The Human Condition (According to The Ape)

Posted on February 27, 2011


Ah the beauty of intellectual discussion… Alongside some chit chat about the finer points of Jersey Shore and thoroughly enlightening womanising small talk, I managed to have two interesting – and in a way deep – conversations with two of my good friends this weekend, that got me thinking and kept me awake on more than one night. Of course the world cup cricket is on and that goes on till about 5 am NZT, but this made sure I was up thinking until it was way too sunny to go to bed any more. Hence my apologies in advance, in case I make a complete mess of this from a literary aspect.

These conversations that I was having were on two completely different topics with different people (even of different genders) but interlinked in a deep way. The first one was with my close friend about silly and sometimes a bit evil things people did when young and stupid, which might possibly inconvenience others but are somehow justified at the time. Things like egging cars, tailgating bad drivers, pretending to follow other cars (to give them a scare), pretending to follow and sneaking in to the movies or tennis courts without paying, etc. In her case she had done some of the above at the time without too much guilt, but stated that now, with a little more maturity she would not find them acceptable. At the same time she had witnessed others indulging in some other acts mentioned above which, even then in her immaturity she found uncalled for. As for me, while I would find a car being egged funny just for that few seconds when it happened, I would never have done that myself, find the action unwarranted soon after and be a bit guilty that I laughed. While I have in the occasion shown some aggressiveness out of anger and tailgated the odd bad driver for two minutes if I was at the receiving end of a serious case of dangerous and selfish (or even illegal) driving (she was shocked I did this), I accepted it is less than intelligent. At the same time I would have never even think of sneaking into a movie and have refused to do so in the past (I’m a party pooper sometimes).

As we debated our individual reasoning and justifications behind our actions and views, it downed on me that this is related to a deep down primeval trait that defines who we are and how we think. This same trait came up in my second discussion over drinks with my other friend Saturday evening. There we were pondering the future of our careers and what paths they may take (as you do over drinks). We debated why we want to do what we want to do; why we want to follow our passions when it is often difficult align your career with your passions when you are 25 and do not have that much brand value or experience. At the same time we both had alternatives that would have been easier to do (and in my case I would enjoy as well, such as writing) and we would be good at, but which will take us away from our main passion, even temporarily. In my case, I should really be more accommodating and not be so fussy given I’m not working at the moment, and given I will enjoy some of these alternatives. Our problem is we both have a feeling deeply carved in our respective brains that there is something requiring immediate uncompromising attention, which is non-negotiable.

His passion is climate change policy, and mine is sustainable community development and empowerment (I used to be more involved with climate change itself than now), and being of this similar mould what we both want to do is to make lasting change in the world (we put it down to watching too many superhero cartoons, although neither of us will make the cut for any of their film adaptations). We both agreed that our passion and very ambitious goals come from our desire to earn respect and be somebody, and this is our path to attaining that. There was also the admission that our respective egos did have a lot to do with this and thus I would argue that despite all the good we want to do for others it is rooted in a self- beneficial (don’t want to call it selfish) desire.

After thinking about this a bit more as the night got older and his beer and my Apple juice kept flowing, the following hypothesis was made. Basically at the end of the day we all want to be happy and satisfied in life. From knowing about ourselves and those that we know well, each unique and unto oneself, we could say that the way we achieve or want to achieve this happiness is through satisfying four basic human traits in all of us that any desire or action or view can be dissected down to. We all have these four traits and it’s through progress in these that we attempt to reach the state of being ‘happy’ in its modern secular sense.

The four basic traits of the human condition

While we have all four of the above, we may prioritise some over others. And for each of us, happiness would result from the combination of differing levels of progression in each trait. This is what defines what we do in terms of wilful action, ambitions and the path each of us take in life.

However they also interact and influence each other, which in turn influences the methods by which we aim to progress in each of these traits. This interacting influence is not just from the current state progression (or regression) of each trait but also past and predicted future states as well. For an example my need to earn more, influenced by my need to earn health (and thus be in a situation that is conducive to my good health in the future as well as now) will lead me to work hard, but not over work at the expense of a social life and sporting interests, in a honest and legal industry. I may be able to earn more as a leader of a drug cartel or a petty criminal as opposed to a building services engineer, which could be achieved without working my face off through four years of university and getting me in to a $20000 debt with the government. However, in the long term being a drug cartel would not possibly be conducive to my health, and with my slim figure and nice legs, being a petty criminal going in and out of prison will not bode well for me either, due to unwanted popularity and a lot of soap dropping. Thus the predicted future state of my health will influence my decisions now.

The other influence is through the human (and Chimpanzees’) ability to love, care and empathise with others. To feel with others and understand how they are feeling. This is intrinsically intertwined with the trait of needing to earn love, as love and care is often – and though not always so, should definitely ideally be – bi- directional.

In my case the need to earn more respect is one of the more prominent traits, and as with anybody the need to earn love is also there.  At the same time there are interactions to a certain degree from my need to earn health, which affects my averseness to risk. Thus I will be willing to take certain risks for a certain reason, return or thrill but not others, and to a different degree to other people. Also coming in is influences from my ability to empathise and this often inconvenient habit I’ve had since childhood of constantly worrying too much about inconveniencing others. This is what lies beneath not only my passion for community empowerment, sustainability etc. but also why I had the views I did and took the decisions I made, when I was young, stupid and was fronted with the same opportunities and temptations for cheap thrills as a lot of other…well stupid young people.

My first mentioned close friend is the most adorable and intelligent and awesome girl, and we do think alike in a lot of cases, but she may have made different decisions to me in some cases and the same decision as me in others due to a different unique combination of the same traits, with differing degrees influence from others. She may be more risk averse than me in some cases and less so in others.

To top it all off, it is because my need to earn more is also quite prominent that I would prefer to have a career in the same field as my passion, rather than just being an unpaid activist (in which case I would earn nothing materially and leave those material desires unfulfilled) or working on a different day job and limiting my passion to be followed through nocturnal activities (in which case I wouldn’t be able to focus a lot on either, and also suffer in the health trait through over work, etc.).

So the conclusion is that everything we do is based on a combination of differing interaction by four basic human traits, as well as our ability to care. All these combine together to create the interests and ambitions which we follow through different paths, from selfish to criminal to indifferent to totally selfless, and are driven by the ultimate want to be happy. If you are a confused soul like myself, stuck at crossroads trying to figure out where to go now, the key then is to try to reflect on oneself to identify what and how much each trait means to you in terms of happiness. Then you can understand why you did what you have already done what you are doing now and also figure out what you want to do and why. I think once we get this down firmly in our minds, then we have the opportunity to work out a route that would not only allow us to fulfil our own desires but do that in a way that benefits others and the world. This then can be pursued without mercy like a NZ cop trying to meet his monthly quota of tickets issued on the last weekend of the month. Then not only can we change the world but maximise personal fulfilment and be better people as well. Or if you would rather be an evil genius, then that goal could be met to.

This is my opinion of course, based purely on self-reflection, cause and effect analysis and rational thinking, which I am capable of despite being the village Dodo. It is not based on sound scientific research by some eminent sociologist or psychologist. So don’t be surprised if it sounds dodoish. But in case you are annoyed it was this long, I appologise, I was annoyed myself.

Posted in: Life