Taste & Morality

Posted on Oct 21, 2010

The following is an essay I wrote last year when trying to get a handle on WordPress. Now that I have mastered it (ha!) I’ll be updating far more often. Enjoy.

In deciding to write a blog, adding my virtual voice to the millions of pages flowing through the tubes, it is pertinent to think about why we create, why we try new things, and why we have the hubris to think that we can offer something new to the universe. This habit of creating along with the thirst for discovery seems to be the two qualities that set humans apart from other animals.

Humans, biologically, are animals. That’s why studying rats and primates allow us insights into human behavior and give good indicators about how a certain drug might affect us. Studying animals, we’ve been able to observe similarities between those in the animal kingdom at large and us, take for example <a href=””http://www.livescience.com/animals/070625_chimp_altruism.html“”>altruism</a>, pack behavior, and even sexuality. The term ‘lesser animals’, often implying that humans have greater worth is offensive to those sensitive to the condition of animals that we herd and harvest, but still, I think, fitting in a discussion like this.

The first observable trait, creativity, is seen in other animals, but in a more novel way. The elephant that paints, or intellegent birds that create ‘art’ are the subject of countless quirky stories providing filler for the media, in between political scandals, wars, and celebrity deaths. Humans’ capacity, and compulsion for creativity is unmatched. Theatre, music, film, fine art, poetry and writing merely scratch the surface. While these are the most recognized artistic endeavors, things we’d classify as crafts—needlework, scrapbooking, sewing, woodworking, and all manner of craft-store paraphernalia—are much more prevalent and provide an easier satisfaction; The need to create is still satiated, but the steep learning curve to playing instrument with ease, compared to following the instructions that came with the kit, doesn’t play a factor. Making things is, rightly I think, seen as a noble undertaking, a moral act. Even the opposite of creating, idleness, is seen as a vice or a sin.

Thirst for discovery—the second major trait of humans—is also seen in the animal world, but beyond idle curiosity, it isn’t a way of life. An animal that uses its time for curiosity has no time for self-preservation. We have evolved socially to a point where discovery and research are possible and encouraged. This thirst as well as our ability to recognize patterns—sometimes when there are none—has led to miraculous discoveries, such as mathematical principles, physical phenomena, and new worlds ranging from the microscopic to the multiple dimensions dictated by quantum theory.

These two combine to form the very essence of what it means to be human: control. From the world at large—which we view as our own—to our homes and offices, we try to remake things to our preferences. The condition in which we live our lives comfortably is in control. When we feel that things are out of control, we feel ill at ease and try to take steps to remedy that condition. Our farms, powerplants, big cities, zoos, roads, cities, homes, lawns, crafts, design, every human artifact bears the mark of control.

This control is an indifferent force, akin to nuclear power. Its’ awesome force has wrought wars, catastrophic climate change, genocide, famine, webTV, and New Coke, but also the entire history of Art, Science, Music, and Design. Being self-aware is the most important thing we can do as participants in our society, and not stopping to think about our choices politically and personally should be one of the greatest sins of our age.

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