The Nature of Man

Dec. 2002

When people try to be something that they are not the public knows it. Those around the subject easily spot such an attempt and subsequently they harshly condemn the behavior, whether this pattern is evidenced in the aversion toward the Offspring's fictional white teenager who pretends to be black in "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" or in the Avril Lavigne smash pop song, "Complicated" where a "skater" tries to be a "prep."

The reason so many despise an effort to be something other than what comes naturally is two-fold: (1) We modern Americans hate a hypocrite and the ambition to be "something else," as Avril puts it, can certainly be described as hypocrisy; and (2) the idea of nature and to be natural are themes of lofty stature in modern America—indeed since Industrialization began to blanket our society with unnatural things to the dismay of many citizens. To be something other than what you are would surely fall into the category of unnatural things. Despite the propriety of striving to be someone other than what one is, we can conclude that condemnation of this behavior based on these two things is improper because neither regard the either end of the subject's ambition or the matter of the subject in the first place. Only when we do consider the these issues is it possible to determine if the action of striving to be something else is acceptable. With that said, I assert that it is not only possibly good to have an ambition to be "something else," but to be "something else" is the only way one can actually be true to one's nature. These beguiling concepts will be the focus of this piece.

To say that one must strive to be something else in order to be true to his nature would rightfully strike many as a contradiction. Simply, one's nature is what they are, and striving to be something different is to go against that nature, or so would the common understanding of nature have it. It is this common understanding of one's nature that seems to be in the way here, so to proceed, I will analyze this popular notion of the concept.

Given the popularity of Avril Lavigne and The Offspring, most believe that one's nature is what comes naturally or what is granted to someone just like skaterdom is granted to the subject of Lavigne's number. This definition logically springs the notion of natural color or natural reflexes. Just as it comes naturally for a brunette to have brown hair or it comes naturally for a child to draw away his hand after touching a hot burner, what comes naturally to someone characterizes one's nature. Thus, since a black man has naturally dark skin, it is his nature to have dark skin; and for a woman with a naturally curvy body, it is her nature to have a curvy body.

What comes naturally isn't simply limited to appearance, though, and if one canvassed the recently published gene books, one would notice that behaviors like sexual promiscuity and conditions like obesity also come naturally. Accordingly, since these behaviors and conditions come naturally to certain people, it is their nature to be sexually promiscuous or obese.

One who subscribes to this notion of nature looks around and sees the diversity of people in the world and concludes that there are many different natures if not one for every human that has ever existed. There are small people and tall people and each have his or her own nature; there are those who like the taste of chocolate and those who prefer an orange, each has his or her own nature. As a result of this diverse spectrum of natures there arise a couple of conflicts. The first lies in pleasure and the second rests in hierarchy.

(1) If our nature consists in that which comes naturally to us, we can also conclude that to find our nature, we should turn off our conscious mind and just do what feels good in order to be true to that nature. Because what comes naturally is that which comes without our own conscious influence, just as in the case of the brunette who has no conscious input to make her hair brown, or in the case of the child who quite subconsciously whips his hand away from the stove, to follow one's nature would be to at least neglect any conscious effort and simply live off of the involuntary urges and reflexes. Although it is fairly impossible to actually turn off one's consciousness, most would agree that it is very plausible to follow one's urges and eat that extra slice of pizza when one's conscience says no.

The most visible consequence of this problem is the obesity epidemic in America—one that would go unchallenged as a serious problem in its own right. Other consequences of following one's "nature" as opposed to his conscience include the general sexualization of the American youth. By most reports, teens are having less sex than they were twenty years ago, but it can hardly be questioned that with American Beauty and Kids as extreme examples, a general acceptance of youths as sexual objects has plagued the culture. Teenagers may not have actual intercourse, in concord with the studies, but they are doing other sexual things in intercourse's stead, things that wouldn't have been allowed twenty years ago, things like grinding on the junior high school dance floor. Though teens might shun premarital sex—or sex before "the one" has been found—their dress is sexual in nature (i.e.: pants that reside well below the waist and see-through blouses). If a teenager abstains from sex, yet dresses sexually, we must reach a couple conclusions.

The first conclusion is that it is clear to the children that sex is an adult thing, and that that the child is not to partake in the activity. The second conclusion, however, is that the kids see men and women as mere sexual beings, and as a child who is practicing to be either a man or woman, they must practice being a sexual being which includes acting seductively and dressing sexually. The consequence of this is nothing less than the complete degradation of the family. As opposed to the nurturing and education of children, to the practicing modern teen, a union of a man and woman stands for nothing more than a guaranteed hook up.

The devaluing of the American family is another dilemma that I'm sure few intellectuals would consider secondary. The reduction of the status of parents from leaders of productive families to mere sexual toys can be directly traced backward to the notion that we should do what comes naturally since, as most would agree, one of the most natural instincts is sexual appetite.

When we look for our nature in what comes naturally, we are destined to face conflicts with our quest for this nature and our will to maintain a functional society, whether it is because what comes naturally is a delight in eating fat-saturated foods, foods which our culture has permeated throughout our society, or because what comes naturally is some indiscriminate sexual appetite that neither promotes or succeeds at healthy child-rearing, a requisite of stable civilization.

(2) In addition to this, the popular sense of nature offers another ramification to society as a whole based in hierarchy. That is, as one subscribes to this kind of nature, he understands that everyone has his own nature based on the different physical attributes each individual has. He deduces that everything one has is a part of his nature notwithstanding wealth and social status. Just as it comes naturally for some to be either obese or pedofile, so too is it up to that nature to dictate an individual's socioeconomic class. Sure, economics are based on money which is independent from the person, and therefore independent from his nature, but food is also independent from people and the popular understanding is that one with an obese nature does something different with the food than the thin person does. Likewise, the poor person does something with money, innate in their nature that differs from the rich person.

Consider gambling as a conspicuous proof of this proposition. Does not the compulsive gambler use his money in vastly different ways than does the stingy storekeeper? In an effort not unlike those found in modern genetics books, this disparagement could be linked to these distinct individuals' genes and with that being the case, one may conclude that in the genes lie one's nature to gamble or spend thriftily. And if either behavior is in one's nature, it may well be in one's nature to be wealthy or poor since the gambler will likely end up poor and the spendthrift will possibly end up rich.

This theory cannot be limited to just wealth. So too must this supposition include civility and etiquette, intelligence and wit, competency and skill—basically every characteristic that composes socioeconomic class. Seeing as how there are those who have high and low levels of all these categories, one who subscribes to the popular notion of nature does so also having to subscribe to the notion that it is a person's nature to be either socioeconomically well-to-do or not so well-off. In effect, to believe that one's nature is based in what comes naturally is to believe that there are those whose nature it is to be a second class citizen—there are those whose nature it is to be bad. If one considers a skater a second class citizen and a prep a first class citizen, this trend can be linked to Avril's own song. Whether one must act on this latter belief for it to have impact, negative or positive, is not clear, but it should be understood that America was founded on the elimination of it and over the course of our nation's existence Americans have been struggling to rid the culture of it.

There is a major conflict between nature and society when we look at nature in this popular light. It seems quite virtuous to seek one's nature, but when one's nature is what comes naturally, it follows that either society falls apart upon our quest to stay true to our nature, or we fall apart in effort to maintain society. Solutions pop up here and there, mainly having to do with science and medicine as in the case of obesity or religion as in the case of racism, but these solutions usually only apply to the surface of the symptoms and rarely do they actually address the root problem. Sure, blacks may have survived slavery in the 1850s with the help of a strong church community, but their descendants were crushed by Jim Crow decades later. Metabolife may help a fat person lose weight, but it only does so by severely disrupting his health.

Even if Americans figure out a way to eliminate all symptoms of the problems we see, could we possibly be satisfied knowing that this seemingly innate conflict exists between our nature and society? Wouldn't we be foolish to assume that such a fundamental clash would subside in the face of our primitive sciences or religions? It is true that these solutions cannot be satisfactory, so we must not rely on them. Indeed, we must address the root of the problem, and only once we've eliminated that can we be satisfied. So, the question arises, is there a way to follow our nature and still progress society? Yes. The true solution does not lie in the aforementioned symptom-solvers, but rather a readjustment of the definition of one's nature.

There is a definite problem in viewing one's nature as what comes naturally in the concept's essential premise on where one's nature is found. If one's nature is found in what comes naturally, it could be said that all of one's nature could be found in one's physical makeup. Brown hair or brown skin are clearly physical, so too is one's "natural" reflex to limit the amount of time one's hand touches a hot burner. It is the nervous system, a physical thing that produces the sensation of pain that is felt when touching something hot, a physical thing that stores the memory of other painful experiences and a fairly well mastered sense of hand-eye coordination, also physical, that brings to fruition this behavior. Even over-eating or sexual promiscuity, though clearly behavioral, stem from the physical being, this time in response to pleasurable experiences as opposed to painful ones. Everything that we have covered as coming naturally to humans is physical.

The problem with this is that physical things change. Sexual appetite changes from mid-life to old age or we wouldn't "need" Viagra, taste buds change from childhood to adulthood or cheese pizza would be a delicacy. Hair color changes and so does skin pigmentation. These are all natural occurrences, consequences of nature's forces, that every human faces throughout their lives as a part of being in the physical world. With this being the case, one could say that it is one's nature to go from blonde hair as a child to brown hair as an adult. But if that is accepted, then so to would be the notion that going from brown skin to white skin (i.e.: Michael Jackson) is also a part of his nature since this is also granted by nature's forces. So too must going from large nose to small nose be a part of one's nature. And if these are a part of one's nature, the spectrum of possible natures must also include going from skater dude to prep as so illustrated in Miss Lavigne's song, a transition which is not at all accepted by her or anyone else in the masses.

It is true that we live in a physical world where change is inevitable. If we conclude that what comes naturally is one's nature, then we must accept that one's nature is physical and we are finally compelled to conclude that one's nature must change. The problem with this conclusion is that the idea of nature excludes change—one's nature, by definition is a consistent thing and therefore cannot be defined by something that is inconsistent or changing even according to Miss Lavigne.

So, if we cannot trust the physical universe to characterize out nature, what can we trust? That which is permanent, in opposition to the changing physical world, is the only thing capable of providing our nature. So what is permanent?
In my quests for permanence, I have been able to find a great number of things which last unchanging independent of time, things like harmony, logic, beauty and love. No matter what goes on in the physical universe, there is always an essence which exists out there composed of these things. These things are ideas—ideal, permanent forms of our physical world. It is here where the nature of, say, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony exists; here where the nature of 2+2=4 rests; here where the nature of a flower exists; and here where the nature of true romance rests. In other words, everything that is available here in the physical world maintains an ideal nature in the universe of ideas, an ideal nature that serves as what every physical thing is meant to be.

In opposition to the former definition of nature that presupposed one's nature to be what seemingly comes naturally or that which is presently available, one that makes acceptable any given condition, this latter definition regards nature as something that leads an individual in a progressively forward direction. For music, the forward direction is an ideal harmony and melody. For math, it is an ideal logic, for aesthetics, it is an ideal beauty, for romance, an ideal love.

In our quest to uncover the nature of man, the question then follows, what would this forward direction lead a human? Simply, this forward direction leads us to the ideal form of man or God. In this new definition of nature, one's actions, behaviors and even appearance are focused in a single tenor or, more precisely, one must be godly to be true to his nature.

There are quite a few actions and behaviors that one could claim as serving God, such as praying, being humble or supporting the church, but God does not pray to some higher being, nor must He be humble, nor does He write checks to a church and therefore, these activities mustn't be considered godly. There may be virtue in them and most religious people would contend that praying or humbleness or churchgoing are sincere avenues toward the ultimate goal of godliness, but not godliness in themselves.

To find godliness, we must look to what God does, not what we do to receive Him. So, what does God do? How does He act and behave? These activities would serve as godliness, and therefore, these activities would serve as those that would fulfill our natures as humans. The problem with this is that God's actions are infinitely dimensional and complex and if they are not impossible to know, then they are the highest attainment of cognizance—not at all easily grasped. It is necessary, then, to gauge His behaviors through their effect on things that are easily grasped, things like humans.

This behavior surely has a number of characteristics and many that aren't pertinent to this thesis. He is all knowing, but this is not directly applied to us in the sense that we are not knowledge. Those that are applicable to this article—productive, because He produced us, fatherly because He is the Father of our humanity, Indomitable because His power over us is nothing we could defeat, Loving because of His implacable devotion to us and Judgmental because He will be the final judge in our lives—have a specific theme to them. All of these characteristics are intentional and careful. It is an intentional and careful person who produces, who fathers, who is unwavering, loving and judgmental at once. One may offer an instance where they knew a judgmental father who was also reckless and indiscriminate as opposed to intentional and careful, but this individual wouldn't really be judgmental or fatherly, he would be irrational and selfish. So at this point, we should deduce that God's behaviors are careful and intentional.

Carefulness and intentionality are a pair of characteristics that apply to this thesis because these are characteristics that our social structure have condemned. The most conspicuous confirmation of this assertion can be found in the general understanding of the word "cool" as socially acceptable. In the social context it used to imply vindictive and cruel, it was the "cold" kind of "cool" and not anything good. Somehow it became synonymous with hipness, stylishness, intellect and savvy—all reasonably good things. The actual definition—detached, indifferent—never really changed, but the implications of that coolness went from bad to good. Where the passionate commitment of the 19th century romantics rejected coolness as unyielding, the ultra-fashionable and debonair beatniks and hippies embraced coolness as a foundation to their style.

It is true that most see the beatniks and hippies as champions for social reform and in this sense, they could be seen as passionate or committed, not cool. The way that beatniks and hippies endeavored for the rights of blacks and women challenges this notion, however. Hippies were not the ones who fought for their principles, they were the ones who made love to get their way. Beatniks weren't on campaign trails to enlighten people of their wisdom, they were the ones in smoky clubs reciting poems to accomplish their tasks. Regardless of what the beatniks and hippies tried to accomplish, the way they did it was what was important to them and the way they did it was always cool, detached, indifferent.

The population of the generation molded by the beatnik and hippie ethos, the Baby Boom Generation, was great enough to overwhelm the culture as a whole and "cool" hasn't returned to mean vindictive or cruel since. In fact, the word has mutated further than its '60s meaning of stylish and savvy to mean anything that is acceptable. Now if something's suitability or rationale is questioned, it is enough to say that it's cool in order to reestablish its acceptability. The preponderance of the word means that a social person must embody it to be acceptable—one must be cool to be satisfactory.

A very interesting thing happens to one's condition when coolness becomes synonymous with social acceptability. This occurrence is a factor of our needs as humans which I will explain presently. As a human, we are faced with a series of needs, the nature of which has been enumerated by past sociologists such as Abraham Maslow. In a consolidation of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, I have divided our humanly composition into three categories: physiological (which is as basic as nutrition, rest, sex and shelter), social (friendship with, acknowledgment, affection and esteem from fellow humans) and finally as Maslow described it, self actualization (a conscious, consistent effort toward spirituality, creativity, moral excellence). In attempt to accomplish satisfaction of these needs, one will most likely move linearly up from the first need to the last need, from physiological through social to self actualization.

As Maslow saw it, one would have to secure the satisfaction of a need before moving on to striving for another need, so only once one became happy with his health would one be able to search for affection from other humans. Only once affection from others had been attained could one look to attain spiritual accomplishment. One would move as a matter of course through one's physical development as a child and student, one's social development as a young adult and worker to one's self actualization as an adult and creative producer. This was how life was seen in Maslow's time, before coolness was instated as the second human need.

Once coolness fortified itself in the social disposition, the average human could not make his way through life in this fashion for a striking reason: to be cool, whether it is good or bad, stylish or icy is to be uninterested in what one is doing. Having satisfied one's physiological needs, one moves into the second need, coolness, where he is suddenly confronted with the ultimatum to be disinterested in his actions, his attempt to secure social fulfillment or not to attain his next goal as a human in social fulfillment. In other words, for one to satisfy his social needs, he must not satisfy them—he must remove focus from his goal and act like he his interested in something else.

One has two choices at this point seeing as how there are three total components to the model. One must choose from focusing on physiological needs or self actualization needs. The latter is a reasonable choice as it is the next in line, but for those who haven't accomplished social satisfaction, self actualization is not possible. One must produce some pseudo-self actualization to do this. One must act like one plays guitar or take up a weekly eastern meditations class. Eventually, a boredom caused by this superficial spirituality overtakes the individual and this may well lead to abandoning the higher goal altogether. Of course, this would be likely if one's quest for coolness hadn't already eliminated the option of spiritual fulfillment in the first place. Self actualization is a very intentional process, according to those who have been involved with it—Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, John Paul II. One must at least have a great deal of passion for life and for the goodness they try to present to the world, a requisite that is mutually exclusive from coolness's ambivalence.

It is more likely that the quest for cool will end up in a retrograde to physiological needs. These are more immediate and glaringly more pleasurable. Granted, to focus on these needs would be to subdue a natural instinct to progress but this consequence can be avoided if one replaces the true successor need with physiological in level of acclaim. Exaltation of the physical pleasures in life—sex, stuffing one's face, drinking and drugs—all becomes the norm in this case while anything that limits these hedonistic pleasures becomes objectionable. Ultimately, institutions and traditions such as religion and courtship, customs that implement restrictions on much physical activity, especially the pleasurable kind, become culturally inadmissible.

Although I have not included an analysis on the causes of coolness's ascent to cultural royalty, we know that the results are probably best summed up as the removal of morality and ethics from society. It could be that some 50 years ago, the beatniks and hippies looked to achieve this goal, and therefore employed coolness as a tool in their plot. It may be a complex number of things that allowed such a condition to find its way into the belly of American civilization. Nonetheless, it is clear that our modern social framework discourages what I would call godly behavior, whether it be by exalting hedonistic lifestyles, deploring religion or contributing a false spirituality.

Godliness is pushed away from society in order to facilitate society. Ironically, a slight retrospect reveals that it is this godliness which serves as society's constituents' own natures. So, in order to achieve one's own social satisfaction, one must abandon one's own nature—one must be untrue. This is the dilemma we face as modern, mp3-downloading, pop-cultured, consumerist Americans.

We know that godliness is our nature, so our only obstacle is the coolness caveat plaguing our social aims. If we can somehow remove coolness as the requisite for social acceptability, then we have a great chance to find avenues to true progress, true self-actualization, our true nature. Until then, we will be faced with the notion that our nature lies in our physical makeup. We will be faced with the prospect that we must be either poor or wealthy, that we're destined to be over weight or skinny, skater-dude or prep. Until then, ours will be a hedonistic society, devoid of progress and detrimental to virtue. Seeing as how social interaction is made of social humans like us, the solution seems quite easy. Perhaps, if we are lucky enough, all it takes is but the enumeration of the perspective offered here to initiate such a solution. Such a fortune is certainly my hope.