If someone asked you what the defining characteristic of humanity was, what would you say? If someone asked you what human nature was, what would you say?
De Witt’s lynching, perhaps more than any other single event, possessed Spinoza to write what are now considered some of the seminal texts in modern thought. What Spinoza could not have known, was that he – along with Hume, Kant, Leibniz, Rousseau, Voltaire, and many others – were also writing among the first chapters of The Story of Progress.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the Fifth Century C.E., the Western world fell into what many Enlightenment-era historians and philosophers and many people to this day have pejoratively referred to as the “Dark Ages.”
Symbolic thinking is the ability to create and use symbols that represent real-life concepts. We draw a stick figure to represent a human. We draw a map in the dirt to represent the terrain. As children, we use a stick to “make believe” a sword.
Where The Story of Decline tells us of our transition from wholeness, harmony, and purity to decay, corruption, and wickedness, The Story of Progress is in many ways its inverse. It tells us of our transition from the lowly savagery and barbarism of our origins to modern society’s civility, refinement, and moral goodness.
Our disgust and self-loathing have become entrenched within us. Some of us feel it down to our core, some so much so that they are opting to not have children, not simply because they prefer not to, but because they believe the world will be better off without us.
The Story of Decline teaches us that humanity is fundamentally separate from all other life on Earth. It believes it is separate because of its superior mental and moral capacities. But really it is separate because it is more arrogant, greedy, and stupid than any other life form on Earth.
Despite the notion that we are changing for the worse, part of this story is also that nothing ever really changes. We never really change. Our ways of being never really change.
For millennia, humans have had capabilities and capacities that proto-humans could never have imagined. These are the very traits that have propelled humanity into its dominant position in the world today.
proto-humans had many features and behaviors that would be very familiar to all us. But they did not yet have whatever makes us humans human.