Do you ever think about how throughout history, people never really change? Contrary to those in progressive media and politics, we are not more enlightened than our forefathers. We are certainly not more intelligent. We no longer even understand human nature. In fact, we reject the notion that humans have an immutable “nature.” We are far to smart to subscribe to the belief that we are tethered to reality. We eschew reality because it interferes with our self-hypnosis that we have risen above fixed rules like reality. We talk of free lunches, and human “rights” to free stuff.
The advent of Smartphones doesn’t make us, as human beings, any different from our parents, or grandparents. An argument could be made that it makes us more impotent, but it certainly doesn’t make us immune to human instincts and frailties. Humans cannot transcend their human attributes. We possess attributes which are beautiful and admirable, but also horrible and evil. Only complete arrogance and total ignorance can delude one into believing that humans can “rise above” their humanness. Moreover, only those who think lowly of humans could ever conceive of such a thing.
Despite being centuries old, Shakespeare’s works are still appealing to us. This is precisely because we can still relate to the characters therein. It is wholly irrelevant that these stories were written in a time which was never experienced by any of us. They were good then, and they are good now. King Henry’s St. Crispin Day speech to his men gives us goose-bumps because humans have always prized bravery and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. Isn’t that the same thing that is so appealing about movies like, “Rocky” which came centuries later? Similarly, we have all known young love, so our hearts race with excitement until Romeo and Juliet meet secretly again and we anguish over the prospect that their time together is at all times perilous. We recoil at the unbridled ambition of Macbeth, and we laugh at the nothing-based, Jerry Seinfeld-like scenes in “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Timeless axioms like those found in childhood copybooks apply to people irrespective of the time in which they live. Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” for example, produced the phrase “too much of a good thing.” Is that axiom still true today? Of course. It is still applicable today because human beings do not change their fundamental attributes. Humans will always contain ingredients such as anger, love, pain, hope, humility, good, evil, temptation, and the innate desire to be free. This does not mean that we have no control over these “ingredients.” It only means that they are what makes us human. What makes us feel so good when we fall in love? There is only one such feeling and it is the same now as it was during the dawn of man. Once we get past the perpetual progressive pursuit of hypnotized human purification (“Who has deceived thee as oft as thyself?”), the celestial beauty of humankind is there as plain as the smile on a young mother’s face when she gazes upon her newborn baby with heavenly wonder. That is real and beautiful, and it does not change with time. There have always been mothers who love their children, because that is human. (“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”).
People possess negative attributes as well. For example, we can be seduced by corruption, hence the cautionary axiom, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” By the way, this article does not seek to advance the notion that all people are susceptible to all axioms. For example, George Washington is the earth’s greatest exception to the notion that power corrupts. He was uncorruptible. America begged him to be king, and he declined. Then, America begged him to run for President a third time, and he declined.
Rather this article seeks only to examine the reality that most human beings are the same in that they are susceptible to the same frailties. Not all people are adulterous, but very many are. Most people have lied, but some do not.
It seems to me that axioms which reflect human tendencies have more to do with mapping those tendencies throughout time as wisdom for the next generations. (“Wise men learn from others’ harms, fools by their own.”) They are an ever-growing encyclopedia of lessons on the human condition. “Waste not, want not.” “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Are these phrases limited in their wisdom to times gone by? If you think so, you haven’t seen our national debt. The “wanting” part is soon to come I assure you.
If the foregoing supposition is correct, then it must also be true that man’s less admirable tendencies are girded by these axiomatic rules of wisdom. They are guard-rails of wisdom that border a virtuous life. (“Know thyself.”) They alert us that some paths of conduct are meritless, or risky, and frequently, they spell out exactly what that risk is. Take for example, the Ten Commandments. Aren’t these also rules designed to guard against man’s less than admirable tendencies? Thou shalt not commit adultery. Who could argue with the wisdom of that? How about, “thou shalt not steal”? “Thou shalt not commit murder” is a shoe-in among axioms, and no one could argue with its wisdom, except perhaps the murderer. Another favorite is the Commandment which orders us to keep the Sabbath Holy. Often forgotten, however, is the rest of that Commandment which requires that we work the other six days. Many of my fellow members of the criminal defense bar know that I believe most crimes would not have been committed if the perpetrator endeavored to work six (or even five) days per week. At least we can all agree that those who do not work are far more likely to commit crimes. Wow! That invokes the axiom about “idle hands,” and one of the seven deadly sins; sloth.
To the unwise, working may appear difficult, unpleasant, and therefore unattractive. Without context provided by wisdom, the choice between working, and not working, seems like a slam dunk for the lazy. Picture the highschooler or college student faced with this dilemma. College is frequently where the word procrastination is personified. Worse yet, picture the modern-day welfare recipient who is able-bodied, but has no intention of working. He will never achieve the high virtues of knowing what he is capable of, or of developing a reputation for being dependable for his wife, friends, co-workers, or employer. He will long endure, but he will not thrive. To understand this, he must first understand the bigger picture. If he does not, he will elect the path of least resistance. If he does, he will understand all of the blessings that come from hard work. He will learn to strive, to feel proud of his abilities, to be happy. He may then seek to instill this understanding in his children, so that they may know the virtues that may otherwise seem hidden behind work, and the miseries that are concealed behind sloth. How is it that the Commandments would include a commandment to work — and to work a lot — among things like murder, and adultery? Yet, my life experience as a criminal defense attorney has taught me that man is meant to work; to strive. Conversely, most crimes and social ills are covered with the fingerprints of idle hands. These are immutable truths for all mankind no matter where man happens to be on the time-space continuum.
As I write this, my 13-year-old is trying to extort an iPod from me. He has put a lot of thought into his pitch, and has convinced himself that he is impartially formulating a plan from which the entire family would benefit. It is complete mularkey, of course. I’m sure there is some axiom out there for this, because kids will always try to manipulate their parents to get stuff. Whether it is the boy in “Old Yeller,” who wants a puppy, or whether it is my child who wants an iPod, children will, on occasion, endeavor to manipulate their parents, even though their motives may be innocuous, and quite humorous. After all, that is my point. Isn’t it likely that this is the way all of these words of wisdom began? They are simply observations of human predispositions which someone puts into a catchy phrase like, “kids shalt take advantage of thine parents . . . uhh when they want stuff.” Okay, so it’s not so catchy, but it does serve the same purpose. Incidentally, this paragraph is brought to you by the saying, “Take time to stop and smell the roses.”
Perhaps it would be a good idea for us to pay close attention to words of wisdom that have stood the test of time about human nature. The Constitution is one of those documents that understands human nature very well. Our Founders believed that man was made to be free. Freedom permits man to achieve his highest potential, or to fall prey to his most base and horrible capabilities. If we only had a book that told stories about human nature from the perspective of someone who understood it. It would have to be a book that was really old, and contained these immutable truths about humanity. That way, if we recognized the same traits and frailties exhibited thousands of years ago, it would be apparent that some things never change. It would be great if this book had real characters who did some of these things that embody humanity’s less admirable traits. If it could talk about the first murder, for example, that would be illuminating while providing lessons of caution to future generations. It should contain parables from long ago with which we could identify. It should also list proverbs that are immutable words of wisdom so that we may know our frailties and guard against them. Better yet, it would give guidance that would apply to problems we are experiencing today. Likewise, it should provide bright-line rules for how to treat our parents, and our fellow man. Maybe it would even tout humility and virtue over subjugation and greed. It should give man a standard to which he might aspire, and it should give him a reason to do so. It should encourage truth. Amen.