HUMAN BEING and BECOMING
by Hugh M. Lewis
We cannot know it so much as we are known by it.
The central question of a subjective anthropology is to ask: "What does it mean to be a human in the world?" "Humanness" and Human Being might be regarded as synonymous in terms of "the sense of being human." And we cannot sunder this meaning of human reality from its presence in the world. Humanness has been autochthonous in the world, and in its most basic nature remains inalienable from it. So however we may make over our world to fit our own image, we can never finally make over that primordial world that remains rooted within our own being. It underlies our sense of reality like a gigantic slumbering dragon, unaware that we have built our civilization upon its back. We are no longer part of the world from which we came. It became destroyed in the process of our birth. And the world of which we are a part is no longer a part of our innermost selves. In our all too human world, we cannot but help suffer a fundamental sense of alienation and separation from our own being, from our original world.
This alienation has led us to an endless search for our own being in the world. We seek many different directions to find it and it is never there. This need to discover ourselves in the world becomes insatiable, driving us to ever greater heights. It has been a mythological journey of legendary proportions, leading us to accomplish great feats and even greater mistakes. Homo Saipiens Saipiens, for all his wisdom, has been an aberration in the natural world. And never do we find what remains locked away within ourselves. Our only reminder of its proximate presence in our world is the shadow that always follows us underfoot.
Rarely do we stop to think that the being we seek in the world is found hidden away within ourselves, and is not a being of the world that we know, but of another world far removed from our own. Every fragment of that other world we find upon our journey is but a partial reflection of our own sleeping being, each time point back along the way we've come.
Being human and human beingness is something all people share. It is the universal substrate of human reality. This beingness is marked by human sentience, that special symbolic capacity has set us apart in the animal kingdom. From the standpoint of anthropogenesis, we can distinguish a special complex of uniquely human characteristics which together constitute and account for this sentient capacity--name the human brain, prolonged post-partum dependency and delayed physiological maturation, vocal apparatus, bipedalism and tremendous manual dexterity.
It has been this common sentience and human beingness that has served as the justification and foundation for the doctrine of human equality and the universal rights of humankind. It is the source of our capacity to recognize in the suffering of others the possibility of our own suffering, and in the emancipation of others our own liberation. It is the source of our sense of justice by which we weigh and adjudicate the guilt and responsibility of others and our selves for the parts we play in the world.
Because of our humanness, our sense of being human in the world, we all share, however unwittingly, in a common anthropological predicament that has come to be called the human condition, as well as in a common anthropological imperative to recover the sense of alienation we suffer by our sentience.
The adaptive significance of human beingness in the world, and its relationship to human becoming, must not be discounted. Beingness is based upon a sense of identity between internal frames of experience and the on-going encounter of the world. It entails the accommodation and readjustment of our frames to fit the on-going challenges and changes of our world. It mediates and integrates our experience of the world with our internalized frames. Beingness, then, is the expression of this integration and the dynamic that results from its mediation. Beingness, then, entails an orientation, a predisposition, an attitude of adjustment and adaptation to the world of the senses, to experience and encounter in the world that always brings change.
Becoming in this regard can be seen as a form of non-being, or rather a vicarious form of "being other than what is." The orientation of becoming is one that strives to alter the world of experience, and to control changes in the world, in order to fit preconceived frameworks of the mind. In this sense, as non-being becoming constitutes a form of denial of the reality of the senses.
It should be apparent to the astute that part of the contemporary anthropological predicament of humankind is that of a civilization, from its enlightenment ideology of progress and its anti-religious science, to its anti-death medicine, to its cosmetics and materialism, that promotes, and cultivates in the human being an orientation of becoming and demotes and denies to the human being a more genuine and adaptive orientation of being in the world.
Our orientation of becoming in the world has been one that has been rooted in our denial of death as an intrinsic part of life. Becoming has represented our vain and desperate attempt to overcome the dilemmas posed by our fear of death as the ultimate of marginal experiences. Thus we obsessively, neurotically reenact the separation of death in our everyday life, and come to build our world such that it is organized around such separation.
The consequence of the contemporary human condition is that the sense of alienation and separation that is intrinsic to human being is not lessened or repaired in anyway as would be by the promotion of a sense of being in the world, but is rather exaggerated and made greater by the promotion of orientations of non-being and becoming. We are today further removed from the realities of our own humanness than we have perhaps ever been in our entire human history. Not only are we paying a heavy price for this alienation in terms of our inconsolable and desperate soul, but the world itself of which we have been an authentic part has also paid for our becoming.
The possibility of our sentience in the world has lead both to our recognition of our own separateness in the world, or sense of difference, and to the possibility of our nonbeing in the world, of being different than who and what we are.
We look out upon the world and we are a part of that world and yet we are also separate from it. The side of us which remains part of the world is our sense of being in the world, and the side which remains separate is our sense of nonbeing. The former finds identity with difference in the world, while the latter finds the difference of identity in the world.
It is this beingness and non-being that creates the dialectical tension in our humanness, a struggle for control over the human psyche and spirit. Being involves the fusion of differences in the world such that though they exist they are transcended by common identity. Nonbeing leads to the differentiation of anthropological ego-identity from the world, such that an insuperable boundary is placed between the sundered self and the sundered world.
We commonly switch between modes of being and nonbeing in the world, depending upon circumstances. Insecurity and uncertainty can precipitate separation and nonbeing, a kind of rational defense mechanism to protect our anthropological ego-identity in the world. The attempt to maintain this sense of separation leads to the erection and reinforcement of such defense mechanisms as barriers mediating the boundary between ego and the world. Within the bulwarks of such defenses we seek protection from separation and death, and foster an illusionary sense of anthropological ego-identity that is separate from the world. Invested with vital energy in their props and supports, our ego-identity in the world becomes seen as something necessary and nonexpendable in our lives, though they remain in essence spurious to a genuine sense of being.
Our anthropological ego-identity then becomes as a transparent bubble surrounding our selves and distorting all light that enters our world. Because it is transparent, it becomes invisible in our perception of a distorted world, and we soon become oblivious to the possibility of a different, undistorted vision of the world.
The differences between being and nonbeing in the world, and their respective promotion or demotion, become the basis for the fundamental schism of human reality and for basic differences between people in the world--of experience, mentality, world-views, and ways of relating to the world.
While being seeks the identity of relationship and difference in the world as a means of adapting to the world, nonbeing seeks to cope with difference and change in the environment by controlling it. They are two different strategies for adaptation and survival in the world.
It is possible that anthropological knowledge seeks the human "reason for being" in the world, and this constitutes the fundamental basis for its pursuit. "Reason for being" is not a rational purpose, and cannot be simply explained or objectively understood. Though we may give many reasons for our being, Reason for Being is distinguishable from those we may bring to it. It happens to and around our reasons, in spite of and because of our intentions. It informs our reasons with anthropological reason. It expresses itself through us but not because of us. We are its vehicles and its vessels, carrying it and infusing it into our lives. Such Reason for Being informs our anthropological research, it constitutes the basis for our anthropological discoveries. We seek to excoriate its reason behind the veil of our many illusions.
Reason for being can be contraposed to the rationality of becoming that confers upon human existence a sense of divine purpose. The rationality of being covers over the dialectic of being and nonbeing in its principle of progress and the control of change, reversing its counterpoint, and thus, unlike Reason for Being, fails to transcend the dialectic and to achieve a transcendent sense of meta-relation above and beyond separation. The rationality of becoming can never discover the reason for being, but instead consists of a tacit denial of the reason for being in its embrace of the nonbeingness of the possibility of change--the principle of progress, or change with a purpose. Rationality of Becoming lives in the world, but cannot be a part of the world in the same way that Reason for Being is.
The principle of perfection arose from the substitute of the dialectic of becoming for that of being and nonbeing. It arose from the denial of nonbeing and hence entails a concomitant denial of being. Its purpose is a perfect logos, a paradise of eternal time and place in which death and dialectic of being and nonbeing are exorcised.
In our world dominated by a strict scientific rationality, simply to be as an uncontestable fact of experience is no longer enough. Being human in the modern sense of the term has entailed much more than simply anthropological human being. It entails that we imbibe into our very blood and bones the principle of progress and its presumptions of perfection and make it imperative to our social success and survival that we will become something more than we are or else "unbecome" something that we were before. Of course, this extreme need to "become" something else has its own superhuman methods and madness that makes merely becoming more anthropologically human never quite enough.
Blanket Copyright, Hugh M. Lewis, © 2005. Use of this text governed by fair use policy--permission to make copies of this text is granted for purposes of research and non-profit instruction only.
Last Updated: 03/07/05