I was intrigued at the path the debate in class took last Thursday. It would seem that a distinctly Human trait would be something that, if not easy to find, would at least be easy enough to agree on. This was not the case, as we had a solid block of time dedicated to merely deciphering the points of the sides of the argument. On the one hand, some believe that life, in and of itself, is the most fundamental thing that allows an individual to be human. On the other side, some believed that freedom is the distinctly human trait which, if removed, would diminish one's humanity.
What is distinctly human about life? Are we any more alive than the plants and animals that inhabit the world around us? Or is it possible that they are, in some way, functional and yet not “living” in the sense that humans are? The technical definition of life is “A condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects.” The specific signs of life are threefold: growth through metabolism, reproduction, and adaptation to one’s environment. Surely humans cannot be unique because we are alive, so there must be something special about how we live that sets us apart from the rest of the organisms on this spacious blue planet. What could this intangible quality be?
Humans are obviously very different from other forms of life on the planet. We wage war, we have sex, and even end our very existences whenever we deem it appropriate. So what dictates human action and motivates us to do the things that we do? It must be freedom, or something like it. Some of the worst punishments imaginable to us involve bondage, imprisonment, and death; all of which are limitations of our freedom. These punishments are most despicable because they take away the very thing that we need to be human; freedom.
Some may say that in order to be free one must be living, however it is not life in and of itself that gives us any measure of freedom or satisfaction. Truly there are situations (such as a prolonged coma or lifelong slavery) in which a person would rather exert their freedom to end their own existence than continue on in a manner where their situation is limited. In the context of life, human’s cognizance of their truly wretched conditions can be enough to compel us to end the suffering. This is even extended by us to the animal kingdom in the form of putting animals to sleep as a form of consolation should their ailments become too great. What would humans be without freedom? We would be yet another simple life form on this planet with basic instincts and a very rudimentary awareness of their surroundings, but without ambitions, inspirations, or a unique drive to understand that which is beyond the limits of our reason. Also, we wouldn’t have as much sex.