Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Post Number 1: The Start

by Conroy

Welcome to our blog! I should start by addressing two of your burning questions: Who am I and why am I writing (and hoping you'll be reading further)? The answer to the first question can be found in my bio, which is helpfully posted on our home page. The answer to the second question is harder to articulate. I can only guarantee the following - this blog will be home to the greatest writing; most original, groundbreaking insights; brilliantly entertaining repartee between its two creators, Conroy and The Man (aka Baxter Radcliff); and the timeless power of genius...okay, perhaps I indulge in hyperbole.

What I can promise is the energy of two men inspired by the complexity and variety of this universe and hungry to express that interest to our readers. We will cover topics from the esoteric to the mundane, but always with enthusiasm. We appreciate your patronage and hope you will respond with comments; I'm looking forward from this beginning. Baxter has prepared a welcome of his own, so please check out his inaugural post.


I decided to tackle a big subject with this first post: the nature of mankind. Pretty ambitious huh? Well, despite the grandiose statements above, I claim no original insights on this topic. Instead, I rely on the coherent ideas of brilliant thinkers coupled with my personal experiences and observations. This is the first of three companion posts. The second and third will be posted in the Autumn, and will explain my views on society and the natural world. Together (I hope) they will comprise a personal philosophy (or non-philosophy) that will explain my views of the universe and identify my perspectives, prejudices, and attitudes. Views that I hope will be consistent through all of my posts no matter the subject matter.

I'll present my understanding of mankind through what will be a recurring format, a top 10 list. I will use this format frequently because, to be frank, I like making and reading lists. Perhaps lists are one small way I create simplicity and order out of an ultra-complex reality. I've listed here in my standard 10 to 1 order, but in this case the number does not equate to a value. These are ten key aspects of mankind - the "very clever ape" as Baxter would say - and they all carry, if not equal, significant weight.

My beliefs stem from a conviction that man is fundamentally imperfect, or to use Thomas Sowell's term, man is constrained. I hardly think you'll get much argument from theologians or scientists on this point, but where my thinking, and that of other "constrained" believers diverges from so many other philosophers and social commentators is an acceptance of man's imperfections as intrinsic and uncorrectable. I could go on and on discussing this fascinating topic, but for now that's enough background on my perspective. On to the list:

10. Adaptation - we are the end products of evolution (so far), of the wide variety of life that has been naturally selected for survival. In a word, we know how to adapt to our surroundings and circumstances. Technological progress has removed much of the need to adapt to the vagaries of the natural world (at least for blog writers and readers), but we still must adapt to the social world that we inhabit. Most of us do this successfully and with little thinking. How many different roles do you inhabit? Husband/wife, father/mother, son/daughter, sibling, friend, boss/employee, lover, stranger. For each of these roles we take on different attitudes, act different, talk different...we adapt as needed to get by.

9. Social Dependence - it makes sense that we adapt to our social surroundings so well because ultimately we are social beings that need other people. We need others because the world is too tough for us to get by on our own. We need others to share thoughts, share experiences, share emotions. We need others to really be alive. Love, friendship, companionship, all are manifestations of our need for other people. Think of Tom Hanks' character in the movie Cast Away. As the character, Chuck, intimates after he is rescued. He was already dead on the island...you would be too if left alone.

8. Misjudgment - it's probably a good thing that we are social creatures because even the most brilliant of our species just can't know all that much very deeply. For example, Sir Isaac Newton perhaps the greatest physicist of history, and a man who revolutionized our understanding of the universe was also an ardent believer in alchemy. On that subject he was as dumb as the rest of us. Too often we come to terms with our world by developing models, simplifications, theories, that give order to the complexity. Man has a tendency to draw conclusions from woefully inadequate data, we develop explanations for events and behavior with tenuous logic and little information. In a word we misjudge. We do this all the time and on so many subjects, from the large natural phenomena (think climate change) to everyday life (the crime we see on the local news). And what's more, we often do it arrogantly. How many pet theories and hasty explanations have you concocted for your day-to-day life and the events you're exposed to in the larger world?

7. Beauty - perhaps a manifestation of our tendency toward misjudgment is our attraction to beauty. I'll avoid a nebulous definition and just write that you know beauty when you see it. And when you see it, you cannot resist it. We melt before beauty, sexual beauty, natural beauty, artistic beauty. More than anything, we trust beauty. Men will lust forever over beautiful women, we are enchanted by a beautiful landscape, we will fawn over the majestic creations of other men. We have developed countless reasons to explain our attraction, to justify our attraction, but our response to beauty seems something deeper than these rationalizations.

6. Our Nature - one of my great beliefs is that our genetics and early life experiences (up to and perhaps through part of adolescence) form our personal nature. Like concrete, once set our nature cannot be changed. That's why we develop so many of the same patterns in our personal relationships, persist in behaviors that we don't like, settle into bad habits that are hard to break. Sure we can make changes in our lives, and perhaps a rare person does experience a sea change, but in general, we revert to our nature: a cheater will always cheat, a liar will always lie, someone betrayed will have difficulty with trust, someone kind will be kind no matter how much ignored, and someone optimistic will see the bright side no matter the disaster.

5. The Passions Rule - I want to challenge my readers to find the origin of this expression. The power of passion makes a farce of logical, rational man. We are ruled absolutely by our emotions. We may not always act on them, but anger, lust, love, joy, fear are the powerful feelings that can drive us to act rashly, foolishly, wrongly, violently, but also courageously, fervidly, devotedly. They can result in the worst aspects of our species - our ability to hurt others, and the best - our ability to love others. In the end the passions are what we live for.

4.Will to Power - but beyond the passions we have a drive to improve or increase ourselves. We are impelled to what Nietzsche termed the "Will to Power". In a simplified explanation, one more amenable to my intellect than Nietzsche's, this is our drive to realize our potential, to expand our abilities, knowledge, and influence. The will to power drives our acquisitiveness in all forms, and can only be checked by the will to power of others. For lack of a better term, those with greater achievements have a greater will to power, but big or small it's there in all of us.

3. Hope Springs Eternal - mankind has a remarkable resiliency. In the face of the largest setbacks we are still able to imagine a more successful future. Even the greatest cynics hope for a better tomorrow. My favorite example, because it's obvious and most of us have experienced it, is the broken heart. The broken-hearted will look again for love, no matter how painful the break. Our ability to move on, even when an event or circumstance deeply affects us, is intrinsically human.

2. Grass is Always Greener - perhaps a dark cousin of hope is our tendency to imagine things better than what we have. If better exists then better can be possessed. This view tends to be coupled by dissatisfaction with what we do have. Reality is rarely as colorful as imagination. How many good things (marriages, jobs, friendships, projects) have been lost in the search for something better. As John Fowles wrote in The French Lieutenant's Woman, "There are some men who are consoled by the idea that there are women less attractive than their wives; and others who are haunted by the knowledge that there are more attractive." [Italics is mine.]

1. Self-interest - and most fundamentally, we are driven by self-interest. That's why we look around for something better. Self-interest makes sense from a biological, evolutionary perspective. The great achievements in human history and the upward arc of humanity are the result of the selfish impulse, measured in what I term selfish success (esteem, fame, wealth, professional achievement). This must be so. Still, self-interest can be a great evil. Self-interest can lead us to abandon or betray those we love. Self-interest must at times result in hurting others. Self-interest, like so much else in our nature is a good and bad.


That's all for now. Look for a new post soon. Take care.


  1. I see that Conroy and the Man have very similar world views, makes sense that they have a blog together...I'm intrigued by the tone of this post, I have a vastly different worldview than the blogger. The first word that came to my mind after reading the post was "pessimistic." I don't buy the "constrained" view of man.

    To be specific, I vehemently disagree that people can't hange themselves -- while certain aspects of a soul may be unchangeable, and changing oneself for the better is universally very difficult, I do believe strong, determined people can and DO change -- and that give me, unlike Conroy, hope. I know many other feel the way I do on this point. I like the "will to power" idea, but I'm unconvinced that only an outside influence can check one's will to power. And finally, I fundamentaly disagree with the quote from The French Lieutenant's Woman -- many, many men are happy to have their wives and are neither haunted nor shallowly consoled.

    On the plus side, I agree about the arrogant nature of man and the tendency to make quick, extensive yet unconsidered judgements about the world.

    Oh, one last thing, I think the blog needs a title...

  2. Anonymous,

    I appreciate your comments, and contray points of view are welcome. I will not argue that your perspective is wrong. As an adherent to the contrained view of man, I understand that followers of the unconstrained view...a group to which I would suggest you belong...will in many respects fundamentaly disagree with my views.

    That said, there are two points from your comments that I would like to respond to:

    1. The characterization of me and Baxter as pessimistic is off the mark. While we are certainly not optimists, we are far to interested in, and excited about, the world to be pessimists. I would suggest other descriptions such as pragmatic, realistic, and keen.

    2. The quote from The French Lieutenant's Woman was meant to illustrate our tendency to see the grass as greener and not a judgment on love and marriage. One of the great successes of man is a happy marriage.

    I look forward to more comments; thanks for reading.