Doubtless, you have views on humanity — what it is, what it does, what it should do instead, and how great or awful it is when compared to other species and / or in the larger scheme of things.
It has been suggested that there is something unique about humanity. Interestingly, all those who made these suggestions were members of the human race. Despite our best literary / speculative / philosophical traditions, there has never actually been an outsider’s view of us. The larger scheme of things is exactly what we fail to wrap our heads around when we say anything about humanity. We can’t pass judgment on humanity with any level of accuracy because we are human.
It seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Since times immemorial, human beings have given free expression to views concerning their place in the world. These expressions have taken two primary shapes — the good view informed by optimism about human potential; and the bad view informed by humanity’s destructive nature.
I want to write about two very specific dangers of thinking like a human being. When we do that:
- We tend to not think like any other species, and;
- We seem to confuse our view of the world as being some kind of objective reality.
The first danger is something we are already living through. Our speculative fiction often makes no distinction between the destruction of the earth and the destruction of humanity. We have, in our own imaginations, made ourselves the sole reason behind Earth’s existence. We behave as if all other life on earth is somehow of secondary importance. I would love to read a book where another species lives under a similar shadow of vanity. Recommend away!
The second danger makes us take ourselves too seriously. We talk of humanity’s future and destiny as if it really is a thing. It’s not. We may never make it to the stars. We may never even make it to the end of this millennium. We may allow our self-importance to choke civilisation to death. And the point I am making does not suffer one bit even if we are pessimistic about our chances. Humanity might achieve all that the optimists say — it might even outlast and outperform their wildest utopian dreams.
Human exceptionalism is something that gets into our heads early and insidiously. And despite the fact that it is within our power to push it aside and be genuinely objective, we fall into the many traps that come with it. Whether we believe we are worthy of the stars or that we don’t deserve to be part of the ecosystem we are in, we encourage the lie that there is something special about being human. There isn’t. We are just another animal, living out a meagre existence with our heads full of stories featuring our own selves as hero and villain.