Comes Around

What goes around, the motif we pursued throughout the semester, has lead us far and wide in the history of literature. However, we didn't even make a dent in the extreme expanse of writing available to us. Every single book we picked up had a similar angle it was coming at, a question it wanted to ask that related to the others. Through words like Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How, we question humanity and try to define ourselves, our actions, and our environment. In the end, when all methods of approach have failed, we find ourselves at the beginning, right back to where we started.

These fundamental questions will keep coming around and going around as generations rise and fall. The questions will have revolutionary and evolutionary natures to them, but they are just rewordings of past inquiries. Different answers will be found with new defining or earth-shattering moments in our history.
Where do humans derive their humanness? Explored in "The Most Human Human" (SB++) and our readings on empathy, we sought to define humanness. Every time we found a characteristic that seemed to perfectly define us, we found out its antithesis is also true in us and that animals (and technology) often surprise us with their "humanness". Empathy was explored in depth, especially since the evolutionary nature of animals should mean they look out for themselves alone. Therefore, since humans look out for each other, that makes them special, right? Wrong. Animals also show empathy, sometimes in ways more touching than our own. And we’ve gotten good at faking this very trait ourselves. Scientifically, we’re even wired to mimic those around us, meaning empathy can be completely fake and reactionary. Even though we have failed to concretely answer this question, surely there is something special about humans.
Why are humans the way they are? Herodotus, in his book "Histories" (SB++), sought to make sense of mankind. He asked questions, thousands of them, and stopped at nothing to find answers. Because of him, we can gain an appreciation for inquiry. For instance, why is that log balanced like that anyway? Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it has done wonders to advance human knowledge. Herodotus explored many different cultures, telling their stories and explaining how they got that way. He was the first to create a cultural map, not just exploring the places, but also the people on the map. Even though some of his explanations are way off from what we know and have figured out today, he deserves plenty of credit for his answer seeking abilities.
Who are humans anyway? Lucretius wrestled with this question in his work "The Nature of Things" (SB and FB-). He speculated on the very beginnings of humankind and the world around us. He sought out the very building blocks of everything surrounding us, atoms. Atoms compose all things, trees, snails, water, us. That being said, the world and everything in it are all moving toward the same conclusion, death. The fear of death, something absurd in the mind of Lucretius, motivates mankind's decisions. This fear is our driving force, but instead of cowering because of it, we should put that energy into something meaningful, so that we can “take pride in what is sure to die.”
When do humans cease being humans? The “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (FB+) has been set in place in order to keep that question from ever being asked. While this document is powerless in court, it stands as a reminder of why it was necessary to create it. Some people think that all humans have been created equal, but that some humans are more equal than others. That’s right, “Animal Farm” (SB++) isn’t just applicable to communism. People have gone to great lengths in the name of science or religion to prove themselves greater than their fellow man. This has led to atrocities including genocide and slavery. In the end, we’re all just human beings, made of the same stuff. “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” no matter their skin color, sexuality, customs, or any other difference in which we can find fault.
Where do humans get their sense of morality? Nietzsche presents far out but seemingly logical answers to this question in “On the Genealogy of Morals” (SB+). Among them, he shows us what is really meant by “good and evil”, and chooses to use the words “good and bad” instead, after tweaking them a bit. He blames the Jews, and then the Christians, for calling what is weak, humble, and selfless “good” and naming strength, pride, and selfishness “evil.” This should not be, in Nietzsche's mind. While the definitions of good and bad depend on one’s position and viewpoint in society, there are correct and incorrect definitions. While we are currently in a society whose morals are defined by “good vs. evil”, these culturally set definitions are sure to change with time. After all, humans are constantly evolving and revolving.
How do people define their own humanness? Studs Terkel interviews countless laborers and includes their lives, hopes, and aspirations in “Working” (SB++). A man named Mike Lefevre greatly desires to have recognition for his hard work; otherwise, he feels worthless. Terkel not only interviews men who have made it big; he also converses with women and children, all of whom say similar things. They’re all working toward the same goal, to stop working some day. Many are not content with where they are, but they are certain that someday, they will finally arrive there. Those that are satisfied aren’t even working by society's definition. “Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” All in all, everybody wants to have purpose and meaning in life. But for the billions of people on this earth, there are an equal amount of definitions as to what meaning and purpose truly are.
I recently finished a book called “What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions” (SB++) by Randall Munroe. I found many similarities between it and both Herodotus and Lucretius because of its inquisitive nature and its scientific quests. In the book, Munroe fields questions like “What if a rainstorm dropped all of its water in a single giant drop?” and “When (if ever) did the sun finally set on the British Empire?”. He tries his best to answer them in the most accurate way possible. While most, if not all, of the questions wouldn’t happen in real life, it’s the spirit of this book that earned it a place in this collective library. As humans, we should never stop seeking answers to the questions we ask about ourselves, our purpose, and our environment.
Just as following a circle around its circumference, you will eventually make your way back to where you started. No matter what the case may be, you take the length of a spoke, multiply it by pi, and you find yourself right where you began. In the end, we can gain a greater appreciation of mankind by reading, but we cannot come to any solid conclusions. And that’s what comes around.
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