The Ruricolist is now available in print.


It is doubtful to call anything human instinctual. Drives are not instincts; drives compel thought, but instinct supplants it. Instinct is something in the individual that is not of the individual. We can see real instinct in our pets: when the dog swings a toy high into the air as if to snap its neck, or when the cat, after the instinctive pounce or chase, sits in front of the crippled mouse or overturned cockroach in a confusion obvious even across species (we are all mammals here).

We must distinguish drive from instinct. Sexual behavior is the most obvious hold that evolution has on us. With secondhand guilt, even the irreligious talk of this hold as if, because we are animals at all, we are only animals. But what we consider an overthrowing storm would be judged, by other animals, gripped by estrus, to be no more than a gentle, steering breeze. In the way of nature what could be sillier than an animal which, when strength and spring are come, must be taught how to reproduce? For human beings instinct is unequal even to the original operation of life.

There is of course some instinctual flotsam on the unconscious: hitting with the heel of the hand, for example, or not rolling over a pet, or a baby, in your sleep. But we are too willing to consider behaviors instinctual which are only unavoidable; territoriality, for example. It is a necessity in all modes of life, one which if not learned from instinct is still enforced later as a hard lesson. Boundaries will always be encroached on, even the skin; and those whose only boundaries are for their vitals and victuals will find their lives and livelihoods in constant danger. Artificial boundaries remove the fight from the vulnerable center, as clothing wears or tears in place of skin.

We are animals, made of the same stuff as other animals; but we are not like other animals. Even without assuming a creator, we can see that the changes we make in raw materials by way of art or technology, to make them speak or show or do, are the same kind of changes that made animals into human beings. There is no line in us with instinct to one side and self on the other. What we do is what we are. Human consciousness is not a kind of animal nature; it is map and image and story of that nature.