We, like all animals, seek pleasure and avoid pain. It is a truism – and one we need to learn to handle better. After all, we also know “no pain, no gain,” and we get to our best not when we are happily contented, but when we look for better.
The view that says we are all nothing more than animals driven by urges and impulses – not to forget, the deep-seated patterns of thought and action that lie beneath our conscious considerations – can’t be ignored. Our natures are based on our genes, as they develop in interplay with our conditions and experiences. So, we are bound to like certain things, simply because we are human animals.
That only explains a bit of how we will act, particularly when we understand something, have a little humility alongside a lot of ambition, and learn to know and control ourselves, and understand the world, better, though.
Just as it would be problematic for us to assume that we are nothing but animals, it would be equally as destructive to just assume that we are the pinnacle of the species, whether by creation or by evolution. We are not, in the sense that whatever we do was good. Neither is everything we want to do our own free choice. We do have a very different potential for learning and inventing, for technique and technology, than all other animals, but we are not above and beyond nature.
Therefore, transhumanism, the idea that we will go beyond biological bodies into the enhanced capabilities of self-created cybernetic organisms and uploaded consciousness, goes too far. It just doesn’t compute given how strongly and necessarily we – our bodies and our minds in unison – are biological. It’s not just a consciousness, our minds, thinking and constructing us, it is our bodies – and they are not just us, they are also microbes and environments. But, who knows?
It just mustn’t be the only way, trying to jump to another level by jumping off a cliff hoping to invent and create wings while we fall… but neither should, if possible in any way, a Luddite return to an agricultural or pre-agricultural world be the guiding light.
The real problem right now, however, is not that we don’t seem to have quite too good a grip on our being biological beings as well as ambitious in going beyond. Rather, it is that we only truly become better (however you want to define that) when we work on becoming better, on living up to our potential – and there is all too much guiding us into complacent consumerism, fun-loving ways that enjoy the now while completely forgetting about the later, profiteering ambitions that do whatever is possible for gaining more, without considering what we can and should do with what we have.
Sure, most people are pleasant enough, go about their ways and care about themselves and their families. Already when it comes to families, though – and often even when it comes to ourselves – there is not much of any real growth happening.
Life is hard enough, we just want comfort.
So, we just do the minimum of what’s required, we slip into the comfort and convenience that so-called modern life provides – and we fade away: fitness declines, overweight encroaches, the very sense that there’s more to learn, the fascination with the world just slip away, school was no fun and now there’s no more time and energy for learning much more either – and why should you, when the attitude is that “I’m grown-up, I know all I need to know by now, don’t tell me what to do”. It’s all too easy.
Even those who try to grow, who look into personal development, have increasingly been looking for life hacks. “Give me an app for that”, “tell me the one thing to change”… if there were a drug for faster learning, people would take it. (Indeed, children are increasingly dosed with drugs even when they don’t need them, adults don’t just use caffeine, but also amphetamines and other pharmaceuticals.)
Real growth, lasting change for better, in knowledge and behavior, will not come from quick fixes and will not last if it is only based on outside support structures. It needs an orientation not on the veneer of a person’s life, but on the lasting element in better living. A thing traditionally well-known, and albeit defined in somewhat different ways, known all around the world: virtues.
To create better lives, therefore, we need to try and aim for better – and in doing so, we need to look not for the immediately pleasurable, but for the truly better, which lies behind that which makes us uncomfortable.
No do-gooder attitude is required for that (even if it helps and is part and parcel of that to not just remain all self-centered), but “only” more understanding, and more actions in tune with our understanding of what is better. A habit of learning and acting well, for example… which in and of itself takes constancy and patience, i.e. two cardinal virtues.
That’s just the thing.
We get better, do more of, what we practice. It not only holds true for such things as the learning of an instrument until mastery, it holds true all the same for the “learning” of better or worse habits.
You avoid physical exertion and seek out the (supposedly) immediately gratifying kick of junk foods, and that will become a part of who you are and how you live – and even when obesity is the result and bad health becomes problematic, you will want to continue with that. Bad habits, hard to break.
Eat better, re-train your palate to know and enjoy the diversity of foods and flavors out there, and find the pleasure in physical activity, whether that be walks around the block or extended trekking tours, however, and overcoming initial inertia in order to grow and get better will become the habit.
It’s the same, going even deeper, with #ecohappy ways:
Learn to understand and utilize the synergies between the things that make us happy and the ways to live with less of a footprint on the world, and the power of this multiply better living will slowly but steadily open up. Richer lives, radically better lives, await us – and we don’t need much money for them, we need full living, with care and attention, engagement and awareness, responsibility and purpose – virtue. Deep happiness will grow from these strong roots.