The Human Instinct

Aug 28, 2009, 2:42 AM |

What grade was I in when I learned from either textbook or teacher that humans have no instincts, only reflexes? I can’t remember. But I learned it. I was probably required to know it for an exam. I had forgotten it until yesterday, and I must have unlearned it somewhere along the course of my education or decided myself that it was bananas. I guess it’s one of those comforting things to believe. The idea that humans alone have no instincts sets us apart from and above the other animals, makes us special. We aren’t even animals at all; damn it, we’re humans.

We humans decided we are so special that we estranged ourselves from the entire planet. We went to the moon. We can’t wait to go to Mars. But in the stars we search for something, someone that reflects our individuality. Life. Intelligent life. Life, they say, is the exception in a universe filled with rocks and planets and suns and gasses, and lots and lots of empty space filled with nothing. Wouldn’t it be something if we discovered life in another solar system? Wouldn’t that be special?

Humans, somehow, forget that life is special and, as far as we know, unique. Life right here on earth, life that swims walks crawls flies, life with instincts, life that is connected with all other life, life that has been since it first came to be. Doesn’t life itself make humans special contrast to the immensity of things that are not life?

If humans have only one instinct, that instinct is to make ourselves feel significant. And perhaps we are, because no other creature so flatulently idolizes itself. We do not venerate gods but instead praise ourselves for being acknowledged and protected by the creator of the entire universe. He cradles us in his hands, hands that have fashioned everything and hands that have intricately crafted the destinies of all life that was, is, and ever will be. We are apparently so omnivorous for significance that we need gods to adulate us, too.

God or no god, the universe is. Life is. And like all other known life we share instincts bred into us by experience and out of necessity. What is so bad about the squirrel that we don’t want to share its fight-or-flight response? What is so bad about the rabbit that we don’t want to share its sex drive? What is so bad about the wolf that we don’t want to share its instinct to eat? Can’t we appreciate ourselves without depreciating all other life on planet Earth?

I hope today’s science classes have revised their textbooks and teachers to include a better version of human beings, humans with biology and instincts shared, humbly, with all other forms of exceptional life.