Tell me something I don’t know

As a human being – and absent pure arrogance on my part – I resist describing myself with the same generality and overall assessment of any other animal. Obviously it is not the appearance of the animal which offends me. Rather it is the predictability and uniformity of the animal’s nature. When viewing either a flock of geese or a pride of lions for example it is disconcerting to imagine that a human being is from a moderate distance not unlike any other collection of the same species – basically unrecognizable. The problem is not so much that I am like them; instead it’s that I’m like you. My singularity is effectively diluted to the point of anonymity, even obscurity, invisibility or inconsequence.

Species (abbreviation sp., spp.) Biology a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. The species is the principal natural taxonomic unit, ranking below a genus and denoted by a Latin binomial, e.g. Homo sapiens.

This abstract description of species derives more unsettling particularity in its usage in defined realms of humanity.

Logic a group subordinate to a genus and containing individuals agreeing in some common attributes and called by a common name.

a kind or sort: a species of invective at once tough and suave.

used humorously to refer to people who share a characteristic or occupation: a political species that is becoming more common, the environmental statesman.

Chemistry & Physics a particular kind of atom, molecule, ion, or particle: a new molecular species.

Christian Church the visible form of each of the elements of consecrated bread and wine in the Eucharist.

There is however a redeemptive element to the term species. Its origin from late Middle English: from Latin, literally “appearance, form, beauty”, from specere “to look. In spite of this artistic allure the conclusion remains nonetheless awkward.  We all look the same; or worse, we are all the same which captures the inner distinction or mystical contamination of whatever it is to be human.

“Most historians agree that the Enlightenment began around the 1680s and lasted until the early 1800s. In Britain, the beginnings of enlightened thought can be traced back to the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Over a period of decades that began with the English Civil War, Britain was transformed from an autocracy led by the Stuart monarchy into a more constitutional society where religious tolerance was encouraged. In France, the death of Louis XIV in 1715 is often cited as the starting point of the Enlightenment, with the French Revolution of 1789 marking its end point. For some, the wellspring of enlightened thought can be found even further back in European history, around the 1620s when Europe experienced a surge of scientific inquiry, experimentation, and innovation.”

Excerpt From
Age of Enlightenment: A History From Beginning to End

I mention the Age of Enlightenment because it unites the defined and undefined natures of humanity. It is thankfully impossible to say what it is that drives any one of us. The welcome aspect of the unachievable enterprise is not the inability to do so but rather its doubtful accuracy. This affords diversion and the stimulus of unpredictability. On its face, changeability in the context of humanity is a small compliment. Yet I think you’ll agree it’s a good thing we have our differences.

“The Age of Enlightenment is the defining intellectual and cultural movement of the modern world. In the simplest terms possible, the Enlightenment was born of the idea that all human beings share the same basic needs and as such should enjoy the same rights and privileges. Enlightenment philosophers believed that human reason, rationality, and benevolence would lead to the natural progression of society and the betterment of life on Earth.”

Lest you think such broad generalization is mere wistful talk, consider the prophetic success of what follows:

“At the center of the “philosophes” was Montesquieu (1689-1755), a French man of letters who wrote the iconic Spirit of the Laws in1748, a text often cited as representing the spirit of both the American and French revolutions. Trained as a lawyer, Montesquieu’s theory of the separation of powers—into executive, legislative, and judicial each of which are separate from each other and the power of the sovereign—was absolutely revolutionary at the time and paved the way for constitutions adopted by nations across the world, which are still in use today. ”


Seen in the light of such egalitarianism it is less desirable to preserve one’s personal distinctions. But we mustn’t confuse “distinction” and “egalitarianism”. Being in contrast does not diminish opportunity.

“Francis Hutcheson’s main contribution to the Enlightenment was his writings on moral sense, a follow-up to Shaftesbury’s earlier doctrine. Hutcheson famously said that virtue could be defined as “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.”


I cannot but sense a global acceptance of that thesis of virtue although it is moderately disappointing it has taken so long. Seemingly the age of enlightenment (that is, human reason, rationality and benevolence) invokes the current view of humanity. This awakening to broader perspective and imperative compels a distance from less complimentary human behaviour. Increasingly humanity is acknowledging our similarities and interdependence. In the result our differences don’t matter. Yet while this does nothing to advance my opening serve for idiosyncrasy, it removes a great deal of what no longer matters while highlighting what does.

For those of our world leaders who persist to identify others as a universal problem, they are on the wrong side of humanity. Given what I hear and read in the news, the trend is distinctly away from isolation and instead towards solidarity. In many instances, individuality is now perceived historically as a sad combination of ignorance and arrogance. The good news is that we are all learning something new about others. When people such as Thomas Babington Macaulay are no longer tolerated to label the Celts, Irish or Scots as savages – in difference to the colonial and imperial Saxons for example – then we may approach a more insightful regard of others. There is no longer any point is disguising who we are – unless we’re constrained to do so by our supreme devotion to personal appetites and favourable rendition. For those of us in Western civilization in particular, we have a lot to learn.

“Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was a philosopher and political theorist whose text published in 1651, Leviathan, is credited with jolting the English Enlightenment into being. While Hobbes believed in an absolute monarchy, he was also a liberal and wrote on the rights of the individual, social equality, and the necessity of a political system that is based on the consent of its nation’s people. Hobbes’ controversial Leviathan posited that all human beings are inherently self-driven and that political communities must be built on a ‘social contract’, ideas that inform political philosophy to this day.”