What is the “Nature” of the Human Being?

en de
I am the hermit, crawling out of a cave, with the decision to see the world  in which I want to live from now on with a non-judging interest and as it really is…

… Nothing would strike us as more monstrous, more contradictory, and more incomprehensible than the human being, if we were to no longer prematurely explain or define him with our embryonic powers of understanding. It is only about seeing, not about interpretations and judgements. If we make a cross section through our history to date, or through everything that is happening among people and between people and the rest of nature at this moment on our planet, including that between animals and humans, then there is only one limit to what the innocent eye can behold: the limit of how much horror it can endure seeing.

The human: it is he who built the pyramids, it is he who destroyed cities down to the last child and the last cat, who sang hymns and erected cathedrals, who roasted people with other beliefs over burning coal, and turned those of another race into soap. This human hated out of love and murdered in devotion, preached love of thy neighbour and produced Napalm, loves peace and now prepares its own annihilation.

The inconceivable is demanding an answer. But let us take care not to provide any answers prematurely.

We know and accept the correlation between repressed instincts and drives on the one hand and cruelty on the other. The discovery of this correlation is one of the greatest and most hope-instilling feats in the history of our culture. Freud and Reich are the pioneers of a more humane world. But we have reason to suspect that what characterises the human on a psychoanalytical and sexual-economic level may well, at the core, arise from a more fundamental pattern of our existence or our evolution, perhaps even of the universal process of “becoming”. The Vikings, though they probably suffered little from the repression of their drives, nevertheless lived lives in which murder and destruction were often a central part. It is this enigmatic ten- dency towards excess that lurks deep within the human and that has, repeatedly, turned the human being into a monster – or into a saint. Excess, ecstasy, the crossing of boundaries, the dissolution of the “I” and union with “the other” shines through intoxicating or sacred manner wherever there is a sudden ope- ning. This boundless exaltation of inner energies has been and remains the darkest of motives in human history. It touches on all forms of horror, love, and religion. What do we know of the human, this germinating being? Measured in evolutionary terms its history has just begun.

Obviously something takes place within us which excites and touches us, through simply perceiving this world beyond the human one. We cannot fathom this reality, we find it is entirely different from what we had expected. There is an aspect of formidability that enters into all that is familiar as soon as we begin to know more. Matter and the immensity of nothing- ness, into which matter seems to dissolve when viewed microscopically. The living world and the enormous complexity represented in a single cell. Evolution and the gigantic theme represented in the time-span involved. The starry sky and the enormousness of its whole existence, represented in its dimen- sions. The domesticated cat and the colossal ancestry represented in its age-old eyes as a beast of prey. The formidability of what was done by inconspicuous family-men in Auschwitz.

Behind everything familiar there is always and everywhere the “other”, which enters our present from an unknown dis- tance and an unknown past. Its threads of influence meet and unite in the cellular structure of the human and, under the surface, create an explosive mixture of crimes, dreams, and in- sanity, that influences our experiences, our humanisation and our character at least as much as all conventions of customs and morals have.

Here there is plenty of cause for suffering. The unfathomable appears threatening. Human life seems to be surrounded by an unpredictable horizon of catastrophes, as has always been confirmed when the dam of convention bursts open. We live in this formidable world, are surrounded by its breath and its vibrations. Life that has been shut out threatens us from “beyond”, that is, from the repressed regions of consciousness. Every attempt to shield oneself through repression is ultimately directed against life itself. The threat is in no way merely imagination. We are truly emotionally and biologically threatened as long as we try to exclude from life whatever appears to be demonic. The paranoia of our time is pointing out the facts; the ecological and human catastrophe that approaches is a kind of revenge of misconstrued and violated life. The new culture that needs to be created may no longer set up barriers against the invasion of living forces. Its essence is rather the cautious but radical inner opening, the transcending of all barriers, the continuous working on taboos, and the reforming of all life structures. Its psychic and social rudiments should give rise to a vessel that can accommodate the whole human.

All appeals to reason and morals sound like primary school verses when compared to the appalling formidability of the world. The promises provided by past religion and the present promises of therapy are like a narcotic that induces sleep but delivers us into bad dreams. By bringing about new personal experiences, therapy can help us to change track. What then follows is cultural work on ourselves and the circumstances of our daily lives. Our suffering is a signal of a life not lived. Healing consists of recognising, and living, that “unlived” life. To surmount our deeply ingrained restraints, our fears and weariness, our much too cosy humaneness, and our alternative gardens of refuge, we need an experimental milieu in which such a process of change is understood and wanted.

Our consciousness needs to be freed from its everyday limitations and yet remain rooted in everyday life, without mysticism, and without resorting to the substitutes of art, education or religion. What is true in mental-spiritual values must be understood and realised in everyday life. This “must” is not a random one; it is the condition for our humane survival. Religion and art, dreams and insanity, sadism and war, are all areas where our lives unite and collide with the unknown. A central area of collision is sexuality. Compare the repressed, demonic sexual forces that show themselves in fantasies or even in occasional excesses, with the timidity of our actual sexual advances. The genders, in reality raging natural forces, act like soulful sheep. A flood of sensual and creative power has been blocked by a dam of convention, caution and fear. What remains is a trickle that cannot quench the real thirst. Many hardly notice it any more, for they have learned to pro- tect themselves from Eros – through sexuality for example, or what we commonly call sexuality.

Sexuality is only one example, though it may be the most fateful one. Anger has suffered a similar fate – the great biological anger that is brought forth by the unbridled forces of life itself within us, when life is trampled down or obstructed. So has curiosity, the passion for adventure, and any other form that our natural need for expansion takes. We have become too fastidious, too tame, too small. We are constantly holding back. That is the origin of our perpetual suffering with all its psychosomatic symptoms such as migraine, impotence, depression, and even cancer. It is the continuous depression of a life imprisoned in a ghetto, incessantly bombarded with impulses from the “other” world, the side representing the life possible beyond boundaries. This whole subterranean abyss between the potential that we have as cosmic beings and our guarded forms of interaction underlies the permanent irrita- tion that is fashionably termed “conflict between mind and body” or “not being able to let oneself go”. In the face of the actual theme we are talking about, the modern consciousness of suffering, coloured by psychology and therapy, is like an endless emotional chit-chat. It has become almost chic to speak of one’s own fears, back pain, or sexual troubles. Talking about suppressed emotions has developed into the most subtle bastion against a real understanding of the situation and real desire for change. The defamation of the intellect, so common today, has done the rest by switching-off the authority capable of giving us an overview: the head.(…)


Read more in the book by Dieter Duhm:  Towards a New Culture – buy print versionfree download




2 thoughts on “What is the “Nature” of the Human Being?

  1. tonight I wanted to share some of your beautiful words over human nature with my son, 19, …..and I opened your website…..
    In my fervor to participate in the world in a less consuming way, I destroyed marriage and family. an enormous price to prove that humans are capable of cooperation not just consumption… a tragic paradox.

    There is no universal nature of the human specie.
    We are all limited by our individual points of view. We all have only two eyes. And we all are limited by our imaginations, and interpretations of what we think we see. If Human beings could have fly eyes…with many more sensors for seeing things, but lack an analytical brain for interpreting then may be we would be more peaceful with each other.. then rather than analysing, calculating and extrapolating meanings we could only mechanically react to the situations we find ourselves confronting.

    The Nature of Human Beings is to interpret and select ideas and concepts that protect our emotional habits, and for the most part we are not interested in anything else. I hope you and I prove myself wrong.

Share your thoughts:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *