I came to an understanding that the secular progress in the history of our fallen species has been due the long evolved capacity for individuals to construct and subjugate themselves to rules of fairness in the form of secular law in ever expanding groups. Under the authority of law, political and economic competition has progressively taken on the complexion of a game in which all three fundamental aspects of our ancestral heritage become aligned: the primate impulse to dominate (winning), our boundless new fiscal sexuality (showing off), but, most uniquely, our hominid legacy to subjugate ourselves to rules of fairness. Examples of two great amalgamating forces (consolidated by language) were the power of Roman law (and Latin) followed by English common law (and spoken English) that then led to the miracle of the U. S. Constitution, which transformed politics and commerce into a constant two ring sporting game.
Two Visions and Abraham Lincoln
I ask the reader to choose between two visions of human nature.
1) Darwin’s vision in The Descent of Man is that our virtue springs from the “internal” fitness that it conferred to one group in competition with others:
It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe . . . an increase in the number of well-endowed men and advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another.
In the last line, there can be no doubt that the “immense advantage of one tribe over another” involved direct competition of group against group similar to chronically warring colonies of ants. At the very heart of Darwin’s idea, whether it is individuals or groups, is the Malthusian “struggle” primarily within a single species for scarce resources, as he clearly states in On The Origin Of Species: “As the individuals [or groups in this case] of the same species come in all respects into closest competition with each other, the struggle will generally be most severe between them;…”
Under this dark vision of social evolution, our Homo sapiens species is not just fallen but evil to the core.
2) A far more optimistic possibility is portrayed within this blog. According to this vision the authority of morality and justice uniquely ascended from the primate will to dominate as a natural consequence of the inherent productivity of monogamous groups. Then, as an eventual consequence of our own novel capacity for self-awareness, the singular spirit and force of this authority, which for eons had been contained within small kinship groups, was finally “discovered” by the Hebrew prophets as the living, theistic God of Abraham with whom each and every individual is thrown into an intimate existential relationship.
In this second vision of man, the hand of God, extended through natural evolutionary principles, transformed the laws of the jungle into rules of justice and morality; accordingly, we are not merely intelligent apes, but a unique species with the sacred mission to fulfill Isaiah’s prophesy that peace on earth will eventually come to pass.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
No other passage in American letters expresses more eloquently or accurately, within a concrete context, the role of God in history than the following meditation that America’s greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, offered up in his second inaugural address shortly before his assassination:
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
Before ending this story of my nocturnal pilgrimage, I cannot fail to pay tribute to the suffering of the teachers who inspired me by day—the legions of my patients, my dear brother, and my banished aunt. This is a quotation from my first book, Diagnosing and Treating Mental Illness, a Guidebook.
Each individual is born with an electronic instrument pre-tuned by the mysteries that braided together its strings to be set in motion by rapidly changing new worlds of experience. Whether who we are as individuals is thrust upon us or chosen by us, mental illness is a part of who we are and how we suffer as a group. Thus, being an intrinsic part of us, we should embrace the mentally ill amongst us and regard them as deserving of our respectful care for paying the price for the soaring genius of our human family.