Reflections on Human Nature

We all know less than we think we know — and more than we are willing to admit to ourselves.

There is no other known species with the ability to recast its weakness as strength and its defeat as swagger. Humans are uniquely resourceful at enslaving themselves and calling it freedom, demeaning themselves and calling it conscientiousness, despising themselves and calling it morality.

The paradox of humanity, as Socrates took pains to emphasize — and for which pains he was executed by democratic Athens — is that all men desire the good, but none know what it is. In other words, we do not know ourselves, in the fundamental sense that we do not know our natural end. Ants and lions and snails and egrets know why they are alive. We do not, and yet we go on feverishly doing this and that, when the great imperative of human life, given our paradoxical condition, ought to be not doing, but rather precisely stopping to think. In other words, our primary doing ought to be thinking, our great actions ruminations.

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