What it Means to Be Really Human
There is a difference between being human and being really human.
Back in the Sixties, when the Human Potential movement was active, this difference was clear. My guru at the time started the Real People Press when he was into Gestalt Physiology, and I lived for one summer with his second wife on his desert ranch in Utah. I also did time in a Mexican jail for being a hippy, was deported from Mexico and told to never come back. As far as they were concerned, I was too real for them.
Being incurably stubborn, I persisted in being me and ended up being kicked out of Heaven – or what many people considered Heaven at the time: Silicon Valley. Perhaps this makes me Lucifer, but in practice it only makes me an old duffer living on my Social Security in rural Costa Rica.
An old duffer with an overstuffed bookcase, that is. I do read, and read a lot – another sign of my moral depravity. Yesterday, as I was digging through my book pile, I came across three books by Ortega y Gasset that I had forgotten. This guy, once described as “the greatest European writer after Nietzsche” by Albert Camus, has since been forgotten.
Today I am quoting from his book Man and Crisis, chapter two. He is an unusual philosopher, one that has depth and also clarity – as you will see:
Man is a most strange entity, who, in order to be what he is, needs first to find out what he is; needs, whether he will or no, to ask himself what are the things around him and what, there in the midst of them, is he…
The essence of man..lies in the fact that he has no choice but to force himself to know… to resolve the problem of his own being and toward this end the problem of what are the things among which he must inexorably have that being. This – that which he needs to know, that whether he likes it or not, he needs to work on to the best of his intellectual means – is what undoubtedly constitutes the human condition.
Does he really understand with the required fullness of intelligence, does he really know anything with a complete and unshakable knowing? If we ask ourselves this, we note very quickly that the matter is highly dubious and problematical. On the other hand, I repeat, it is beyond question that man needs to know.
Man does not busy himself in learning, in comprehending, simply because he has talents and intelligence which enable him to know and understand, but to the contrary; for the very reason he has no choice but to try to comprehend, to know, he mobilizes all the abilities of which he stands possessed, even though for that necessity these may serve him very badly.
That task, as we have said, is called “living”; the essence of living is that man is always existing within an environment, that he finds himself – suddenly and without knowing how he got there…
Here he is on solid existentialist ground, as Heidegger says, we are thrown into the world – and left to sink or swim on our own. His main point, I repeat, is that man needs to know - and that is part and parcel of who he is.
However – and this is something no one seems to see, but is the paramount fact of our time:
Man is no longer able to think for himself, or about himself – or to put it bluntly: is no longer able to be human. And he is unable to realize this.
Don’t take it from me, take it from Ortega y Gasset, who explains it much better than I can.