The humanities are sciences that try to solve the mystery of human nature. Their development accompanies the development of mankind, and their goal is to understand the determinants of human behavior and the mechanisms of human thought. There is a reason that the humanities are in plural number. With the human nature being as diverse and consisting of so many different elements, its study needed to be broken up into more specified sciences that closely study different fields of it. In essence, they are the systematic effort of humanity to understand one of the most troubling, yet intriguing parts of reality: itself.
In Unit 1, we engaged with the fraction of the humanities that deals with self-perception, how the individual views themselves and believes they are viewed by society. We shed light into the problematic situation that arises when the aforementioned views are in clash with one-another. A great example of this was provided by Amin Maalouf who shared his personal story. The scholar was born and raised in Lebanon and later moved permanently to France, so he considered both countries to be a part of his identity. This belief is juxtaposed with the view of the individuals around him, that consider natural for a person to eventually choose only one national identity that matters to them. In his text, Maalouf provides a powerful insight to the violence and feeling of uncertainty this force to pick only one identity creates to the individual that experiences it.
In Unit 2 the part of human nature many consider the deciding factor that led to our progress as a kind is examined, our logic. Based on the question of how we judge something as correct or false, the main concept discussed is the nature of truth. Should truth be considered objective, or undeniable, or is it relative to the way we view reality? This led to the examination of two schools of thought that hold opposing views towards the issue, realism and pragmatism. The pragmatistic view was extensively analyzed in Borges’ description of the country of Uqbar, where individuals referred to the world around them only by how the different aspects of it influence themselves. If one cannot feel something, this something does not exist, or, there is no meaning in even considering whether it exists or not. On the other hand, Edison J. Trickett develops an argument against strong relativism by using the example of translating a sentence to a different language; if the new sentence that is produced is an accurate translation, then it conveys the same meaning, the same statement about reality. Therefore, thinking that the original sentence had this meaning only in the first language and not in the language it was translated to is absurd, since it’s the same reality the sentences are describing.
In Unit 4, we analyzed dignity and the need of one to feel that their humanity is recognized through the examination of the Civil Rights Movement, the mass effort of African Americans to obtain equal rights with the white citizens of the United States. The book “March 2” we read in this unit illustrates how their peaceful fight for equality took place, and eventually led to the desegregation of the South. Through their patience and perseverance and despite all the violence they faced, as vividly highlighted in the book, the African American activists succeeded in convincing a whole nation of the obvious fact that their rights should be respected, because they are no less human than the rest of the U.S. population. And the recognition of this in the level of society, simple as it might seem, in fact affects terrifically the psyche and well-being of any individual.
A meaningful insight to the deepest parts of human nature was offered by Susan Sonntag in her book “Regarding the pain of others,” that we analyzed in Unit 3. The author stated the opinion that there is a part of the human nature that actually gets aroused when one is facing images depicting death and physical pain. Although many scholars perceived this idea as far-fetched, or even inappropriate, Sonntag supports it by saying that the intense corporeal feelings that one experiences when confronting extreme pain are not so different than those deriving from the most basic human instincts imprinted in our biology. The individual has a natural tendency to look when another person is in pain; it makes them feel content, for the reason they are not in the position of the other person, and at the same time their pain is eroticized, viewed as the utmost genuine and deep expression of the human nature.
What we consider as a pillar of human nature, our sense of morality, was put under analysis in Unit 8. More specifically, our right to react when we are oppressed, juxtaposed to the axiom of the immorality of violence. We analyzed the moral implications of the actions undertaken by the RAF, that viewed violence as justified, exactly due to the fact there was no other way of pursuing its aims. However, our moral and intellectual evolution through the centuries has deemed violence as intolerable as a means of supporting one’s opinions. The communication and persuasion way is characterized as the only justified one to get one’s message across. However, is it possible that so many centuries of violence with human as both the perpetrator and the victim can be erased, just by the existence of an ideological construction that denounces it?
In Unit 5, we discussed the power of dance as an act that showcases the social side of human nature and promotes collectiveness. Due to the unique nature of this form of art, it has the ability to both divide and unite. As for the former, a characteristic shared among many dances is the existence of distinct steps and moves, that a person need to know in order to participate. As a result, they can be utilized to create a social identity by drawing a line between those who know them and those who do not, among the dancers and the viewers. On the other hand, dance is, and should be viewed as, a universal celebration of our shared humanity. It uses the one thing that all people have in common: the body, and this acts as a bonging factor between different individuals. Also, dance is a performance, and through the unique bridge it creates among different individuals, it is a conscious effort of intense socializing.
In Unit 6, we examined the artistic side of human nature. Because of our belief system as well as how our brain perceives color, our connection with works of art comes in two levels: the biological and the social one. In the biological, or unconscious level, our brain observes patterns in the images we see, which stimulate an emotional reaction originating purely from our unconsciousness. Associating certain color combinations with memories characterized by their presence, and of course the emotional situation that accompanies them is a common phenomenon, and is something we cannot control or influence. At the same time, the socialization process has made us able to spot out different aspects of an image and using our conscience, interpreting it in accordance to them. This is a process that is done consciously, as especially with a very abstract painting, many times we need to think and focus in order to identify these traits that will determine what is its message for us. Therefore, how are humanity interacts with art is an intricate phenomenon, that highlights its complexity.
Unit 7 gave as a grasp on the part of the human psyche connected to our beliefs, and our ideology. Trough the analysis of the climate following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the spread of capitalism in the states that used to comprise it, one can understand the value of believing and following an ideology, and how their whole world can come down crushing when this ideology is violently uprooted. In this respect, not all the former Soviet citizens welcomed capitalism, that would proceed to become a core element of their society. For some, it was an abundance of opportunities that they found laid before them, for others, it was moral degradation and the substitute of a belief system based on equality and the rule of the working class from a grotesque caricature having nothing to present when it came to life purpose and ideals. It was also very interesting to see how a selective remembrance of recent history arised due to the ideological vacancy brought about by capitalism, characterized by the beautification of the Stalinist past, widely known for the oppression it created to the Soviet people.
Both the humanities and the Humanities have to do with the study of mankind, however there is a major difference between them. As mentioned above, the humanities tend to divide the human nature and individually examine each segment of it. On the other hand, the Humanities have to do with synthesis; the merging together of different views, opinions, experiences and schools of thought, with the ultimate goal to form a holistic image encapsulating what it means to be human. By analyzing and juxtaposing different concepts to one another, the Humanities are trying to create a map; a map that can help others navigate successfully through the diverse and unique characteristics of humanity. For the Humanities, the focus in only one particular trait of human nature seems almost meaningless. Where they gain their importance from is the free and natural drifting between concepts and ideas that enables one to accurately interpret and put into context new pieces of information and alternative views, in order to enrich their understanding of what humanity looks like. The Humanities, through comparing and contrasting, create a model about the structure of the psyche that enables us to get to know the essence of human nature, so in great extent, to get to broaden our knowledge about ourselves.