher climates than we could before.

Some will say that the list above is built on extremes and absolutes. To those people I would say, “Well, duh.” My entire point is that I routinely see people make these kinds of claims about humanity or people at large, as if our tolerances, endurances and wills are all identical. And if there is one way in which humans most diverge from other animals on this planet, among the approximately 7,514,804,620 of us, we have a metric crap ton of varied tolerances, endurances and wills to go around.

Markus Mainka/123RF

Stop pretending that our basic model is so rooted in simple functions, and who we are is so very limited. I’m not saying I’ve never used phrases like “Human beings are built to” or “People aren’t made to” in ways which would make hyperbole and generalizations blush. But I am saying that I shouldn’t ever use them except for very basic and obvious things — like swallowing or sneezing. And from here on I am going to work at eradicating such phrases from my available vocabulary options. Because not only is it just lazy, it’s the kind of fact-less drivel that causes a lot of strife and pain in our world. Telling people that any one way to be, think or feel is inherently human — so by definition its opposite is somehow inherently not human — isn’t inclusive or intersectional at all.

Hyperbole has its place and function, both in informative and informal writing. But when you catch yourself making specious claims about what is at the core of being a human being, stop and think about how that claim can be used to hurt, marginalize and erase people’s self-identities and the reality of their lived experiences. Because we have enough problems in this world, without our casual use of linguistic extremes and absolutes feeding into the strife and division.

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