A Common Denominator

Today on AIM, I did what I have always done: apply my philosophies/actions to others, assuming that others hold these same basic “things”. Right after that I started questioning if I was correct. But I’m very tired and being very ambiguous. Let me start from Square 1.

In arithmetic, two fractions can be combined (added) if their common denominators are equal. Similarly, I believe that human beings have to have a common thread, a common denominator, to mingle. Assuming that Pastor Ed is correct and that we are naturally social creatures, we as humanity must hold a common denominator. Otherwise, we would not be a social species, and isolation wouldn’t be so painful. The question is, what is that common denominator?

C.S. Lewis argues in his book Mere Christianity that we have a Law of Human Nature that we all inherently hold and know.  I agree there is a Law of Human Nature, and that we are not Locke-esque blank slates. But as I have hinted on before, my belief is that Human Reason is what gives birth to this Law. Our Reason tells us cheating is bad; our Instinct convinces us that we must get a good grade for our [in my case, Asian] parents. Our Reason tells us to save that complete stranger in the burning car; our instinct only knows self-preservation. In a disaster situation, our Reason tells us to not loot; our Instinct propels us to take something wide open for the taking. The more desperate we are, the more emotion begins to influence us, the more Instinct sounds lucrative and the less Reason sounds advantageous.

So there’s one common denominator. Reason and Instinct: the Law of Human Nature vs. the Law of Self-Preservation. But let’s look even deeper. What makes us want to preserve ourselves?

Fear. Fear of pain. What else could almost all human history be driven by?

I realized this about a month ago during the latest Gracepoint baptism. Testimony after testimony, delivered from the heart; tear-filled, horrific stories about an old self, instinctive impulses gone awry. In some ways, as our Instinct was born to prevent pain, Reason may also be attempting to guide us away from pain. Reason attempts to provide an alternative that, whether through Karma or the Golden Rule, or through long-term outcome, appears to be more pleasant. So really, our common denominator is not just simply our Reason or Instinct. It is Pain. We all are deeply, deeply afraid of it. And we all have it.

Through this existence and fear of pain, humanity bonds. Existentialism was borne out of the pains of feeling meaningless. Modern pop music exploits the deepest pains of our deepest emotions. Diaries and blogs and books and writing and art and photography arise out of people who want to vent their pains, or lack thereof, through a different venue. The Romantics sought a much-needed nature-centered escape from social upheavels, while the Realists connected with viewers through those same pains; conflict in novels and films entice us through portrayals of conflict and pain that are eventually dispelled. Friendships grow closer when hearts are spilled out, when chem labs are incomplete at 6 AM, when a group of stranded, starving people in the Andes resort to cannibalism. Tensions are let go when an earthquake kills 30,000 in Bam, or 100,000+ in Port-au-Prince.

And tonight I argued that, since I wrote most philosophically when I was most in painful emotion, so that the person I was talking to should also write most philosophically when she was in pain. Our common denominator.

(But clearly I have proved myself wrong tonight as I feel perfectly neutral. Or maybe it’s not just writing philosophically, but also writing good. Which, I have failed in tonight. Nevertheless, I had reasoned to write this post long ago, but my instinct told me to do it now.)

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