19 Aug Will we ultimately be a locust on planet Earth, or will we be like bees? (JOHN IZZO)
There has been much debate over the centuries about the true nature of human beings. Are we inherently selfish or altruistic? Are we born to be miserable or to live in joy? Are we inherently loving or violent? Will we ultimately be a locust on planet Earth, taking away the earth’s capacity to extend life? Or will we be like bees, bringing even more life to the earth than if we did not exist?
To answer the question of the true nature of the human species, it is worth pondering how Homo sapiens came to dominate the earth unlike any species in the history of life as we know it. Biologists such as Edward O. Wilson in his book The Social Conquest of Earth and Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind offer compelling evidence that what allowed human beings to thrive and conquer the earth is our unparalleled capacity to cooperate. Of course, humans competed with one another as well, and the history of war bears witness to this, but the real story of human progress is that of compassionate cooperation. Unlike any other species, we learned to cooperate with large numbers of strangers to accomplish common ends.
In fact, there is evidence to suggest that much of our darker nature is a later development. For almost all of human history, perhaps 99 percent of our existence as a species, we lived in foraging tribes known as hunter-gatherers. This was who we were before the advent of agriculture. Although the evidence is scant, it turns out that our image of our ancient ancestors as warring savages is likely about as far from the truth as possible. Evidence suggests that our ancient ancestors displayed little violence toward other human beings, were likely quite compassionate, and cooperated extensively, including routinely sharing food. They also tended to see themselves as deeply connected to nature rather than at odds with it. Modern hunter-gatherer tribes continue to display this cooperative spirit. Evidence suggests that it was the agricultural revolution and the notion of property that helped foster what most of us associate with our darker human nature.
This is not to suggest that humans are all good. But our truest nature—the most central feature of our collective self—is that of compassionate cooperator, and therein lies the root of our success. Much like our natural happiness, this true nature is obscured by shrouds of misconception.
The thieves are therefore as relevant to our community life as they are to our personal lives. It is my hope to show that the very things that rob us of our personal happiness also stand in the way of humanity’s claiming our rightful place as a constructive, creative, and positive force on the planet. The community and the world are inherently a natural outgrowth of our inner life.
The house of humanity is nothing more than an extension of the inner houses of us as individuals. The inner state of each of us affects the state of the world. If we want a better world, each of us must work on the constructive nature of our own being. This is why all the spiritual traditions call upon us to work on our inner life before we try to save the world and why positive psychology suggests that prosocial behavior comes from inner happiness, not the other way around.
The Five Thieves of Happiness