The Human Essence
The Human Essence
The Human Essence
"To give oneself to evil is to lose one's human essence. Just as virtue can raise a person above ordinary human nature, so
vice lowers those whom it has seduced from the condition of men beneath human nature. For this reason,
anyone whom you find transformed by vice cannot be counted a man. Although vicious men keep the appearance of their human bodies, they are nevertheless changed into beasts
as far as the essence of their souls is concerned."|
The Emboldenment of Philosophy, 523 CE
In this essay we will examine the essence of humans in an attempt to recover the lost understanding of what humans are created as and what humans should be in relation to their divine potential. This study is of exceptional significance in an age when comprehension of the human essence has been almost entirely lost and a large number of humans are therefore becoming sub-human.
Unless we can regain a functional understanding of the essence of humans we will be unable to recover the divine bestowal of being created in the image of God.
Only if we can regain effective comprehension of the human essence will we be able to recognize the evils of current political-economic-social barbarity, fight against its atrocities and crimes, and begin working toward a just and beneficent social order.
"All this determination and effort is your
skeleton; and your body is the nice kind loving relations with people,
and the beauty of life."
Betty White and Stewart Edward White, The Betty Book, 1937
The Essence of Essence
The term "essence" in this essay refers to the Greek words eidos and idea, most effectively translated as Form or Essence. In this present study we will include all the following connotations of the term "essence."
- A perfect or complete form of something, especially a person who typifies an abstract quality: He was the essence of gentility.
- The true nature or constitution of anything, as opposed to what is accidental, phenomenal, and illusory
- The characteristic or intrinsic feature of a thing, which determines its identity, fundamental nature
- The most distinctive element of a thing
- The unchanging and unchangeable nature of something which is necessary to its being the thing it is; its necessary properties
- The nature of something as distinct from, and logically prior to, its existence
- Something that has supersensible being, especially a spiritual or supernatural entity
- The entity (person, operation, element) through which one comes to the notion, to the "key" to understanding an entity which, once arrived at, becomes the basis for all analysis of and "logical thinking" about the entity
- From Latin essentia, from esse, to be or have being
- In Greek, eideo means "to see" and what is seen is an eidos. For Plato, eidos means what is seen by the eye of the soul and is identical with essence.
"Goodness is the measure of evil; it is not because of stupidity that we know stupidity but because of intelligence, which makes recognition of this privation possible."|
Frithjof Schuon, Logic and Transcendence
The Eternal Essence
The human essence is that of an eternal being who is given the gift from the Deity of a limited mortal life in which to gain experiential understanding through contrast. We gain understanding by comprehending the difference between opposites. For example, we only understand goodness by experiencing, comprehending, and eschewing the essence of evil. We understand justice by suffering from and identifying the nature of injustice. We comprehend what it means to be an eternal being in contrast to our experience as a mortal being. We can only fathom the immensity of eternal life through experiencing mortal, limited life. It is only possible to grasp the essence of our innate human powers by working to achieve excellence in relation to acquired powers. We only gain understanding of any entity (person, event, object, process) through comprehending its opposite. In Plotinus' words: ". . . by a comparison, as it were of contraries, [we] more plainly perceive the excellence of a superior state."
Our terrestrial life is a means provided by the Creator to understand precisely what eternal being consists of. The Creator brought us into being in the supersensible realm, as eternal, evolving beings. To fully understand our eternal being it's necessary that we experience another form of life totally different from that. Terrestrial, mortal life could hardly be any more different, it appears evident, as we experience it and reflect on it. Even during earthly existence, we still retain our eternal state of being, and it is possible--as Plato, Iamblicus, and other Perennialist teachers have made clear--to come out of the stupor and bewitchment of earthly sense-consciousness to re-awaken to our primordial, eternal being. Earth life, then, can be seen as a gift from the Creator, to help us realize precisely what kind of being he has created us as in his infinite wisdom and beneficence. And it makes clear what an unbelievable gift eternal being really is and what the essence of the Creator is who loves and cares for us in bringing us into being as eternal, evolving persons.
"But after this blessed abiding in a Divine Nature, falling off from Intellect into the discursive energy of reason, I am led to doubt how formerly and at present my soul became intimately connected
with a corporeal nature; since in this deific state she appears such as she is herself, although invested with the dark and overflowing vestiment of body. And since there is a twofold nature, one intelligible and the other sensible, it is better indeed for the soul to abide in the intelligible world; but necessary from its condition that it should participate of a sensible nature; nor ought it to suffer any molestation because it obtains only a middle order in the universality of things; since it possesses indeed a divine condition, though it is placed even as in the last gradation of an intelligible essence, bordering, as it were on the regions of sense. For our souls are able alternately to rise from hence, carrying back with them an experience of what they have known and suffered in their fallen state; from whence they will learn how blessed it is to abode in the Intelligible world; and by a comparison, as it were of contraries, will more plainly perceive the excellence of a superior state. For the experience of evil produces a clearer knowledge of good, especially where the power of judgment is so imbecile that I cannot without such experience obtain the science of that which is best."
Plotinus, Descent of the Soul
| "Man must live in time in order to be able to advance
into eternity, no longer on the animal, but on the spiritual level;
he must be conscious of himself as a separate ego in order to be
able consciously to transcend separate selfhood; he must do
battle with the lower self in order that he may become identified
with that higher Self within him, which is akin to the
divine Not-Self; and finally he must make use of his cleverness
in order to pass beyond cleverness to the intellectual vision of
Truth, the immediate, unitive knowledge of the divine Ground."|
Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy, 1945
The kind of understanding we gain "by a comparison, as it were of contraries," must be of an essential, spiritual nature: of being and consciousness and not merely an understanding within thought.
Our human essence is comprised of qualities and capabilities which we must develop during mortal existence, if we are to realize our full potential. This complete realization of our potential is what Plato and other Greeks referred to as Arete (àρετή), the fulfillment of purpose or function: aspiring to achieve one's full potential in all areas of human life. In its modern representation Arete can best be explicated by the concept and function of "progressive awareness." The Arete aspect of our human essence cannot be "given" to us when we are brought into being as eternal, evolving persons; we must develop our full potential on our own (or not)--first during mortal existence and then after death during our return to fuller awareness of eternal being.
"Understanding can be acquired only by actual participation in the reality."|
Betty White and Stewart Edward White, Across the Unknown, 1937
"Spiritual truth is a truth of the spirit, not a truth of the intellect, not a mathematical theorem or a logical formula. . .
The truth of the spirit is a truth of being and consciousness and not a truth of thought: mental ideas can only represent or formulate some facet, some mind-translated principle or power of it or enumerate its aspects, but to know it one has to grow into it and be it; without that growing and being there can be no true spiritual knowledge. The fundamental truth of spiritual experience is one, its consciousness is one, everywhere it follows the same general lines and tendencies of awakening and growth into spiritual being; for these are the imperatives of the spiritual consciousness. "
Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man
Plato made it clear that Arete is like pregnancy, it cannot be achieved in part: it is all or none, you're pregnant or you're not; you aspire to achieve your full potential, or you do not.
During Plato's time--and continuing into the modern era--Arete has been misconceived as something which can be achieved in part. Homer, for example, said that specific persons such as Achilles and Penelope, the wife of the Greek hero Odysseus, had achieved Arete. Homer mistook the achievement of excellence in a specific, limited area of life (e.g. warfare or loyalty) as the achievement of Arete. Since that time, we have suffered from the delusion that Arete (aspiring to the realization of one's full potential) can be accomplished in a single area of one's life. So we have heroes in warfare, celebrities in the arts, genuises in the sciences, captains of industry, and giants of finance--all mistakenly thought to be fully-realized persons.
The only time it becomes appropriate for an individual or a culture to celebrate excellence in specific areas of human achievement is if the person or the culture has made a commitment to the realization of human potential in all areas--including the development of a just and egalitarian society. It is fine to commemorate and extol the transcendent quality of Beethoven's music, for example, but only if you are not, at the same time, ignoring the fact that you are living in a culture based on capitalist slavery. It is only legitimate to
honor and laud specific types of excellence if you are, at the same time, working toward the full realization of Arete, which includes the realization of a just and egalitarian society.
In this time of the capitalist plague, we can combat its debilitating pall by focusing our attention on outstanding examples of human excellence. In an earlier dark age--caused by capitalist greed and criminality just as now--an outstanding number of excellent persons appeared on the stage of history and led humankind out of its suicidal plunge into total ignorance and destruction. As this new age, this new birth--renaissance--came into being, the leaders of the Renaissance understood that they had entered something of a "golden age."
As we look back on American society, from its inception in 1776 through the first years of the twenty-first century, we ask how it was that a nation that possessed so many persons of excellence in specific areas could have devolved so quickly to the present day barbarity of anti-rationalism, militarism, imperialism, murder of the working class by the capitalist class, and fascist dictatorship.
The difficulty is that most persons in America--and throughout the world--develop excellence, if at all, in only one area of their personal and national lives. And, even more significant, they develop counterfeit understanding: comprehending only the false facade of a phenomenon, not its essence.
I grew up, for example, in a small Oklahoma hamlet where there were people of excellence in certain areas of life: an outstanding high school orchestra master, quite knowledgeable high school teachers in biology, civics, and other areas of study, and overall a thin patina of morality based on religiosity. The difficulty with persons in this small town, some of more than ordinary quality, is that they did not acquire an essential ingredient of genuine personal development: understanding of the essence of elements such as national government or economics, beyond and apart from the false facade of mere myths and fanatasies that degenerate rulers tell their people to keep them in line. The seemingly worthwhile people in this hamlet had no awareness that they needed to work in whatever ways possible to expose injustice and inequality and develop concepts and structures allowing people to join in forming a commonwealth community in which the good of all is the goal.
The reason why American society has degenerated so rapidly is because there never developed an American conception of Arete: the full realization of the human essence in all areas of life. American society achieved only a stunted pseudo-culture which congratulated itself on achievements in limited areas, while totally ignoring essential areas of life, such as economic inequality. Our commitment to the ideals of reason, justice, equality, and integrity was a pretense. No wonder that the capitalist cabal that has seized control of American and world culture has had such an easy time in turning this nation into a hell-hole of rampant criminality, mayhem, and murder! There was nothing real in the people to fight against it.
If we choose not to develop the totality of our human essence we not only become culpable for our own wrongdoings but we also become blameworthy for the evils of others whom we choose to ignore and refuse to struggle against.
The Human Essence and Culpability for Evil
Plato's Allegory of the Cave reveals that evil men and women have been present throughout human history and are currently represented by the capitalist cabal. Human beings realize (understand and actualize) their essence by comprehending themselves and their world and responding appropriately to this world.
The only way to avoid culpability for current evil leaders' criminal acts is to actively engage in Arete: the complete development of the human essence--progressive awareness:
Progressive awareness (Arete) can only be developed if we apply its principles and practice to achieve the mental and behavioral skills associated with it. So progressive awareness is not just theorizing or thinking--it also involves acting on and assimilating its principles. Progressive awareness, that is, must lead to progressive living: the application of individual understanding and wisdom to the development of a larger unity or commonwealth of enlightened persons--a primary aim of human evolution.
- Increasing one's understanding: peeling away our personal illusions, at whatever level we happen to be
- Critical thinking: forming one's personal beliefs by basing them on evidence
- Self-awareness: developing an autonomous self that is able to think and act on its own initiative
- Critical consciousness: going beyond merely personal development to a genuine concern for human welfare in general; learning to perceive social, political, and economic injustice and learning to take action against the oppressive elements of reality
- Enlightened discernment: casting light on social challenges and philosophical themes and developing social infrastructures which allow for greater freedom and creativity
- Progressive activities: working in whatever ways possible to expose tyranny and develop concepts and structures allowing people to join in forming a commonwealth community in which the good of all is the goal
President John F. Kennedy, in his landmark civil rights speech to the nation, delivered on the very night civil rights leader Medgar Evers was murdered, June 12, 1963 (five short months before the President himself was murdered in cold blood), said: "We face a moral crisis
as a country and as a people.
Those who do nothing are
inviting shame, as well as violence.
Those who act boldly are recognizing right, as well as reality."|
The Human Essence Involves Understanding One's World
In direct ratio to his or her achievement of the essence of human nature--progressive awareness--will each reader of this essay find it possible to credit the author's statement that a large percentage of the world population is now sub-human. If readers have not made the effort to develop rational comprehension of the human essence--and assume that any person alive in the terrestrial world is a complete, developed human--then the statement that large numbers of homo sapiens are sub-humans will make no sense whatsoever.
We'll examine one example of a seeming human (actually sub-human) and his life and activities. Joe Smith was born in California in 1989 and completed his college education in 2009. He has a job with Fox News, lives in Brooklyn, and is married and the father of a new baby boy. He has not made the effort to understand himself or his world, so he assumes that working for a fascist propaganda operation such as Fox News is unquestionably worthy and blameless. He has not bothered to comprehend that his government and his economy have been seized by a capitalist cabal that has turned his country into something which he doesn't take the trouble to understand.
Joe Smith is so unaware and ignorant of the essence of his society and himself that he voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, mindlessly, erroneously assuming that Trump was a principled candidates who would have the best interest of Americans at heart if elected President.
You might think that some repulsive, malevolent catastrophe might wake Joe up--but you would be wrong. He has thoughtlessly reviewed President John F. Kennedy's assassination, and heedlessly assumes that the Warren Commission's report that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman is undoubtedly true. His perfunctory review of the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and John Lennon lead him to the same mindless conclusion: they were all murdered by a lone, psychotic killer acting entirely on his own.
Joe Smith actually saw part of the 9/11 Twin Tower attack, but he has mindlessly swallowed the coverup, believing that Osama's Muslim terrorists were responsible for the entire catastrophe. He now agrees with all the fascist, capitalist administrators--presidents and congresspersons--that it's necessary for America to wage numerous foreign wars to protect U.S. citizens from further terrorist attack. Joe thinks it's perfectly okay for the NSA to spy on American citizens. In fact, Joe thinks the United States is the greatest country that ever was and sees nothing wrong whatsoever with its current activities and policies. And he thinks Donald Trump is the greatest president America ever had.
"Americans can no longer pretend any of this is normal. Citizens are facing the fight of their lifetimes to restore representative government to America while there is still time to do so. That fight begins with breaking up the big Wall Street banks and restoring the Glass-Steagall Act. It next requires a meaningful overhaul of political campaign financing; election of the President by popular vote; term limits on Federal judges; elimination of the power of the President to fire U.S. Attorneys; restoration of state usury laws; and the elimination of Wall Street's private justice system where it has impunity to loot customers and then charge them thousands of dollars in fees to hear their case before a rigged panel of arbitrators."
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, July 12, 2018,
"...It's Time To Break Up the Big Wall Street Banks"
Fortunately, there are some persons within the world population that have made the effort to realize their human essence by developing progressive awareness and are now capable of bringing about genuine transformation of the world. A modern archetype on the model of Plato's Commonwealth has been made available to that "saving remnant." All persons who desire to realize their human essence can now join in this effort, the only viable solution to the world crisis.