News and Tribune


May 5, 2014

CUMMINS: How To Explain The Human Condition?

— Basic human behavior never changes from one century to the next. Adam’s family had problems with food, clothing and communication. We have the same problems today. Adam’s family had an abundance of food, but Eve did not communicate to her husband that one fruit is forbidden. And when clothing made from leaves became unfashionable and Eve put on more weight, she quit cooking and began shopping.

Early earth inhabitants thought if you lived in a plush garden, you were to get all you can get any way you can. That seemed to work well until the Jones family moved in and quickly realized they were unequal. Adam, who was not about to spread his wealth, suggested forming a government to address socio-economic issues and they did. But when the government issued the Joneses’ stamps for fruit, it irked Adam. Although knowing he should love his neighbors, he revolted against them when they ate without working. But what really hit the Eden community hard was when the Jones’ kids became juvenile delinquents and pressured one of Adam’s sons to join their gang. Rather than seeking God’s help, Adam’s family continued bickering with neighbors and squabbling internally with family, thus suffering immeasurably. Unfortunately, this set the tone for all of history to come.  

We continue having problems with food, clothing and communication. Eventually, technology answered most prayers and it now provides effective means of communicating with wayward family members by texting them wherever they are. If they don’t text back, it’s heart breaking, but don’t give up on humanity just yet. Human behavior is very slow to change as is politics. Yes, weather has gone crazy, but man can conquer it by flowing liquid fossils through pipelines or by burning parts of unneeded earth. Simply move mountains out of the way.

Did our forebears have anything to say about the human condition? Yes, but it doesn’t apply now. We’ve advanced too far, but if only we could work out a few things about race, creeds, colors, religions, greed, power mongering and determining if nations should play football using all body parts or striking the ball with only the head and feet.

The Bible is too long, but it’s essentially about “love” as are most all other religious texts. How much simpler life could it be if love won out over hate? The ancient Greeks were smarter than we are, but they lived a simple life, sitting around thinking about what the good life is. When your hobby is philosophy, you must stop and think. You can’t be jammed in traffic, watching TV or staying hooked to the Internet. How the Greeks paid for groceries, I do not know.

About 20 centuries later in the 1,700s, Montaigne decided to look into the nature of man. His contemporary and another writer did the same thing. Shakespeare covered about every conceivable human condition there is in his histories, comedies and tragedies. I prefer comedies, but our government seems drawn to tragedies.

A previous article about Montaigne touched briefly on a few of his many essays. “What do I know?” he asked. In response to the biggest question, he concluded, “live well and die well.” He sat in his library for years reading the classics, thinking and writing essays. He didn’t have to make daily runs to the Bordeaux Mall and stop by McDonald’s on the way home, but how “modern” he was. His headaches were the same ones we have today, minus the effects of obesity, electronics and social media. Three essays particularly hit home. I’m concerned about politics, educating my great-grand kids and aging.

 On politics, he wrote, “Our morals are extremely corrupt, and have a remarkable tendency to grow worse. The worst thing about our state is its instability.”

He talked about the education of children: “Its aim has been to not make us good and wise, but learned, and in this it has succeeded. It has not taught us to follow and embrace virtue and wisdom. A good education alters the judgment and character.” We can test the stuff in books, but how test virtue, judgment and character? In the 21st Century, that’s not what teachers are paid to do.

In his mid-forties and without Obamacare, Montaigne worried about aging. Me too, but I was happy to learn he forgot names and his memory? “I am almost completely without it.” He went on to live and to die well, and I intend to do the same in God’s nature since human nature hasn’t changed yet.

— Contact Terry Cummins at


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