I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts called Mission Log. It explores every episode of Star Trek, one show at a time. The hosts take a deep dive into the meaning, morals, and messages of each episode, as well as provide some great trivia. If you are a Treker, stop reading this and subscribe to the podcast. I’ll wait.
I have been considering a theme that I have wanted to explore for a while, but this weeks podcast really put it over the top for me. The hosts were discussing Dagger of the Mind, with a lot of references to What are Little Girls Made of. Both of these episodes addressed the issue of using different means to create a more perfect human. One has a well-intended, but misguided scientist creating android bodies into which a human’s personality can be stored. With this invention, the scientist hopes to eliminate sickness and death, as well as war. In the other episode, a great scientist runs a prison colony where, through the aid of his mind-wiping machine, he can remove negative impulses from a person’s psyche. In both cases, the scientist are endeavoring to create a more perfect human.
It strikes me that we do not have to explore science fiction, or even fiction, to discover other efforts to create a more perfect human. Criminal rehabilitation is one such effort. One could argue that formal education is another. The church is primarily engaged in trying to fashion a better being, though not completely human. The church eschews humanity in favor of the benevolent, spirit being that inhabits our bodies. Politicians are also about the business of crafting a more perfect human. They believe that through laws, they can redirect our behavior to overcome our worst impulses. Though politics is set up to form a more perfect society, society is made up of individual people who need to be perfected.
With so much energy being poured into perfecting humanity, it seems prudent to ask the question, does humanity really need to be perfected. I’m leaning toward, no. All of the efforts I have mentioned, both real and fictional, start with the premise that humanity is deeply flawed, and in need of fixing. Surely, that must be true. After all, we lie, cheat, steal, and take advantage of people weaker than ourselves. We are full of greed, lust, and petty hatred. Certainly, those are problems that need fixing, right?
I think not.
Before exploring that any further, I want to mention what does bear improving. Earlier, I mentioned that the government, through politics, is there to form a more perfect society. I definitely believe that society could use some work. Whenever two or more people live together and share resources, there have to be rules to regulate the interactions between them. The more people who share the resources, the more stringent the rules have to be for maintaining order. This is further complicated when we ad cultural diversity into the mix. To create a better society, we do not need better people; we need better social contracts. A law is essentially a social contract. It does not address right and wrong, but right and wrong for the best operation of society for this particular place and time. We can definitely do better than what we are, in my opinion.
While society could use a little work, people are just fine the way they are. To claim that humanity is imperfect is as myopic as complaining that a baby is imperfect. When a mother is presented with her child for the first time, she often proclaims how perfect the newborn is. How can that be. The newborn is messy with afterbirth, drool, noise, and most likely, a mixture of unpleasant odors. What could be less perfect than that. Additionally, the child is infinitely self absorbed. She will do anything within her power to get her way. This trait lasts for quite a long period of time. Some people never outgrow it. Yet, as the child gets older, the trait becomes less perfect.
The reason the child is considered perfect is that the child is exactly the way she is supposed to be at the time. She has more development to do, but anticipation of future development does not make her any less perfect. So it is with humanity. Like the newborn babe, we are already perfect.
There is an even bigger issue when discussing the perfection of humanity. It is the presumption that there is a state of perfection available for us to reach in the first place. To be sure, there is maturation and evolutionary development, but that is a far cry from some ideal state of wholeness. Perfection is not the attainment of an ideal state of wholeness; it is the state of being exactly what one should be at a particular time and place. The newborn is perfect, not because she has a broad vocabulary and an enhanced social consciousness, but because she is exactly what she should be at the time. We count her fingers and toes, not her ability to fend for herself and contribute to society.
I feel like the standard of perfection many want for humanity is equally unrealistic. Religion is the worst offender of unrealistic expectations. The bible has The Lord saying, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” Falling short of that perfection is the definition of sin that deserves no less than an eternity in the fires of hell. Religion’s standard of perfection is the suppression of most of what makes us human. In mainstream Christianity, humanity is irredeemable. It is our souls, not our humanity that must ultimately be saved.
I contend that we as humans need a certain amount of greed, lust, envy, bigotry, hatred, conflict, and depression in order to be fully human. There is no such thing as a person who is completely selfless and cares only for the needs of others. Who determined that to be the most important attribute? Why is it better that I help you become successful rather than helping myself? The universe does not know the difference between you and me. If only one of us can live, I choose me. Is that wrong? I don’t know or care. I do know that it is human.
I am just as perfected in my humanity when selfish ambition drives me to write the next, great opera, as when I donate a kidney to a stranger. Neither act or motivation makes me more or less perfect as a human being. While it would be nice if we could put an end to sickness and death, I don’t think I want to see us put an end to lust and greed. In fact, sickness and death also serve a purpose. I definitely do not want to see everyone who is currently alive, live forever. I reserve eternity only for me and a few of my closest friends.
The only reason one would meter the, so called, negative attributes is to form a society more conducive to general advancement. Unfortunately, there is still an open question about what constitutes general advancement. What is the endgame of a perfect society peopled with perfect humans? Is it the elimination of hunger, sickness, death, greed, envy, lust, and hatred? If we eliminated these things, what exactly would be left? Compassion? How does one even show compassion to a person who has no needs? Forgiveness would also be eliminated with the absence of anything to forgive. Ambition is meaningless with no more goals for which to strive. Hope is unnecessary when all is fulfilled. Where would procreation be without lust for motivation, and death, pushing us to pass on our genetic material to the next generation? Without the attributes considered by some to be negative, we would no longer be human.
That said, I’m sure evolution is not quite done with us. The human of a hundred years from now will be different from the human of today. Just consider how different humans and our societies are from those of a hundred thousand years ago. Those humans and their societies were no less perfect than our own. As we are no less perfect than humans in our distant future. We are exactly where we should be in our current stage of development. There are always a few outliers who straggle behind the herd, as well as the ones who are several strides ahead of the pack. Outliers notwithstanding, the pack is definitely progressing apace.
I find it fascinating that many an enlightened soul can look upon nature with a sense of awe and declare it good, but look at humanity and conclude that it needs improvement. This self-critical tendency ignores the fact that we are a part of the very natural world we extol as perfect. We are as perfect as a sunrise. As something of a futurist, I like to speculate on the path human evolution will take. What wonders will we behold, and accomplishments achieve? Whatever the future holds, it will not be a more perfect human. I am fine with the state of humanity as it is. I mostly look to the future to provide me with more interesting toys.