HUMAN NATURE IN THE BALANCE: Three Things to Redeem Us, and Three Things That Are Really Bad News

Where do you stand? Do you believe in the goodness of human nature or not? I will lay out the master list and you can decide.


Perhaps waiting in line at the bank, the post office and the Parking Authority (when everyone else is also on lunch break, including, apparently, most of the tellers, postal workers and gods of parking) might make you want to blow a gasket. But in truth, waiting in line is a heartwarming ritual totally unique to human society. There are many behaviors we share with our animal friends – we’re not the only creatures who nurture our young, use tools, communicate, migrate, or commit genocide against rival clans. But what animal waits in line?

Waiting in line for a hamburger, a Tower of Terror ride or some help at the Barnes and Noble service desk embodies two main principles which give me hope for our species: First, we’re acknowledging that everyone can expect a turn. Second, no-one is better or more important than anyone else – we will all get what we want in the order in which we arrived. End of story. Waiting in a nice, orderly, mind-numbing line is probably the most egalitarian thing we do on a regular basis. What happens if you jump the line? You can get thrown out of the park without a refund, that’s what.  Not butting in front of other people just might be the essence of our social fabric, and we should all appreciate the distinctly human magic that is waiting in line.


A company called Kaia Foods sells a product known as Kale Chips. Kale Chips are killing my faith in human nature. The Kaia Foods website touts its Kale Chips, which I first noticed at Whole Foods, as “the holy grail of snacking”. I squeezed the bag and peered at the kale chips. They look like dollops of desiccated lettuce which were laid out in the path of a flock of birds who just loaded up on a very seedy lunch. Now, I don’t know a lot about kale, except that we used to feed it to my childhood guinea pig, which then proceeded to live far, far longer than my poor parents ever thought a guinea pig could live. If I had known kale was the holy grail of snacks I might have given my fruit roll-ups to the pig and eaten the kale myself, but it’s too late now. Anyway, Kaia Foods claims that its kale concoction is “as healthy as a salad” but “tastes like a potato chip”. (They also come in a “cheesy” variety, “cheesy” being in quotation marks because of course all Kaia Foods products are vegan). All I really want to say right now is that if American consumers have convinced themselves that something called Kale Chips is delicious, what other deep personal deceptions could we capable of?


A week hardly goes by without someone forwarding me an e-mail which is nothing more than snapshots of animals of different species being friends. I was nearly moved to tears by the true story of a tortoise and an orphaned baby hippopotamus which are inseparable. Whether orphaned in a flood, singed in a fire or rejected by their zoo parents, animals find friends as fast as their photos can find my in-box.  It’s not the almost unbearable cuteness of these pictures that bolsters my faith in human nature. The fact that photos of dogs adopting monkeys and monkeys adopting cats and cats adopting skunks constitute about a third of the e-mails I receive makes me think that we humans like the idea of being nice to others, no matter what shape or color they are.


If you haven’t gathered as much from this blog over the past year, there are a lot of things which annoy me. But right near the top of the list, really eroding my faith in our species, are the pregnant smokers.

Perhaps it’s cruel and inappropriate for me to judge these folks when I’m a nonsmoker without kids. But I reserve a good bit of my daily ire for the people who flout city law by puffing away right outside the door of the building I must exit, the people who light up inside the train station, the people who make everyone else in the bus shelter on a rainy day share the smoke, and the dudes who have late-night cigarettes right outside of my apartment’s open window. It’s worlds of unfair, but in these situations at least I can hold my breath, move to another bench, open my umbrella, or close my window. But what about the pregnant woman’s child? If these women won’t even spare their own helpless unborn babies a direct IV full of nicotine and carcinogens, can they have a shred of necessary respect and kindness for any of the world’s more autonomous people?

REDEMPTION: I recently heard that Wyclef Jean has been denied the right to run for President of Haiti. From the widespread poverty to the devastated infrastructure and thousands of displaced persons, there are a hundred reasons why a celebrity who can’t keep the accounting of his own foundation straight should not be allowed to run the place. Apparently they got him on not having lived in Haiti for five consecutive years before the election. Thank God it was something. It just shows that sometimes, somehow, there are still those rare moments when good sense prevails in this world.


I’ve been harsh on mothers of a certain habit, but I don’t want you to get the idea that bad parenting is limited to women. There is another heinous offense in child-rearing, and it’s an equal-opportunity one. I won’t say that there should be a law, but I will always fervently wish that folks had better sense about this. If an adult person wants to sport a mullet, that egregious riot of unbalanced hair, that is, unfortunately, their own private business. But what of the people who inflict mullets on innocent children who might otherwise have had every chance of a normal life? On, writer Jessica Dweck reveals in July that the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has banned the mullet (ok, I guess there is a law) – I’ve felt pretty anxious about most of the news from Iran this year, but I have to give the mullahs some credit on this one. Dweck also cites author Alan Henderson to explain that mullets are documented in ancient Mesopotamian, Syrian, Egyptian and Greek art.  Henderson theorizes that the mullet is, in fact, an evolutionary development among early human hunters: keeping the eyes clear while the neck was warm and shielded from the elements. There is another evolutionary adaptation which, if you take a look around today, is pretty bad news. Just as we may apparently be biologically predisposed to don the haircut Henderson calls “business up front and party in the back”, our bodies are programmed to seek out high-fat, high-sugar foods to munch and store in case of famine. We can see how well that’s working out for us nowadays. There are many cases where our physical evolution has not caught up with cars, the office and the grocery store, and the mullet may be one more example of primal biology wreaking havoc in our modern lives. When you think that the death of the mullet just may be in the hands of the parents of the newest generation, does even the best faith in human nature mean you can forgive what the parents of mullet kids have perpetrated and perpetuated?



One Comment

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  1. Dreds, hairy legs and kale chips – what a hoot! You draw as well as you write.
    I believe you may be on to something with the mullet history.

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