In the present day, are we a generation with a declining collective human spirit?
In order to believe that, currently, the collective human spirit is in decline is to believe that the human spirit is quantifiable – which it surely isn’t. In order to believe that the human spirit, as a collective, is falling, failing, you must have to first believe that the human spirit is qualitative but also a body to be judged as a collective, as a whole, in contrast to pertaining to an individual.
The human spirit is mutable. It exists on every plane. There is the human spirit: collective or the spirit of a human: singular, there’s the spirit of humans: concept, the human spirit: physiologically, the human spirit, the remixes: religious, spiritual, moral, scientific, national, global, personal, sane, infantile, elderly, distorted, burdened, gleeful, grieving, amused, bemused, angry, raging, gothic, romantic, confused, underdeveloped, overdeveloped, lacking, expanding, shared, guarded… – It’s the abstract noun that also exists in a concrete form; the soul. It is the verb that exists in every conjugation: the I, the You, the We, the He, Them, She, It. The human spirit is elusive, no sooner have we pinned it down than has it changed form, dashed off or hued down to a roaring blue. The human spirit of the Greeks, of the Aztecs, of the Ming Dynasty, is exactly the same as the one we exercise, fear, and dismay at today. The human spirit is not in decline because it’s impossible to quantify such an elusion. The human spirit exists and that’s just about all the characteristics, all the status, and all the data we can attach to it. We can label it but we’ll never be able to map it.
The question posed is ridiculous and I think you know that. The human spirit is obviously not in decline. How could it be when humans still a) exist, b) are sentient beings and c) exercise their full natural amendment to be reflective? So long as there are humans, and we are aware we are humans, and we haven’t slipped dramatically into a dystopia (as much as today’s politics feels as such), humans have a spirit, that spirit remains questionable, and that’s sort of all there is to be said.
But in order to really explain the question posed, I have to answer another question first. What exactly is the human spirit to begin with?
While I could give you a thesis on what the human spirit really boils down to, I’m going to limit myself to this discussion. Is the human spirit, collective, anything different than the human spirit, singular, which is also pretty much the same question as, are the things we personally care about the same things we publicly care about? And not to get ahead of myself, but I’m telling you now, the answer is no and yes respectively. What we are as singulars is what we make up as collectives – a swarm of bees is just a singular bee multiplied. What bothers us in private bothers us in public – a murder in the bedroom is the same as a murder in the street. We’re all very much torn up about the same old shit. Unsurprisingly, so were the Greeks and the Romans and the Victorians and the people bowling about Europe who died of Black Plague and also the first people to fuck up America and the Buddhas and just about everyone. We’re all concerned about making something out of this nothing we call life. We could all just be born, eat enough to survive, chat about the weather enough to give our brains the meagre social interaction they need, never produce anything, never contribute anything and die. This could be our fate. But it’s not. Because we’re all hell bent on making this ‘gift’ last a lifetime. It’s not enough to be born once and that be our only miracle. We are the kids that play with the toy until it’s dead. We have to keep making this surprise of life turn tricks. It’s why we wake up everyday and insist we do something.
Over time, that collective do something has changed but that’s nothing to do with the human spirit and everything to do with the governing bodies that realised capitalism is completely detached to the human spirit and actually thrives when we’re not in contact with the illusion (hello dystopia!!!!!) and so really, our do something hasn’t actually changed very much to what Plato and Aristotle we’re shouting about.
What we must do is elevate. Wow. Not what you were expecting, right. We have to accommodate here, the collective has to be universal. I would love to tell you what we must do is contribute but not all of us have it in us. There is a world out there of people who both contribute and don’t contribute, both positively. We need an undefinable universalism. Elevation. Since the day the first single cell organism popped up on this planet, we have been on a little bit of a maddening expedition to elevate ourselves and if you’re a human, congratulations – you’re on the winning team. Humans are the Gods of elevation. We can communicate, we have consciousness, we have sentience, we’re moral, reflective, we’re compassionate (most of us), we can make art, we can invent things, we can fly and swim, we’ve left our planet and returned, we’ve built cities, we’ve built systems and we’ve built a common, shared history…the list goes on. But this in itself is not the human spirit. It’s why we do these things in this first place that is the question.
Florence Nightingale wanted to do it when she started sewing up injured soldiers, Einstein did it, Hawking did it, the great Poets did it, mothers do it, fathers do it, friends do it. What we all really want, more than the biggest slice of chocolate cake, is to leave this planet a little better than we entered it and my proof that elevation is the human spirit is this: if it wasn’t, the fact we leave walking, talking, and aching would be enough. Kids do it all the time. You’re sick and they bring you whatever they can to help. A daffodil, a hot bowl of soup, a kiss…elevation comes in all forms but it’s purpose is always the same:
We just want to brighten things. Make things a little easier, a little happier, make someone smile, make a difference, be remembered, make sense of things so someone else doesn’t have to, answer a few questions, solve a few riddles, make ease of a long life. Elevation. The word does the explaining: to raise something to a higher place. To lift up. To lighten.
The human spirit is that word embodied in the changing circumstance of humanity. It’s why we have charities. To lift up those who suffer. It’s why we make literature. To explain what this big mess of life is, to make sense of our shortcomings, to highlight our strengths, to exercise our right to reflect, to grow, to change, to overcome. It’s what we made philosophy for: fool proof guidebook on how to live and live well, afterall, we are given no instruction on how to navigate this. It’s why we have music, paintings, beautiful architecture, inventions, medicine, science, friend and family who stand by you, strangers who smile, that little tick in the heart when you witness another suffer, when you have that twitch in the ear when you stand on a spider. Our elevation goes beyond fellow humans. It’s extended to the planet itself. We want to be the best and yet, that’s not quite it. We want to be better. We want everything coming into this world to leave a little lighter, a little higher, a little more refined and improved. We enter this world like asteroids, all chaotic and confused, rudimentary. We want to leave like planets. Developed and peaceful. Our own path round the sun, our own steady way to keep living, our own set of rules, laws and harmony.
So, if that’s what the human spirit is. Here comes the answer to the first question:
The human spirit is not in decline. Not now, not ever. We’re maybe a little overwhelmed at the minute in the face of perplexing new technologies. We made a lot of elevation over the last century. Everyone was racing to elevate us all at once in every direction and really, we’re neither lost or confused or distracted about our human spirits. We’re just overcoming a lot of noise. But I imagine actually, that this is what it was always like. A lot of noise. A billion asteroids hitting ground at once, and becoming planets was never going to be quiet. Add in each asteroid’s personal elevation project; a book, a song, the light bulb, the steam engine, a new philosophy, a new law of physics, a new element…it’s a lot of sound and fury to be living amongst. We’re always going to be noisy but we all know in our own heads what it is, what our spirit is, and it really always will be elevation. Sometimes it’s a little evil or a little off base, but maybe that’s the distorted human spirit. Maybe that’s a whole other essay to be getting on with. But elevation, elevation, elevation. It’s not the same in us all, that’s the scientific, the humanitarian, the spiritual. That’s the singular. But as a collective, it’s equal. We can’t help entering as asteroids but we sure as hell can leave as planets, if we want. And the human spirit, in all of its universality, is a collective want.