Man as a tool-wielder
Once I was scolded by a girl for having my attention on some of my tools rather than some other affair she found important. I believe my fascination with the tool at hand (and at a cost to her, according to her) made me seem inhuman to her. Yes, alright, it was some relationship matter and in hindsight she might even be right in that particular situation. I later heard that remark echoed by others who trod in her footsteps, both in relationships and in general. Not that I should be focusing on something specific, but just that paying attention to tools was wrong. And it struck me as peculiar. How can anything be more important than tools? Is that a man’s thinking? Or is it something deeper?
I always thought of man as a species as tool-wielders. That is what makes us different. I have read about anthropologists who go on about the defining feature of humanity being language or social bonds, but I believe that is the wrong level of abstraction. Because language is a tool in itself and fits inside the definition of what I consider a tool. And social bonds – hey, I am trained in sociology, I like them – are also not the key to what we are. They affect who we are and are immensely important. But some animals have complex social bonds. No, the defining feature of us is our intelligence. And how do we manifest that intelligence as a species? Through tools.
I define tools as physical, spiritual or psychological constructs, that we use to grasp, interpret and affect reality with.
Language fits within that definition. In fact, imagine that you sat on a stone and thought some incredibly profound thoughts. You were not able to speak of them. You could not write them down. As it was, you had no way, no tool, to take what was in your head and bring to to others or out into the world. Without tools in the sense I have defined here, it would be meaningless to be ever so clever or chatty or social. Indeed, in sociology we say that unless a text has been produced as a result of some thinking, that thinking never took place. It is a provocative statement, but
No, it is through tools, the wielding of these constructs, that we are able to exert our ideas, our will and our ingenuity on the world around us. This is what makes us great and powerful. And being able to exert your will on the environment around you matters. It is a horrible condition to feel powerless. Conversely power is lovely to have, as a brief look at people’s aspirations around you should testify to. There is, of course, a price to pay for everything pursued not in moderation and power is no different. Whether or not that price is too high is an individual consideration. Nietsche even goes so far as to write that the search for power (‘the will to power’) is a driving force behind all and supercede ideas of morality. If you thought the wikipedia link to a Nietschean idea was interesting I highly recommend reading some of his main texts. His pursuit of philosophical clarity is absolutely ruthless. He discards massive traditional constructs (or tools, eh?) if they don’t stand up to logical scrutiny – an art I admire and attempt to exercise myself.
After thoughts like these I said to myself: “What a poverty-stricken mind to discard tools as unimportant – even in everyday speech. Perhaps I could forgive a single person but it is a repeated phenomenon around me. Distaste for those who celebrate their tools. The linguist, the scientist, the geek. And that is a distaste for that which is human itself for we are, if nothing else, tool-wielders.”
I then realised that the distaste and mockery we sometimes get from those ‘who don’t understand’ as it is sometimes put could be said to be a coping mechanism. Why does the bully bully? Well, if it is a coping mechanism, then it is a tool. A tool, eh? That is quite ironic! I bet they speak as well! It appears that we cannot easily escape using tools.
So, does using tools make us human? Are those who use more tools more human if such a thing can be imagined? As these ideas formed in my mind over the years I found my self shifting my focus from the physical or intellectual tools I was acquainted with to mental, emotional or psychological tools as well. I found that just as I could use a craftsman tools to take control over parts of the physical tools I could learn ways to take control over parts of my mind that hitherto had ‘just happened’. Meditation, philosophy, psychology – even game theory and transaction theory, all were areas where powerful constructs just waited to be picked up to amplify my efforts. I did this, and do this still, for some tools take time to learn to wield. But it is worth it. I change my ability to exert my will upon the world around me – I acquire a form of power. Nietsche would say that I am making myself happier because I am following the primal urge to acquire power. I would say that there is truth in that. But I would also say that I am becoming more human in the sense I asked in the beginning of this paragraph. I am able to express and manifest all facets of myself through the use of tools by all facets of myself. In a way this is an extension of my humanity – my ability to make myself known in the world around me and to affect that world.
I remember being flabbergasted and irritated back when I was scolded for my enthusiasm over some tool. In another world I would perhaps have remained a man who fiddled with tools when his girlfriend insisted more important matters were on the table. But for some reason it stuck with me and later became this. I see the importance of that now. I am a tool-wielder and, after all, all the more human for it.