Support 100 years of independent journalism.

15 January 2015

Andrew Marr: It is the urge to create that makes us human

Changing the world around us gives us our humanity.

By Andrew Marr

Being human is to make. The Sower, by Parke Harrison

In the first place,

It’s being capable of understanding the biological and evolutionary answers to that question (such as the huge growth in the frontal lobes around the same time as the language instinct develops, and hence, self-consciousness; or the evolution of the erect posture and the opposable thumb); and yet, at the same time, uneasily feeling that all that’s not enough; thus, loftily declaring our kinship with angels, while behaving like murderous beasts; and yet being intelligent enough to understand that the word “murderous” is a libel on fellow mammals trying to stay alive by eating one another.

In the second place,

It’s making. We are the making animal. Unless we make – that is, in some small way, change the world around us – we are not fully human. The making can be a book, a garden, cooked food, but the best making is the making of other human beings, kind and competent, through parenting, biological or otherwise. But what we do is, we change the world around us. We are because we make.

However, in the third place, to be
human is to be

driven by urgent, dangerous and apparently irresistible drives, from hysterical acquisition of “stuff” through to lust (“perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,/Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust”).

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

And being a bit sorry about that.

On the other hand, it’s also

waking up on a crisp winter morning, with ringing, apricot-coloured sunlight spreading across brick walls and leafless trees, and experiencing delight, an electric crackle that moves from the back of the calf muscles, up the spine and into the scalp; and at that moment trying to sing for joy and then, hearing the result, being a bit sorry about that.

In the fourth place,

it’s knowing perfectly well that from the moment we are born, we are dying and yet, when Death amiably lollops towards us, being greatly surprised and personally offended by this, the most humdrum and unremarkable intrusion of all; and it’s promising one’s children “not to be a burden”; and then being a burden; and being a bit – but only a bit – sorry about that.

In the fifth place,

taking a very long time to understand the difference between happiness and pleasure, but getting there eventually.

And being happy about that.

In the sixth place,

it’s hypocrisy.

In the seventh place,

it’s having a slightly disturbing relationship with the evolved creatures whom we share the planet with, sentimentalising them, eating them and making friends with them; though rarely at the same time.

To be human is to weep, oyster-eyed, about biodiversity while eating oysters; to want to save the Galapagos Islands, by flying to them and living in a well-appointed hotel on them.

In the eighth place,

it’s abdication and loll, refusal and sprawl: brimming with urgency about the day ahead, then rolling over, shuddering slightly,
and staying in that nice, warm bed anyway.

In the ninth place,

it’s learning, just in time, to manage one’s addictions; to prefer coffee over cocaine and the scent of hot bread to the smell of marijuana; to drink Scotch and abjure Jack Daniel’s; to move from a lot of cheap wine to a little more expensive wine; and thus, to grow up.

In the tenth place,

it’s learning to substitute the pleasures of being older for the lost pleasures of youth; viz, sitting outside a café with a coffee or whisky and a copy of a decent newspaper, staring vacantly into the middle distance; rather than skiing down a black run; and, of course, wondering where all the decent newspapers have gone.

In the eleventh place,

it’s having too few regrets to mention; but boring on incessantly about them anyway.

In the twelfth and final place,

it’s insisting that one has lived one’s life “My Way” while having in fact behaved exactly like everybody else – bipedal, vainglorious, self-deluded and yet, luckily, just lovable enough . . .

But mainly, to be human is to make.

This series is run in collaboration with Radio 2’s “Jeremy Vine” show.

Andrew Marr is the author most recently of “Head of State” (Fourth Estate) and “A History of the World” (Pan).

Topics in this article: