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The Obligation of Self-Improvement
by: Zack Proser

Readers will recognize unthinkingly the buzz-word Self-Improvement as one of the mantric expressions that make Avant Labs cozy. This will dull their apprehension of the concept the phrase represents and obstruct the purpose of this article, which muses abstractly on Self-Improvement. I implore readers to relieve themselves of any pre-conceived notions pertaining to that quest which unites the membership in order that they might free themselves to enjoy confrontation with new perspectives. It is my intent that this article prompt its sufferers to grapple with subjects as diverse as the inextricability of self-improvement from the harmony of nature, those traits which distinguish man, and the methods by which the student of humanity learns of himself.

The Harmony of Nature and the Duties it Implicitly Demands

The harmony of a system is secured by the proportionate relationship of its elements to one another and an ultimately unbreakable, if bendable, balance which uninterruptedly administrates these. E.G. An elaborate mouse trap of sundry composition which requires a rolling marble to agitate many wildly varying yet conjoined pieces achieves its capture when each and every component fulfills its role. Additionally, while the machine may vary slightly in each success, (the ramp this time quivering leftward as per its small leeway, the final netting splaying in novel fashion during this entrapment) fundamentally it remains unchanging in that each piece is specialized to perform a specific function relative to each other, in that the solidarity which governs the whole remains unchanged.

So it is with the harmony of nature: an invisible cosmic balance pervades, arranging all those pieces it subsumes to its esoteric liking. We may valiantly strain in our bonds, making headway even, yet we remain bonded. That we are as a species, in both scope and form, subordinate is clearly seen. Disasters conquer us daily, time destroys us mercilessly, and we cannot even know how much is unknown. We are but warm whimpers in some great mystery. If man is therefore seen as an extension of nature, it follows that man must fulfill his innate duty for the satisfaction of his parent system and his own good, most directly by flexing those capabilities which distinguish him and performing his specific function so far as the overruling balance will allow. As I will argue, Man’s only distinction is his capacity for self-improvement.

The Supposed Uniqueness of Mankind

Consoling fairytales have ever come to the aid of those acutely suffering from the ancient need for feelings of exceptionality, bruited in biased and oversimplified works that exalt man for his singular abilities. As science progresses in breadth and precision, we are increasingly likened to other animals in whom we find piecemeal the same traits once adduced as evidence of our unapproachable glory. It seems we are, like any other stage of evolution, a frenzied gathering from Nature’s complete armory of those complementary features best suited to our species’ particular environment.

A now archaic but once venerable theory of consciousness, which sought to distinguish human thought from that of animals by its unique awareness of the consciousness of others, was debunked when a study revealed evidence of empathy in several species.

In experiments designed to elicit distress in children, the family dog often displays consolatory behaviors towards the human feigning distress (Zahn-Waxler et al. 1984). Both rats and pigeons in the laboratory display a profound emotional response to the suffering of a conspecific and act to terminate the stress manipulation. Monkeys react similarly in experimental distress situations, even starving themselves to prevent a conspecific from being shocked in their presence.