Law in Contemporary Society

What Does It Means to be Human?

-- By BrayanA - 12 Mar 2022


We must try to understand in some sense what it means to be human. One such way comes from insight into what lies between order and chaos. By order, I am referring to a state of complacency whereby structure and patterns govern daily activities. In contrast, chaos is a state of randomness whereby daily activities are unpredictable and unmanageable. Taoist have understood this concept for thousands of years, as illustrated in the taiji tu;the yin and yang diagram. The Han dynasty linked tanji tu with the idea of “primal chaos” and understood yin and yang as terms that describe all natural phenomena (Little 14, 131). Thus, the taiji tu diagram embodies the equilibrium between the yin and yang forces within the Tao –“the void out of which all reality emerges” (Little 13,131). In other words, through the balance of chaos and order, human meaning arises.

Political ideology and a functioning democracy demonstrate the same concept. Meta-analysis indicates that conservatives tend to score higher on the need for order, structure, and closure; and lower on openness to experience (Hanson 56-57). In contrast, liberals score higher in need for system instability and openness to experience; and lower in need for order, structure, and closure (Hanson 56-57). In other words, conservatives prefer order, whereas liberals prefer chaos. Undoubtedly, a functioning democracy requires both ideological spectrums to work in tandem to be a functional system.

Beyond Order and Chaos

Although categorizing human life into either one of habit or one of improvisation helps us begin understanding what it means to be human, any competent social scientist will attest that a bivariate analysis of a complex issue will never suffice. “No human mind is either a “conservative” seeking order or a free spirit seeking immanence because we are all multiple” (Moglen). Thus, limiting an inquiry of the human mind into categories of order or chaos is a fruitless oversimplification of the complex structure of human personality. For instance, such an oversimplification of human personality fails to explain circumstances in which emotions may temporarily or permanently alter someone’s personality. Similarly, such an oversimplification fails to describe the malleable nature of our personalities.

Personalities Fluctuate

The reality is that the human mind generally fluctuates between order and chaos and often uncontrollably. First, let us consider how emotions such as love, lust, or rage can affect one’s personality. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario where someone brings a gentle person to actions of violence under heavy feelings of love, lust, rage, or the multitude of combinations of these emotions. That person now possessed by an emotional state will begin to see the world and interpret facts through that lens, which can temporarily or permanently alter one’s personality. Such is often the case when personality-altering emotions emerge due to a traumatic event or when the feelings themselves are the medium that results in trauma. One of the most well-known examples is combat veterans who have posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), the unfortunate aftereffect that some people endure after experiencing a traumatic event.

When confronted with a traumatic event, our bodies release a chemical cascade of stress hormones that activate our fight-flight-freeze response. This release of stress hormones causes physiological changes that can manifest in the form of intense emotions. For most, such feelings will disappear as their hormone levels stabilize, but those who are not as lucky will develop PTSD. That person who has PTSD will now respond to all stressful situations as if their life is in danger. Combat veterans who have PTSD may now become enraged when others do not follow the rules or proceed with extreme caution at the sound of sudden noise. Although these combat veterans may not have previously reacted in such a manner, PTSD has now altered their personalities. The combat veteran’s PTSD results from an excess of stress hormones in their body, which now controls their emotions and has temporarily or permanently altered their personalities unwillingly.

A more straightforward example is when you or someone you know used to hold an opinion but now hold the opposite, either because they have grown out of that idea or discovered a fundamental flaw in their opinion. If the meta-analysis’ correlation between conservatives seeking order and liberals seeking immanence has any value, its value is not to demonstrate that our personalities are static. It may well be true that conservatives prefer order and stability while liberals prefer instability and openness. Still, people’s opinions and political ideologies are not static as they are relatively malleable with a high degree of flexibility. In reality, people’s political beliefs are easily manipulatable as people can be tricked into shifting their ideology using simple psychological tricks.

Closing Remarks

These two examples show that no one person exists in a stagnated state of order, chaos, or even somewhere in-between. The human mind and our personalities are complex, composite, and can shift uncontrollably. Thus, it cannot be true that meaning and purpose lie somewhere between order and chaos since we do not have control over such states, and therefore only a select few could ever have meaning and purpose in their lives. Which begs the question, who then is in control of our personalities? If you observe yourself for a week, you will realize that you do not easily do the stuff you tell yourself you will and often do the things you said you would not do. At the very least, this means that we are not in complete control of our being, and to begin to understand who or what is in control of our being is to begin to understand what it means to be human.


Hanson, Jon, and John T. Jost. Ideology, Psychology, and Law. Oxford University Press, 2012. Little, Stephen, et al. Taoism and the Arts of China. The Art Institute of Chicago, 2000.

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r4 - 07 Jun 2022 - 02:37:38 - BrayanA
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