So Human an Animal

What’s interesting about having an up front seat for the revolution is that you actually experience history in the making. While we may have once read the already-made in a text book, we now exist in that space between the last-written word and the first pen stroke of the yet to be written. The crest of this wave we’re surfing is crashing and everyone’s wondering: what’s next? It’s really remarkable to be able to witness and participate in discussions on questions like this one. We’ve established this huge network of individuals who want to change (or more importantly, who are willing to learn -i.e. be wrong-) and who support and encourage one another so we feel empowered to do so… great, so in addition to marches, rallies, sit ins, etc, what do we do with all these people who seek, in some form or fashion, a change in their reality? Discussions of this magnitude are a different beast than the action part of societal reconstruction. A beast of a debate that has come up in multiple circles throughout Occupies across the country is the unavoidable “revolution vs. reform”.

The duality makes sense. Humans naturally compartmentalize things into either/or.. just examine the environment we developed in: day/night, hot/cold, hard/soft, etc. — all things relative to our homeostasis — it makes sense that our cognitive functions would reflect something similar, at least at a basic level. The irony of humans scrutinizing themselves in search of answers to a similarly contentious dichotomy –nature vs. nurture– was unbearable. I think Sagan’s remarks, that “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself”, summed it up, but more specifically, the debate ended in a stalemate. Turns out nurture simply works within the framework of nature. The late Havard Microbiologist and author René Dubos composed a great book (one I would encourage all in the movement –and those justifiably skeptical of science in general– to read), So Human an Animal, explaining this at great length:

“There is no real conflict between these two interpretations. Both are correct, because each corresponds to one of the two complementary aspects of development in all living things. Whether the organism be microbe, plant, animal, or man, all its characteristics have a genetic basis, and all are influenced by the environment. Genes do not inexorably determine traits; they constitute potentialities that become reality only under the shaping influence of stimuli from the environment.”

When you think about it, the same applies to most dualities (save for maybe creationism vs. evolution; the exception that proves the rule, haha) Though, some examination is certainly required to make the most educated guess possible, given the information available. In the way that nature nurtures nature to nurture nature, ad infinitum, I would be surprised if there wasn’t a similar relationship between reform and revolution.

Part of the problem is our colloquial attempts at being concise. Simply framing the question around two terms implicitly assumes that everyone is on the same page with what they mean. Surely operational definitions have been devised in many discussions, but that operational definition is operationally meaningless once you’re outside the context for which it was created. When that topic comes back up with new people, the time must be dedicated to leveling the playing field. It’s digressive to expect everyone to know everything; everyone has a different accumulation of experience, something that seems like common sense, but then we get impatient with people who don’t immediately understand our point of view, or more particularly, our passion. The subliminal language of expectation is too influential to ignore when we engage in a conversation we hope to be constructive (though, some use conversation as a platform for proselytizing instead of mutual growth). It’s possible that many arguing revolution vs. reform are simply interpreting them in different ways; one person’s reform is another person’s revolution. And, broadly defined, it makes sense. Thus, many have weighed in favor of an inevitable interconnection of the two, which, I would go so far to say, is evolution.

We are not simply experiencing history, but evolution. The cultural revolution in our midst is, intentionally or not, a manifestation of realizing our influence on this reality, and a decision to take the reigns away from the status quo of ignoring that fact. We must be aware of traits we possess that are a result of developing in the system we strive to change; what will one day be considered a primitive paradigm. We’re not just up against economic inequality and unemployment, as a system based on infinite growth cannot last in a finite reality, we’re suffering a crisis of consciousness. As adbusters’ writers Carlos Delclós and Raimundo Viejo wrote in a great article the other day, “the revolution is not being televised precisely because it is happening inside and between us. We are moving too slowly for their sound-bites because we are going far, wide and deep. And, if we play our cards right, we will be in control of our time, our work and our lives before they know it.”

I may be naively optimistic, but I still think Occupy has limitless potential. It’s still only four months old… there is still so much to be accomplished. As Dubos espoused,

“Since human beings are as much the product of their total environment as of their genetic endowment, it is theoretically possible to improve the lot of man on earth by manipulating the environmental factors that shape his nature and condition his destiny. In the modern world, urbanization and technology are certainly among the most important of these factors and for this reason it is deplorable that so little is done to study their effects on human life.”

We may not always be on the same page, perhaps even different books, but we’re absolutely on the same bookshelf. And one side of the bookshelf is messing it up for everyone else. If I was on the side not messing up the bookshelf with my colonialism and limitless growth, I’d really want the individuals who make up the other side to do whatever they could to prevent the bookshelf from crumbling. And that’s not to say we can stop it, or should stop it. But preparing what to do when it does happen wouldn’t hurt. What’s that saying? Success is when luck meets preparation? Hmm…


Shawn is an Earth-based product of the universe experiencing itself through the eyes of a white, cis-male-bodied human being from Philadelphia, PA who seeks to transcend such aforementioned labels while in the process of understanding their history and corresponding prevalence in this reality at this point in psychological time; who is sometimes admittedly more concerned with pondering and discussing existence then living it; who learns from the past; who analyzes the present; who dreams the future; and who may or may not love pizza a little too much.

Posted in Evolve

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