We may have adopted the lofty quality of sapience (being wise) as our defining characteristic. It is far from clear however if we deserve it. For, sapience must be exercised. It is one possibility amongst many and we seem to have forgotten our capacity for it. It is almost as if Homo Sapien has been chased away by three cunning friends working together. Meet Homo Narcissus, Homo Economicus and Homo Idiotus.
Homo Narcicuss is obsessed with his own self-image. Placing himself at the centre of the universe, he only values things and people so far as they serve him. His goals and his ends. He may look outward to society, but only to gauge what status indicators he must use to derive his self-worth. Homo Narcissus never seems to be content despite having so much. There is always something more to be achieved. He can never rest because he doesn’t actually know what he is chasing.
Homo Economicus is like a character out of an economic text book. Wholly rational and unquestioningly self-interested, he would probably sell his grandmother to make a quick buck. He loves naïve interpretations of Darwinian evolution and believes everything is about cut throat competition and “survival of the fittest”. Homo Economicus does not understand that traits such as human cooperation too are adaptations that support species survival. He would prefer to sacrifice a few (thousand) lives during a pandemic just to stop the stock market from crashing. Unsurprisingly, Homo Economicus and Homo Narcissus are closely related.
Homo Idiotus cannot engage in a nuanced discussion. Everything is in single dimensions. She bad, he good. This nice, that ugly. It’s all black and white. Complexity and interrelationships do not feature anywhere. Homo Idiotus loves to read the mainstream media. Because he has a university degree he thinks he is qualified to opine on all things. Homo Idiotus may think he is intellectual, but he is usually an IYI (Intellectual yet Idiot). He also lacks the humility to consider that he may be wrong. Homo Idiotus can easily become Homo Dogmaticus.
Within us all
The reality is that Homo Narcissus, Homo Economicus and Homo Idiotus live inside us all. Working tirelessly together, they threaten to derail us. The path to not falling victim to them starts with acknowledging their existence within us all. That we are all susceptible to their influence by virtue of being human in a complex modern world.
Only the humility to look more deeply at ourselves can allow us to use our gift of sapience.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.