Thursday, July 20, 2006

Majority of human beings don't make it to psychological maturity

Because America is so affluent, it can tolerate an unusual amount of foolishness, but not an infinite amount and not forever. In my lifetime I have witnessed the corrosive effect of leftist thought on our culture, as it insinuates itself into, and begins to weaken, the uniquely American character. But I am actually more interested in the more general failure to launch that afflicts mankind at large. What is the cause of this? For example, there is no question that this is the problem we face in the bulk of the Arab Muslim world. Something in their cultural DNA has left them mired in an historical and developmental eddy, sitting on the launch pad below, just where we left them 700 years ago. What happened? Why didn't they grow up? Why didn’t they launch? And why do they want us to join them on the launch pad?
As we have discussed in a variety of contexts, humans inhabit a horizontal and a vertical world. Among other things, the vertical world is the world of psychological and emotional development. We are the only animal that comes into the world with an almost infinite potential that may or may not be fulfilled in this lifetime (actually, being infinite, it is never completely fulfilled). Other animals--assuming that they aren’t eaten or die prematurely for some other reason--inevitably reach their developmental goal and achieve maturity as defined by their species. But not humans. Yes, barring some kind of unusual disease, all humans grow to physical maturity. But it is fair to say that the vast majority of human beings down through history--right through to the present day--do not make it to psychological maturity: they do not come close to fulfilling their developmental potential.
This is a question that has always intrigued me, because it goes directly against the grain of any facile Darwinian explanation. That is, I believe that human development is guided by a telos or an end state that we are supposed to achieve. But unlike other animals, there is no way this end state can be accounted for by natural selection, because it never existed in the material world--it remains latent unless or until it is realized. Only human beings can "not be themselves."
In short, while we certainly have our genetic blueprint, we also have some sort of nonlocal “archetypal blueprint” that draws us toward it. But any number of personal, cultural and historical conditions can conspire to prevent us from realizing this blueprint. For example, if you are a woman in Saudi Arabia, what are the chances you will have the opportunity to become who you are? Approximately zero. But if women can't become who they are, neither can men--which is why there are so few developmentally adult men and in the Arab Muslim world. Likewise, if you are a tenured radical in an American university--say Noam Chomsky or Juan "Osama's Pawn" Cole--what are the chances that you will ever grow up and know reality, much less live in it? Probably zilch.
Another way of saying this is that human beings alone among the animals are somehow built for transcendence. Not only do human beings have the capacity to rise beyond and surpass themselves, but this is our essential nature. No one looks at a pig and says, “Why don’t you grow up and start acting like a proper pig?” But we ask this of humans all the time. In fact, it is the question that answers the question of what a human being is. posted by Gagdad Bob at 7:14 AM 30 comments

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