- Paperback: 203 pages
- Publisher: WTM Publishing and Communications (November 1, 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0646039946
- ISBN-13: 978-0646039947
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,743,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Beyond the Human Condition
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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'I found Beyond interesting and logical but there is much to think about.' -- Professor Shirley Strum, Professor of Anthropology at San Diego University
'It is your [the listeners'] responsibility as citizens to read Beyond The Human Condition.' -- Brian Carlton (Spoonman), Australian radio personality'
'Mr Griffith's work is extraordinarily insightful and I am quite pleased to have the benefit of his wisdom.' -- James Balog, an award-winning photographer for National Geographic magazine
'I too have always been puzzled by the innate cruelty that seems to be incorporated in much of human nature, particularly in our dealings with the other creatures of the earth. I commend you for probing this phenomenon.' -- Daphne Sheldrick, renowned African conservationist and founder of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Nairobi
'...It is a book which touches the core of our existence, probing and forcing the reader to address the human condition--why we are who we are. Highly recommended for those who choose to ask that question.' -- Elaine Briggs, Portfolio, Executive women's magazine
'Your book is certainly thought-provoking and will no doubt be the subject of much debate within the scientific and general communities. My congratulations.' -- R. J. L. Hawke, Prime Minister of Australia
'Fortunately, there are also some thinkers of such stature that their thoughts may genuinely change the way of the world. With his new book Jeremy Griffith is seeking to join these ranks...like many significant works, it [Beyond] prompts responses from the reader like "why didn't I think of that?"...It is a bold and inspiring work.' -- Mark Thornton, The West Australian newspaper
‘Beyond…contains an interesting and thoughtful combination of materials and I hope it will be successful and widely read.’ -- Professor Adrienne Zihlman, Professor of Anthropology at UCLA Santa Cruz (15 Jan 1992)
‘[Griffith] gives us a genuinely original and inspiring way of understanding ourselves and our place in the universe.’ -- Professor Charles Birch, Templeton-prize winner and world-renowned biologist
From the Author
This book is dedicated to the vision of Sir Laurens van der Post:
'... for I had a private hope of the utmost importance to me. The Bushman's physical shape combined those of a child and a man: I surmised that examination of his inner life might reveal a pattern which reconciled the spiritual opposites in the human being and made him whole ... it might start the first movement towards a reconciliation.'
Laurens van der Post, The Heart of the Hunter, 1961.
And that of Sir James Darling who acknowledged that:
'...the future lies not with the predatory and the immune but with the sensitive who live dangerously...the truly sensitive mind is both susceptible and penetrating: it is open to new ideas, and it seeks truth at the bottom of the well. It is the development of this sort of mind which it should be the object of the educational process to cultivate.'
James Darling, The Education of a Civilized Man, 1962.
And that of Dr Louis Leakey who believed:
'... that knowledge of the past would help us to understand and possibly control the future.'
Mentioned by Dr Mary Leakey in her book Disclosing the Past, 1984.
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The exceptional range of human behaviour - for good and evil- is explained in evolutionary terms.
We are exposed to a mass of information today, about ourselves. We cope poorly with all of this. Conclusions are cast out every minute and behaviour is erratic.
Jeremy Grirrith supports human development and almost caresses us through the mundane and the spiritual with reason and compassion.
For a time I was a supporter of Griffith's theories. Why would I not be attracted to the idea that some great riddle had been cracked which would lead to an end to all of humanity's problems - a reconciliation between the left wing and right wing in politics, between science and religion, between men and women - an end to war, poverty, mental illness? With his first book - "Free : The End of the Human Condition" - Griffith really laid on the hard sell, but the book was genuinely deep and full of references to the fossil record and primate behaviour. Back then I was prone to depression. Reading that book hurt like hell. They say that the truth hurts, so this seemed to be in its favour.
If you want a brief, concise and well-presented introduction to Griffith's theory and what he thinks it means for humanity, this second book - "Beyond the Human Condition" - is the one to read.
The first thing to acknowledge is that Griffith spends little of his time in the book arguing from reason. Much of the text consists of quotes from some of his favourite writers, most notably Laurens van der Post, as well as the Bible. He also paraphrases from popular songs the lyrics of which he wasn't able to obtain the rights to quote. This is not a scientific approach. The fact that Bruce Springsteen once said something in a song does not constitute evidence.
"As the quotes in this book reveal, all I have been able to add to the perception/soundness of Jesus Christ and Sir Laurens van der Post is the biological reason for the repression of our soul."
So how credible is this biological explanation for the human condition? Let's first summarise its essence.
Most animals compete for food or mating opportunities. Because our proto-human ancestors lived in the fertile environment of the Rift Valley in Africa their nurturing period grew longer. The mothers were nurturing their infants for genetically selfish reasons, because they contained their own genes. But to the infants this seemed like selfless behaviour. Not knowing anything about genetics, they thought their mothers' cared more about them than about themselves. And so they learned that this was the way to be - they became "love-indoctrinated". This led to the flowering of our ability to reason about the world, because we could think holistically rather than have our view of the world fractured by the us and them duality inherent in competition. It was also the origin of our soul or conscience, our instinctive sense of what was right, because learned behaviour over many generations becomes encoded in the genes.
So now we had a rational mind and a genetic orientation towards selfless behaviour. But the rational mind needed to experiment. Some of these experiments would have led to behaviour which contravened the genetic conscience, which would give the message that we were doing something wrong. Unable to explain our need to experiment with self-management, we became frustrated and eventually angry with this genetic conscience. This led to anger at anything which reminded us of it, such as nature or, if we were men, women. This was the origin of our dark side. And yet we were not villains, we were the greatest of heroes for defying the oppression of our idealistic instincts and taking on self-corruption in order to find understanding of ourselves, which eventually would lead to the understanding of how we became "upset" in the first place, and with that understanding would come liberation from our condition.
I'm no scientist, but I can see two problems with this theory on a level which can be examined through observation of behaviour and through introspection.
If our conscience was learned through being exposed to the nurturing behaviour of mothers, then it should share the qualities of that nurturing behaviour. Griffith gives the analogy that our conscience is like the genetically-encoded flight path of a bird. Such a flight path is presumably rigidly dictatorial as it remains the same year after year. But the loving behaviour of a mother is anything but rigid or dictatorial, it is flexible and improvisational. She is engaged in a dynamic relationship with her offspring which is tolerant of most behaviour as long as it is not dangerous for them. So how does the infant develop from this a rigid, dictatorial and unforgiving genetic blueprint for behaviour?
Is it really credible that our conscience is stored in our genes? Why is it that what makes us feel guilty varies from person to person and culture to culture? Why do some people appear to have no conscience? Is it not more likely that the conscience is learned, that it is a part of our ego, the part where we store our expectations about ourselves?
Griffith aligns love and idealism. But are these not contradictory phenomena? We say that the purest form of love is unconditional love, and what is idealism but the placing of conditions on our acceptance of ourselves or our acceptance of others? Idealism can all too easily consist in hatred of all that is not viewed as ideal.
He is right to identify idealism as something oppressive, but he does not go far enough.
He has said that his first book "grew out of my desperate need to reconcile my extreme idealism with reality." He views much of "upset" human behaviour as "an attack on innocence", including consensual sex. He believes that recreational, as opposed to reproductive sex, began during the time of Homo Erectus when men, angry at women's criticism of their lack of ideality, began raping them, something which was later civilised into something which could be considered an act of love between men and women. He doesn't seem to give any acknowledgement that orgasms feel good in and of themselves, hence masturbation. This in spite of the fact that he often points to bonobos, who spend a large part of their time rubbing genitals with members of both genders, as an indication of what our Australopithecine ancestors might have been like.
Griffith views himself as an innocent. He says that the rest of us want to attack innocence. He says this has been necessary because innocence is oppressive, and that we are heroes for having taken on the job of fighting back against that oppressiveness. Would it be unfair to describe this as an appeasement strategy?
I think that idealism is the heart of the problem, the root of all evil. This is kind of what Griffith is saying, but not quite. He thinks idealism was the problem only as long as we didn't understand ourselves, and now he thinks he has made such an understanding possible, thus making idealism no longer a problem.
I think idealism is a kind of conceptual virus which has plagued humanity. Now this doesn't mean that we are wrong to want peace and togetherness and kindness and to want to be less selfish. This is the insidious nature of the negative feedback loop that is idealism. It advertises itself as the road to Heaven when it is actually the road to Hell. The harder we strive for the ideals, the further they recede.
This is because the good things we want can only grow out of love, and the foundation of love is unconditional self-acceptance. Throughout our lives our self-acceptance is being undermined by criticism, rejection and by the condemnation implied by those apparently unreachable ideals. The oppression of our conscience, of those ideals we find so hard to meet, or, if we are religious, that perfect God who makes us feel like pathetic worms for our lack of perfection, all of these things can build up a seething pit of resentment in us towards those who seem to be more in tune with the ideals than ourselves. Sometimes, unable to acknowledge this well of darkness in ourselves, we project it onto others, going into battle against the terrible other.
If love is the answer, then what is love? Love is a mode of communication characterised by openness, honesty, spontaneity and generosity. Fear, of others and of the darkness within us, causes us to become rigid, to adopt character armour, which is the barrier to love. All we need to open up to the love which will bring us the peace and togetherness and freedom from our ego-prisons that we desire, is to feel safe enough to put aside our armour. Our armour is our egotism. And it is our alienation, that which blocks us from experiencing the world as it really is and from thinking honestly about ourselves and that world.
It is true that we have always needed a way to love the dark side of our psyche. But love is not appeasement. Love doesn't bolster our ego by saying, "You're a hero." Love releases us from our enslavement to that ego, by saying, "You are forgiven now, and you will be forgiven always." This was the essence of Jesus' message. If God is a mythological figure representing the creative principle of the universe, which in human affairs takes the form of love, then every time we realise we have made a mistake, as long as we are honest about it, God is there to forgive us. This is not some supernatural assurance. The creative principle of the universe works through evolution. Deviations from the norm are what lead to new and wonderful things. Nature is no dictator, insisting on some kind of perfection. And all human discord can be healed by love, which does not judge. At the moment our self-acceptance is conditional and therefore our love for others is conditional too. But in time the barriers to unconditional love will melt away, and then all is forgiven. Love is the sea that refuses no river.
Griffith is a major critic of what he terms "pseudo-idealistic" movements - environmentalism, socialism, the New Age Movement, "political correctness", etc. He sees them as superficial and escapist, because they don't address the deeper psychological issues. This is fair enough up to a point. But he sees them as being so powerful in the world now and so dogmatic that they might shut down the search for understanding altogether. He quotes George Orwell :
"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face [freedom] - for ever." 1984.
To emphasise the danger he also quotes from the Bible (with his own extrapolations) :
"'He [the self-deception that accompanies superficiality] will invade the kingdom [of honesty] when its people feel secure [when superficiality becomes popular enough], and he will seize it [the kingdom of honesty] through intrigue...Then they [those pushing self-deception] will set up the abomination that causes desolation [the superficiality that leads to oblivion]. With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant [self-deluding superficiality will seduce the exhausted], but the people who know their God will firmly resist him [the less exhausted will not be deceived].'"
Daniel, 11:21, 31, 32.
"'So when you see the 'abomination that causes desolation' (spoken of through the prophet Daniel) standing where it does not belong [claiming to know the way to the new age] let the reader understand... For then there will be great distress [mindless superficiality and its consequences], unequalled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equalled again. If those days had not been cut short [by the arrival of the truth], no-one would survive.'"
Matthew 24 and Mark 13
These passages, and the emphasis and interpretation Griffith puts on them, deserve closer examination. Sometimes we see in our enemies a reflexion of a truth we are hiding from ourselves.
"He [an extreme idealist] will invade the kingdom [the establishment] when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue [disguising his insistence on the ideals with a cloak of pretend science]... Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation [idealism]. With flattery [by telling us we are heroes] he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant [technically, those who have broken from the agreement to follow the precepts of the gospel, but probably more broadly those who have been dishonest, judgemental or unloving], but the people who know their God [those who understand the true nature of love] will firmly resist him."
Now lets look at the passages from Matthew and Mark. In Mark it says "...standing where it does not belong..." but in Matthew it is more specific saying "...standing in the holy place...". If "the abomination that causes desolation" is idealism, then in what way might it have been put "in the holy place"? "Holy" means "whole" or "of the whole". Griffith identifies idealism with holism. He puts idealism in the place of holism. Idealism, being founded on a dualistic split between good and evil, cannot be reconciled with holism. Holism is necessarily pragmatic.
So why the talk about "great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equalled again"? Certainly we live in very troubled times. How is this related to the presentation of a theory that we are genetically idealistic?
If idealism has been the poison virus contaminating the human race throughout its history (ever since it arose in the experimenting mind of one of our ancestors), then to nail it down to our very bodies themselves is the final straw. No escape, no defence. The enemy is within!
Just after that in Matthew 24:19, Jesus says : "How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!"
Griffith believes that infants are born with an instinctive expectation of an ideal world, thus they will be damaged by their mother's lack of ideality.
"In every generation, individual women had a very brief life in innocence before being soul-destroyed through sex. They then had to try to nurture a new generation, all the time trying to conceal the destruction that was all around and within them. Mothers tried to hide their alienation from their children, but the fact is if a mother knew about reality/upset her children would know about it and would psychologically adapt to it."
I'm sure that being a mother is a tough job to begin with without this kind of unfounded pressure. I don't believe infants are born expecting anything particular, and what they most need is a relaxed mother. If love is open, honest, spontaneous and generous communication, it will be impeded by feelings of anxiety or guilt. And being sexually repressed won't help either.
You might say, "But how can this bring great tribulation to the world when hardly anyone has actually read it?" Every book written is in some way an articulation of a broader and deeper social current. We could look at Griffith's books not so much as a wind blowing us off course as a weather vane in which the direction of that wind is indicated. They are a crystallisation of the pathology of idealism which has plagued us down the centuries. Job's prayer was : "Oh, that my enemy had written a book!" Through Jeremy Griffith, idealism has done just that.
"Beyond the Human Condition" gives expression to the rose tinted and over romanticised views of tribal life that developed in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, in both the professional literature and also the popular imagination. Such views have consequently been questioned as more robust cross cultural analysis of lethal violence and homicide has emerged from the anthropological field data. (A good summary of this data can be found in Bruce Knauft's paper "Reconsidering Violence in Simple Societies" in "Current Anthropology" August-September 1987). In "Beyond the Human Condition" Griffith approvingly quotes from Bruce Chatwin's "Songlines", where Chatwin associates the !Kung Bushman and Australian Aboriginal people with `the Men of Perfect Virtue', with `Adam in the Garden' and with Hesiod's 'Golden Age':
Every mythology remembers the innocence of the first state: Adam in the Garden, the peaceful Hyperboreans, the Uttarakurus or `the Men of Perfect Virtue' of the Taoists. Pessimists often interpret the story of the Golden Age as a tendency to turn our backs on the ills of the present, and sigh for the happiness of youth. But nothing in Hesiod's text exceeds the bounds of probability.
The real or half-real tribes which hover on the fringe of ancient geographies - Atavantes, Fenni, Parrossits or the dancing Spermatophagi - have their modern equivalents in the Bushman, the Shoshonean, the Eskimo and the Aboriginal. (Chatwin quoted in "Beyond the Human Condition" p. 66).
It is unclear how this is a testable scientific hypothesis - which is what Griffith is claiming his work is. Griffith similarly romanticises and idealises the !Kung Bushman in his "Freedom Book 1", where echoing Van der Post's sentiment, he states that the "Bushman are Christ-like themselves" (p.403).
Tim MaCartney Snape, the famous mountaineer and long-time supporter of Griffith's work, has also accepted Van der Post's work as providing sufficient basis for an anthropological theory of human origins and social organisation. As he writes in the Forward to "Beyond the Human Condition" when reflecting on the supposed moral and psychological virtues of small band hunting life: `...by recognising [our hunter-gatherer past] and trying to practice those dietary, physical and social patterns and trying to put them into a modern context we would immediately solve many of our current problems. Why isn't this taught in school?(41). This view is based on a mistaken view of the patterns of social organisation and behaviour evident in hunter-gatherer societies, which if implemented in a modern context would most likely exacerbate, as opposed to diminish incidents of violent conflict.
Griffith claims his work is a robust, scientifically verifiable hypothesis. I believe on the contrary that many of his assertions fall far short of being robust science. I probably wouldn't disagree with people who have claimed many of Griffith's assertions represent a form of pseudo-science. The formal definition of pseudoscience is a `claim, belief or practice which is presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status. Pseudoscience is often characterized by the use of vague, contradictory, exaggerated or unprovable claims [and] an over-reliance on confirmation rather than rigorous attempts at refutation' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudoscience).
I believe Griffith relies far too much on what is termed `conformation bias' - that is the constant quotation of other writers who he believes support his a priori hypothesis, without undertaking adequate critical examination of the assumptions underlying that hypothesis. He also offers very little experimental proof or data that his view is actually correct. Griffith's works are strewn with speculation and assertions which are not backed up by any data - in fact what data does exist contradicts many of his claims. The table pasted at the end of this review listing homicides among the !Kung from Richard Lee's "The Dobe !Kung" (p. 125) indicates how Griffith's polemical or emotive assertions cannot be empirically tested, verified nor at all falsified. Falsification is a primary requirement of scientific veracity. Griffith describes the !Kung as "Christ-like" - yet for this to be an empirically testable hypothesis, Griffith would have to imagine a situation in which this statement would be false - a situation in which the !Kung are not "Christ-like". He would then need to demonstrate with data why that situation does not obtain in reality - thus verifying his thoery as the most parsimonious explanation. This would prove that his theory of the !Kung being "Christ-like" does in fact best describe what exists in the world (this is Karl Popper's standard of falsification which underpins the epistemology and philosophy of science). His assertion of the "Christlike" nature of the Busman is a non-falsifiable one for he does not seem to understand the contradiction inherent in the notion of being "Christ-like" and commiting "homicide", which are mutually exclusive terms and concepts.
Griffith is effectively claiming a people who commit homicide at the rates listed below can accurately be described as "Christ-like". This is the homicide data from Lee's "The Dobe !Kung". I leave the reader to decide if Chatwin's "Men of Perfect Virtue", Hesiod's "Golden Age" or Griffith's description of the !Kung as "Christ-like" provide scientifically valid or defensible descriptions of this data:
T A B L E 8.1 Ju/ 'hoan Homicide Cases 1920-1955
Code No. Situation
K1 In a general brawl over a martial dispute, three men wound and kill
another east of /Xai/xai (1930s)
K2 By general agreement, the senior of the three killers in K1 is himself killed
in retaliation (1930s)
K3 The notorious /Twi kills a man in a spear fight (/Du/ da area, 1940).
K4 The notorious /Twi kills a second man, an event that later leads to the
killing /Twi himself (/Du/ da area, 1940s).
K5 In the course of being fatally attacked, /Twi manages to kill a third man
and wound a woman (/Du/ da area, 1940s).
K6 The killer /Twi is ambushed and wounded and then killed by the collective
action of a large number of people (/Du/ da area, 1940s).
K7 In a sneak attack one man kills another over the latter's wife. Wife first
runs away with the killer, but becomes frightened and returns alone
( To//gana, 1940s)
K8 A young man kills his father's brother in a spear fight, the closest
killer-victim kin connection in the sample (/Du/ da area, 1930s).
K9 A man accuses another of adultery. In the ensuing fight, the accused
adulterer is wounded, but succeeds in killing the husband (Bate, 1930s).
K10 In anger over her adultery, a man stabs and kills his wife with a poisoned
arrow and flees the area (/Xai/xai, 1920s).
K11 Gau from Tsumkwe kills a /Gausha man with a spear to initiate a long
sequence of feuding (Nyae Nyae area, 1930s).
K12 Gau's enemies attack him in retaliation, but Gau kills a second man in
the attempt (Nyae Nyae area, 1930s).
K13 A relative of Gau's is killed in an earlier fight that is related to K11 and
K12 (Nyae Nyae area, 1920s).
K14 Gau's enemies attack him a second time at a place called Zou/ toma, and
Gau kills a third man; two others are killed the same day; K15, K16.
(Nyae Nyae area, 1930s).
K15 The attackers kill a woman bystander of Gau's group in the arrow fight
at Zou/toma (1930s).
K16 The attackers fail to kill Gau himself at Zou/ toma, but they do kill
another man of his group (1930s).
K17 A young man not of the /Gausha groups kills Gau in a sneak attack,
finally eliminating an unpopular man (1940s).
K18 The younger brother of Gau is attacked by another man in an argument,
but in the ensuing fight, the man's wife is killed. Gau's brother goes to
jail in South-West Africa for this crime (1950s).
K19 Returning home from jail, Gau's younger brother is met on the road and
killed by relatives of the victim in K18 (near South-West African farms,
K20 A Black settler was having an affair with a Ju/ ′hoan man's wife. Catching
them in flagrante, the husband shoots and kills the man. The killer is later
jailed in Maun, Botswana (!Kubi, 1946).
K21 A young man kills an older man with a club in a general brawl. The killer is
later jailed in Maun (1952).
K22 In a general brawl a young man and his father kill a /Xai/xai man. Later
both are taken to jail in Maun (1955); the last case of Ju/ ′hoan homicide in
the Dobe area until the 1970s.
(Table from Richard Lee's "The Dobe !Kung" p. 125).
Tha famous physicist Wolfgang Pauli descrided non-falsifiable or pseudo-scientific theories in the following way: 'It is not even not right. It is not even wrong.' I discuss Lee's data in more detail in my Amazon review of Griffith's "A Species in Denial" for those who are interested. Hopefully readers will be able to form their own critical perspective on Griffith's work by comparing this data with his published writings, enabling them to decide for themsleves if his work is pseudoscience or robust data based research.
These books are also available on www.amazon.com - the page for `A Species In Denial' contains an extraordinarily supportive review from one of the world's leading scientists. I also encourage readers to visit the website [...] for even more recent publications and essays by Jeremy Griffith.