II. 1. Animals, But Not Quite


Since the dawn of mankind people’s behavior can be categorized in two main courses of actions. For the sake of simplicity, let’s take our primeval ancestors, whose daily grind wasn’t “burdened” by the technological achievements of modernity. What must have been the life of a man occupying the Earth 50,000 years ago? His activities would have been organized around caring for and protecting himself, caring for and protecting his kin, reproducing, and playing. Certainly, behind each of these four descriptions there lies a multitude of various actions, but these categories cover basically all of his behavior.

As anyone can guess, it was a behavior driven by instinct rather than principle. But animals had even sharper instincts. What was the key of man’s success in gaining superiority? What were his priorities that helped him A) survive, and B) dominate the animal world and become the most advanced being on Earth?

A closer look at his activities reveals that only a quarter of them were devoted directly to his immediate physical survival. Caring and providing for his family, protecting them, creating children, participating in games with others, painting cave walls, or painting his face for tribal rituals – all this goes far beyond survival. Animals do almost everything to survive, and less to project themselves (mainly through the instinct of reproduction and caring for their offspring).

With humans it was different. Humans succeeded because of the different balance between the two basic instincts. The activity to take care of his physical self was important, but of equal importance were the rest of man’s endeavors. If the need to survive activated his self-preservation instinct, the fact of living in a certain environment and depending on it presented a challenge to his self-projection instinct, through which he could gain the right to be an active part of this environment.

Being two sides of a coin, i.e. both aiming at the subject’s survival and well-being, the two basic instincts bear a very important difference: self-projection is a strive for personal development and enhancement of influence over the environment, whereas self-preservation restrains communication with it; self-projection initiates the notion that survival is a function of coping with the surroundings, while self-preservation views dealing with the surroundings as dangerous, or as a matter of constant compromises and limitations.

The passage of time hasn’t changed these instincts. The Paleolithic era was just a cog in the long chain of human history throughout which man has educated himself to deal with the environment.  Since the most significant part of the environment was his community the examples discussing people’s relations with the environment should primarily focus on their behavior within their community. Community life is what switched the priorities of our primeval ancestors and put the self-projection instinct of the individual in a position of superiority over self-preservation. This is a major fact that defines the progress of humanity through the ages, and outlines the way we can approach individual human behavior today.

© 2008 Peter Budevski

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