Monday, March 20, 2017

"The Supreme Paradox"

"The Supreme Paradox"
by Robert Ardrey
"Man is a fraction of the animal world… We are not so unique as we should like to believe. The problem of man’s original nature imposes itself upon any human solution. Amity – as Darwin guessed but did not explore – is as much a product of evolutionary forces as contest and enmity. In the evolution of any social species including the human, natural selection places as heavy a penalty on failure in peace as failure in battle.
A certain justification has existed until now, in my opinion, for submission of the insurgent specialists to the censorship of scientific orthodoxy. Such higher bastions of philosophical orthodoxy as Jefferson, Marx, and Freud could scarcely be stormed by partial regiments. Until the anti-romantic (anti-blank slate) revolution could summon to arms what now exists, an overwhelming body of incontrovertible proof, then action had best be confined to a labyrinthine underground of unreadable journals, of museum back rooms, and of gossiping groups around African camp-fires.
If today we say that almost nothing is known about the much-observed chimpanzee, then what we mean is that almost nothing is known of his behavior in a state of nature. The romantic fallacy (blank slate) may be defined as the central conviction of modern thought that all human behavior, with certain clearly stated exception, results from causes lying within the human experience… Contemporary thought may diverge wildly in it prescriptions for human salvation; but it stands firmly united in its systematic error.
“God made all things good,” wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau. “Man meddles with them and they become evil.” …Stated so baldly, the Illusion of Original Goodness may bring a shudder to the contemporary spirit. But from Rousseau’s proposition a host of conclusions, all logical, all magical, came into being; that babies are born good; that in innocence resides virtue; that primitive people retain a morality which civilized people tend to lose.
The contemporary revolution in the natural sciences points inexorably to the proposition that man’s soul is not unique. Man’s nature, like his body, is the product of evolution. An observer of the animal role in human affairs can only suggest that much of what we have experienced in the last terrifying half-century has been simply what happens, no more and no less, when human energies become preoccupied with the building of social institutions upon false assumptions concerning man’s inner nature.
It is the superb paradox of our time that in a single century we have proceeded from the first iron-clad warship to the first hydrogen bomb, and from the first telegraphic communication to the beginnings of the conquest of space; yet in the understanding of our own natures, we have proceeded almost nowhere."
- Robert Ardrey, “African Genesis”, 1961

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