The Danger of Human Evolution
August 10, 2006 § 3 Comments
We live our lives trying to protect and sustain what we value. But there is a quality in the relationship between the threatened object and the threat or danger that can bring about remarkable results that stretch the human capacity to the point of renewal. This has been theorized in many abstract forms however, Friedrich Holderlin suggested that a Power existed in this relationship when the famous German poet wrote,
“But where danger is, grows the saving power also.” (F. Holderlin)
[As the German poet so eloquently put it.] The term ‘saving power’ refers to the realization of what we truly value and it is the condition of danger that Holderlin implies creates the opportunity for this realization. Thus danger becomes the chance to learn something about ourselves. We are then forced to stand toe-to-toe with danger and therefor we must face ourselves and our fears.
Danger is a condition whereupon action bears risk; the risk of losing that which we value. Danger then inspires the nafs‘ reluctance to losing that which we value and it is usually expressed as the human emotion fear. This essay will prove that:
- Obviously danger is risk or peril, but more importantly the risk of losing that which we value.
- Fear is the human emotion that responds to danger, as a resistance to losing that which we value.
- The mutual relationship of danger and fear gives birth to the opportunity to realize that which we value most.
The threat of loss is what determines risk and it is the level of risk that qualifies if a condition is dangerous or not; the loss of life is the threshold after which we would consider a condition an absolute risk. Although danger and fear are considered unwanted circumstances and feelings respectively, it is these unwanted circumstances that present an opportunity to understand the available choices on the cusp of an imminent threat. As a result we are persuaded, often times unconsciously, to make our decisions as a direct response to the approaching threat.For example, Ann E. Kelley, the author of “Neurochemical Networks and Motivation: An Evolutionary Perspective” explains that negative emotions such as fear suit a purpose in human behavior when she claims,
“Negative emotions serve to protect the organism from danger…” (A. Kelley).
Therefore, a negative emotion acts to produce a positive result. In other words, fear, a negative emotion serves to prevent the destruction of something. That something in Kelley’s example was the organism’s existence. That is also considered the will-to-live, from a ethical perspective life, but especially human life is the most valuable thing. The human-life should be preserved at all costs, except in light of a threat to more human-lives.
In a logical sense fear is a natural human response to danger. Although fear is typically classified as a negative emotion, I am of the opinion that fear, as a response to danger, positively influences our decision-making and allows the realization of what we value most in our lives. This point is best illustrated in behavioral study, where researchers based their findings on three types of negative emotions: hard, soft and fear-based (Sanford; Rowatt). The confirmatory factor analysis supported the distinction between the three types of emotions, which means that their findings are supported by theory, hypothesis or knowledge from previous studies based on extensive data. These findings also supports the position of this essay. The findings were reported in an article was published entitled, “When is Negative Emotion Positive for Relationships? An Investigation of Married Couples and Roommates”. The authors Sanford and Rowatt claim fear-based emotions were the most effective problem solvers in relationships, as their report reads,
“In contrast [to hard emotions, anger, etc.], fear-based emotion was strongly, positively and uniquely associated with relationship anxiety.” (Sanford; Rowatt).
At the very least, the researchers’ statement endorses my claim that fear can have a positive result and it does this with quantifiable data.
On the contrary, Conservative America, some religious opinion and Western pop-culture, consider fear as an unwanted characteristic in our personalities. In Western society fear is looked upon as weakness. Our image of the hero, the Cowboy dressed up with a shiny pistol (who always defeats the villain dressed in black) and makes off with the beautiful virgin is symbolic for strength, what we Westerners aspire in ourselves, our countrymen and our politics. However, a Westerner and author Ralph Robert Moore wrote a short essay entitled, “fear“. Moore’s essay is a graceful explanation of fear as the source of and cause of anger, hatred, frustration, etc. Moore also makes comparisons between God and Satan as life and fear respectively. In his essay Moore writes,
“God and Satan are not antonyms, nor are life and fear antonyms.”
And he continues,
“Satan is one of the definitions of God; fear is one of the definitions of life”
Moore’s claim relies on metaphysical ambiguity, however it appears that Moore is saying that the vile attributes of Satan are a manifestation of God’s Wrath, however purposeful. As a Muslim I stand before and concede and agree with Moore’s claim at least on some level.
Likewise, the Sufi point of view is that Shaytan is an amalgam of the attributes of the nafs which are inspired by extreme passions. Ali al-Hajweri wrote an masterful piece called, “KashfAl-Mahjub” (Unveiling the Veiled) where he wrote on a persons passions (nafs) as they relate to Shaytan. Ali Al-Hajweri suggests that the moment the passions rise Shaytan quickly takes hold of it and displays it to its progenitor, this is illustrated by the following passage,
Satan can find a place in the devotee’s inward being only when the desire to sin occurs within him. When but a hint of the passions appear, Shaytan snaps it up, embellishes it, and displays it to the devotee’s heart. This is what is generally called ‘temptation’ and all temptation begins with the passions, as it is said, “The instigator is the worst oppressor.” This is the meaning of God’s answer,
“For over My servants no authority shalt thou have, except such as put themselves in the wrong and follow thee,” (Al-Qur’an, 15:42)
when Iblis said,
“By Your Might, I shall lead ALL of them [mankind] astray.”
Thus, Shaytan is connected to the reality of the nafs and the passions. The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) referred to this when he said, “There is no one who has not been taken over by Shaytan except ‘Omar, who has managed to conquer his Shaytan.”
In contrast, danger also presents a gift, however typically unwanted. Danger precedes fear; likewise, fear precedes the realization of that which we value most. Therefore, danger is an opportunity to understand the bottom-line of our lives. Furthermore, fear exists as a psycho-physical resistance to risk, be it in our relationships, lives or how we perceive our possessions (such as property). Fear is real, however only as it relates to perceived phenomenon and nothing more. Fear is real because we feel it, we experience it and only in the philosophical world of metaphysics can we deny this fact.
In our daily lives we live with the ever-present risk of danger. Although, we have grown accustom to some levels of danger, there are still those of us that challenge the variable levels of risk. Such behavior is termed high-risk behavior. For example, people climb mountains just for the hell of it; people dive from airplanes just for the hell of it; people wrestle dangerous animals just for the hell of it, for the experience.
In fact, I recall when I was 15 years old, I leaped from a bridge twenty-five feet high into a bottleneck of a small river just outside of Salem, OR. Why did I do it…? I don’t know. Just for the hell of it I guess… I may have wanted to challenge life; challenge death or challenge myself. Even today a part of me says that life is not worth living without some level of risk. I wanted to challenge death but in the end, I only realized how much I value my own life and that I would never do that again!
Likewise, when I was in my late twenties after travelling overseas I caught Tuberculosis and it went untreated for sometime, (I could not spread the disease through airborne transmission though, it was internal) and I nearly died. This is when my religion, my family and my health meant the most to me. I was very afraid and I carry the wisdom acquired from that experience with me, in my heart even to this day.
In summary, the basis of my argument is that the risk of losing what we value can be frightening however, it also presents an opportunity to evaluate our lives and determine whether our values are sincere or not. The conclusion drawn here is that the condition of danger and the human response to danger is a gift that bears the opportunity to excite our intellect and increase our
“The closer we come to danger, the more brightly do the ways into the saving power begin to shine and the more questioning we become.” (M. Heidegger)
This statement is significant because it is piety of thought which brings out the higher qualities of man, and it is the ‘saving power’ Heidegger speaks of that works within mankind and as a result allows mankind to evolve.