Any debate regarding the nature and worth of human beings that is based entirely upon immediate social structures and/or states, presupposed ethnic and/or socio-cultural prejudices, and historical/cultural relative aspects of cultural belief should be avoided by any whom wish to ethically address the deep questions raised by an incurably social humanity. Political platformers, social activists, literary geniuses, religious visionaries, philosophers, artists and theologians have argued, agreed, pushed, pulled, and, on more than a few occasions, loosed flashes of brilliance in addresses, books, debates, and rallies regarding the topic of civility and humanity. It seems, however, that a resolution regarding a universally complementary society remains unattainable.
The evil culprit behind this aloofness, I believe, can be discovered relentlessly meandering and weaving its non-tangible self into and around the aforementioned ethical trilemma hinted at in the opening sentence of this paragraph. Meanwhile, the resultant wars - large or small - rage on. Individuals wishing to participate in any debate concerning the nature and worth of human beings should at the very least declare as the highest prerequisite the ability to differentiate between immediate social structures and/or states, presupposed ethnic and/or socio-cultural prejudices, and historical/cultural relative aspects of cultural belief and the universals available to us all. Surprisingly, the effect of such a prerequisite is quite conducive to the academic disciplines upon which the trilemma is partially and crookedly constructed. Disciplines such as religion, cross-cultural anthropology, sociology, and history are not diluted but are actually elevated to their proper positions in the world, sciences, and experiences of the worldly inhabitants who join and/or use them.
The effect of the trilemma is no more vivid than in the long held debates regarding noble savagery, or, more specifically, the existence or non-existence of the noble savage. The questions concerning noble savagery rise conceptually from the annals of American and world history, theological and philosophical dialogue, and, most ardently, from the pages of classic works of literature, such as: Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and, quite vividly, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. In each case, the literary interpretation derived from these writings forces a reader to grapple with the uncertainty of supporting civil savagery over savage civility, or, of course, vice versa. I, however, believe the dilemma of the noble savage can indeed be solved as a result of the ethical treatment of the universal human condition; this form of treatment, however, requires the elevated position of religious, philosophical, anthropological, and historical dialogue as concerning their human facilitators/constituents.
UNIVERSAL HUMAN NATURE
Human beings are social beings, universally. Any noble savage debate/investigation should be immediately tempered by this understanding. Humankind searches for the social within the immediate context/environment they have been placed into - be it voluntarily or not, consciously or not. Literary examples of the phenomenon manifest in numerous fashions. Traditional or expected forms can be seen in literary depictions of a group of children forming a social cohesion amongst each other (Lord of the Flies), tribal togetherness (Last of the Mohicans), or the intrusion of the ‘civil’ upon the ‘uncivil’ (The Tempest/Things Fall Apart). Non-traditional forms proving not only the human need for social being, but also the incredible lengths at which environmental adaptation is chased, can be seen in the script of Castaway. Castaway’s story reveals a man so desperate for social interaction that he invents a companion out of a volleyball. Granted, the literature cited is fiction; more often than not literary license is, however, a license to simply tell or express aspects of truth. History itself supports the many ‘fictitiously-factual’ depictions of the human social tendency/need presented or alluded to via the aforementioned examples of art/literature. In fact, the history in question is often preserved in era-relative art or artifacts. Even Cromagnon humans - reaching as far back in time as 35,000 B.C.E. - have left evidence of their instinctive social tendency.
Jacquetta Hawkes, a distinguished archaeologist, historian, and author, addresses this pre-historic social inclination aptly in the following excerpt:
[This] reference to a plurality of “groups” needs explanation. In the early days of archaeology, when the existence of this late Old Stone Age world was first being revealed in the cave dwellings of France and Spain, the excavators observed that various groups of distinctive flints and bone tools invariably appeared in the same relative order in the layers of occupation rubbish on cave floors. They were recognized as specialized cultural divisions within the blade and burin tradition and named after the French sites where they were best represented. When very similar remains were found throughout much of Europe and into Asia, the French names were extended to them. Although later generations of archaeologists have preferred to name many more localized cultures of the period and have questioned whether the extension of French nomenclature is valid, there still seems good reason to believe that widespread similarities of culture do in historical truth indicate movements of people or contacts among them. Radiocarbon dating supported this view when it proved that the succession of cultures corresponded to successive periods of time (though with some overlapping), and that in some instances the succession indicated a consistent spread from east to west.
Illustrations encompassing the broader scope of human history and time are readily available; for this particular study, however, Cromagnon evidence should suffice. Additional citations would simply be redundant at this point. The point to be made here revolves not entirely around the fact of the human need for social interaction, which, again, the reader should not as having existed even from the earliest records (Cromagnon) of human existence. The larger picture to focus upon here revolves around the type or character of human interaction within the society or societal structure. Herein exists a very subversive problem to the debate regarding the myth or reality of a being who can or should be considered as either a civil savage or a savage civilian â€“ regardless of the guise of the surroundings/environment.
The very need for social being creates civility. The civility, however, may and probably will appear differently as a result of geographical location, education, religion, culture, and scientific discovery/advancement. A serious problem, however, is birthed not only from the misunderstanding of appearances/definitions of civility, but also the forced attempt to superimpose one’s version over another’s in the name of human maturity, superiority, or even religion. In doing so, the major human dilemma, which regards how human beings should interact with each other within social/civil structure, goes, for the most part, unanswered and overlooked. The solution to this popular problem can be found in the sole focus upon specific aspects of relational being shared between all who participate in the perpetuation of tangible social structures â€“ regardless of its (the structure’s) local, geographical, ritualistic, and linguistic peculiarities.
All of this to say, that if we could somehow manage to separate ourselves from the tunnel-vision inducing blinders that reveal only immediate social structures and/or states, presupposed ethnic and/or socio-cultural prejudices, and historical/cultural relative aspects of cultural belief, even if only for a moment, we might just catch a glimpse of where a deep conversation regarding human nature, worth, and noble savagery might take us. It’s no where we would expect or assume, I’m sure. Unfortunately, we go on being incurably social, in spite of our inability to look beyond our self-created and immediate structures and all of the accompanying ethnic and/or socio-cultural prejudices, and historical/cultural relative social aspects. Our human need for social interaction combined with our inability to see the universals beyond the immediate, results in a less than righteous human social experience. Obviously. God help us get over ourselves.
Imagemovers/Playtone (Producer). (2000). Castaway [Videotape]. Beverly Hills, CA: Twentieth Century Fox and Dreamworks Video.
Jacquetta Hawkes, The Atlas of Early Man (New York: St. Martinâ€™s Press, 1976), 20.