Sometimes being a human feels like a constant internal struggle between two opposing forces. Such a conflict will always produce a troubled experience, and yet we often find it odd that our lives should be characterized by ongoing inner strife. We’re perplexed as to why life should be so exhausting when, in actual fact, it makes perfect sense. When two opposing forces come together under one roof, it is highly unlikely that the result will be peace and tranquility. Thus, seen in this light, the vexing nature of the human condition, which philosophers have grappled with since time immemorial, actually has a rather mundane explanation: a house divided cannot stand.
What are these two opposing forces? Quite simply, our instinct versus our intellect. We are, biologically speaking, nothing more than a mammal. We may have made ourselves more than that, but biology put us in the trees and the fields and steppes with all the other mammals. That is who and what we are at the genetic level. As such, when you strip away the civilized confines we have contrived and imposed upon ourselves, we are just another animal. And like all animals, we have innate drives and impetuses wired into the very strands of our DNA. We call these drives and impetuses instincts. While some instincts urge us to behave in acceptable ways and others urge us to behave in what we’ve come to recognized as unacceptable ways, none of the urges are our fault. We are not responsible for what we are at the genetic level. We may try to override those urges—we may even succeed in doing so—but the fact that these urges, whatever they are and whether or not we defeat them, are inherent to us is not something we need to apologize for. We are, when you get right down to it, biological machines whose first and most basic inclination is to operate from a place that exists beyond thought, a place I call the instinctual core. And whatever else instinct might be, one thing it is not is rational.
However, we are also beings that have inexplicably evolved to the point where our brains are capable of reason. For better or worse, we now have access to logical thinking, the fruits of which are manifested in our species’ attempts to “civilize ourselves.” In other words, at some point in our distant past we were able through the use of reason to conceive and project an “imagined ideal” for existence, something that required forced behavior on our parts, something that promised to bring order and stability and even prosperity to our experiences on this planet. We conceived of this thing called “civilization” and it looked good to us. It seemed doable. But even though we were able to conceive of it mentally, we never asked ourselves if we were ready for it instinctually, and thus we charged ahead and took ourselves out of the fields and caves and put ourselves into cities where we—mere mammals—could play “house” and artificially fashion ourselves into creatures of intellect rather than instinct. And we do alright at it, most of the time. After all, our brains are indeed stunning machines of complex thought capable of way more than any of us can actually imagine. We’re so good at complex thought, in fact, that we have actually allowed ourselves to forget our true identity, that we are merely animals who wear suits. We are forcing ourselves to operate from a place I call the intellectual core.
Therefore, we are a creature that has two places from which to draw its motivations. One of them is innate—the instinctual core. The other is, for the most part, self-imposed—the intellectual core. Sometimes the drives that originate from these two places are in agreement. Most of the time they are not. Thus, when you have a creature whose existence is characterized by a continual inner conflict resulting from two equal and opposing forces doing battle with one another, it makes perfect sense that the standard existential experience of that creature would be one of angst and despair and erraticism and exhaustion. Our instincts bid us to behave in one way; our intellect bids us to behave in a contrary way. Which will win? Some people are better at winning this battle than other people. Some people will just never win it. We call such people “evil” or “deviants” or “monsters,” but perhaps they just don’t have the same energy to mitigate the inner battle that you or I may have.
In any case, I can’t help but feel that the philosophical riddle of the human condition, which has inspired more books and poems and late night conversations than anything else in the history of our species, is actually no riddle at all. It is, when you really get down to it, a rather simple and plebian case of “left” and “right” trying to exist together on the same hand.