What If We All Could Be the Best We Could Be?

This piece appeared as an op/ed in newspapers at the beginning of July, 2024.


Imagine a human world in which every baby that’s born develops into the best human being it had the potential to become.

What people become is the result of their inborn potentialities interacting with all the formative experiences they go through over their lives. They’d develop differently if they’d been born into a different family, or in a different time and place, or a different cultural system.

How great is the difference between that ideal — where every baby develops into the best person it has the potential to be – and the actual world we live in, where every human being is shaped by a less-than-ideal world?

What got me thinking about all this is what a friend of mine said about himself. On the one hand, he sees himself of average inborn intelligence. On the other hand, he’s a lot more capable than I’ve believed merely “average” intelligence makes possible. (He has been given jobs of ever higher levels of responsibility, requiring meeting ever greater challenges, facilitating some complex processes involving American national security.)

As he sees it, if he’s become an especially capable guy, it’s because of his lifelong practice of habits that developed what potential he had. (He’s gladly taken on every task as a challenge, has been continually curious about how things work, and works to make them work.)

His account, if true, has a major implication: the average person is born with potentialities to become a great deal more capable than what we see in the average life being led around us.

And why wouldn’t the average human have great capability? The average child manages to learn a language, without even being taught. And language is only one part of what everyone learns in order to function in their society.

My friend’s account thus led me to think that a great deal of human potential is getting wasted among many other members of our society, who might have become as impressive – in some form corresponding to their own proclivities and gifts – as my friend. If their lives had developed that potential more fully.

As with “intelligence,” and “capability,” so it would surely also be with the various other dimensions of people being the best they can be, like:

  • How loving a heart?
  • How clear a perception of the reality around them?
  • How well-structured the character?
  • How spiritually in touch and wise?
  • How morally committed to the Good?

(When it comes to realizing the best of human potential, there are so many different virtues that matter.)

My friend’s story, therefore, led me to contemplate how far short we humans fall — in our actual world — of the ideal person each might have become had they been born into the ideal circumstance shaping them with the ideals set of formative influences.

Which raises the question: Why would the formative influences to which the world subjects us fall so far short of the ideal?

There’s no reason to expect the world that shapes us would be perfect. Even when it comes to our DNA, we’re all born with less than perfection. Even a process that has been working for several billion years, consistently choosing Live over Death (what can survive over what cannot), falls short of perfection. Despite evolution having fashioned almost the miraculously whole structures that are our bodies, the DNA we get dealt is less than perfect.

If our bodies are imperfect, there’s no reason to expect that we inherently imperfect creatures would create families or cultures that would be perfect for shaping their members into the very best their inborn potentialities made it possible for them to become.

But my life’s work shows that there’s another major factor: It shows that our species inadvertently unleashed a destructive force that would inevitably make the human world, and the people in it, more broken.

It shows that it was inevitable that – if a creature did what humankind did ten millennia ago — this force of brokenness would be unleashed.

What we did was unprecedented in the three-plus billion-year history of Life on Earth. Our species took the unprecedented – and fateful — step onto the path of “Civilization” —defined as those societies made by a creature that’s extricated itself from the niche in which it evolved biologically by inventing a new way of life for itself.

Breaking out of the natural order that biological evolution had create was a huge deal—and too little attention has been paid to the implications of that unprecedented break-out. (That nature of that order can be expressed this way: “The lion and the zebra and the grass work together to operate a perpetual motion machine, even as they devour each other.”)

It can be shown, with compelling logic, that leaving that Order inevitably:

  • Inevitably plunges the civilization-creating creature into a kind of Disorder that
  • Inevitably leads to a “war of all against all,” which
  • Inevitably dictates that only those cultural options that can prevail in such a war will survive and spread.

From those inevitable implications, we can conclude that the ugliness we see in the human world is not a picture of our inborn nature. And that if we can bring that destructive force under control, we humans can better realize our best potential.


This understanding of the destructive forces humankind inadvertently unleashed is systematically laid out at ABetterHumanStory.org

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