Pair-bonding is not only about sex, family, and prosperity − or love in general if you will. On a deeper level, the endeavor is also about identity. It may start with the question: “Who am I?” And a milestone question might then arise: “Who are we going to be?”

Who Am I?

That is the question! French philosopher René Descarte’s best known philosophical statement is ‘cogito, ergo sum,’ which in plain English is ‘I think, therefore I am.’ At least we now know that we are. Not to belittle Descarte, philosophy is great at splitting hair and for the non-academic, philosophy gets very hairy very quickly. Let’s not go there…

However, for centuries now, Jews, Christians, and Moslems have conceived of themselves as created beings endowed with a temporary body and an immortal soul. God, the soul, and immortality are the basic assumptions of people of faith. And these assumptions − scientifically unprovable yet practically undeniable − motivate many people and somehow guide their intentions, behaviors and actions over the span of generations. That is no small fact in terms of identity, in terms of who am I and who are we going to be. This view can justify an earthly suffering by the prognostication of rewards, that is, earned and deserved bliss as an entitlement in the afterlife. That is the deeply undercurring calculation for the people of faith.

Constructed or real, this view of human existence is meaningful, and not only to the believer. The notion of delayed gratification inherent in this perspective is a productive mechanism benefitting the faithful and non-believers alike as it is the foundation for a level of trust between people that is otherwise hard to imagine.

A more down-to-earth perspective on being is the evolutionary explanation whereas all people are of temporary body and mind. This is it! This view leaves as still unexplained what existence and life are, how life came to be, etc. Evolutionary theories do not make big assumptions, although no theory can do entirely without premises. Now, if the premise is assuming only the existential here and now, that motivates as well. Seeking the reward of pleasure on Earth instead of tolerating suffering for the sake of a delayed gratification in Heaven becomes rather relevant.

“Life is nasty, brutish, and short,” said Thomas Hobbes in 1651 in his book Leviathan. True, I believe, but it is not the last word. Humans have found ways around this predicament. Over time, we have learned to cooperate and compete with each other, developing the constructs of culture and civilization. Human suffering in this world cannot be denied, but we do not need to intentionally hurt each other. Even human love can do, that is, mitigate against the nasty ‘us versus them’ instinct.

To be continued…

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