(About a 9 minute read)
Now and then, I ask people on the internet what their ideal adult human is. Almost inevitably, at least one or two people respond by asking me why there should be an ideal adult human. It’s a good question.
There seem to be three major reasons — and possibly a fourth — for thinking about what one’s ideal adult human would be. The first is to get a clearer and perhaps more insightful view of what one thinks would by the best possible society to live in — the good society, so to speak.
For instance, it would be inconsistent to hold optimizing personal freedoms as the hallmark of a good society if you also thought the ideal adult human was a mindless cog slaving away to support and grow the economy. One of those would not lead to the other in any practical scheme of things.
Nearly all of us have some notion — however subconscious it might be — of both the good society and the ideal adult human. To assume — let alone think about — the one is to assume the other.
Another reason to become consciously aware of our ideal adult human is to get a clearer and hopefully more insightful notion of what we consider the best possible life to live — the good life. Again, those two things assume each other. If you do not think the ideal human needs to be kind, then you do not think living the good life involves being kind.
A third reason for becoming consciously aware of our ideal adult human is so we may better work towards realizing it in ourselves. Again, I think we all of us at least subconsciously assume that there is an ideal adult human that we aspire to become as much like as possible — at least for us, even if we do not assume the same ideal is for anyone else.
A fourth reason — one I am less certain of — is to get a clearer and more insightful notion of what it means to be a good person. The reason I think that might be a reason is I cannot imagine my ideal adult human as anything less than a morally good person. However, the reason I am uncertain about that being necessary is because I can imagine plenty of ways people could be good (in my book) without being my ideal adult human.
Now, I do not harbor the notion that my ideal adult human is for everyone.
In fact, I find the notion that we must all aspire to the same ideal repugnant. Of course, that does not mean I believe my notion is compatible with the notions of everyone on this planet. It is not. But I would argue that it is compatible with at least a wide range of notions.
To me, the ideal human is an authentic, functional individual who is self-flourishing in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.
By “authentic”, I mean the person is as true to the themselves as is reasonably possible within the context of being socially and environmentally responsible. Some people would call such a person a “strong” individual, and I have no quarrel with that term.
By “functional”, I mean the person is able to function reasonably well given his or her circumstances and natural limitations. For instance, a disabled person would be “functional” in my sense of the term if they were still able to function as well as might be reasonably expected of them, given their disability.
By “individual”, I again mean someone who is authentic, true to themselves. I do not necessarily mean they are unique. That matters not to me so long as they are authentic.
By “self-flourishing”, I mean they are thriving or flourishing on the level of their most basic self. When I think of a person’s most basic self, I think of what it is about them that is most likely to last through most or all of their lives. To me, those come down to seven things, the first (and to me, most important) of which are the innate talents.
“Talent” is a word I use for any innate predisposition we might have to something. For instance, we might be born with a talent for mathematics, or a talent for music, or athletics. We can often tell what our natural talents are by reflecting on what sort of things seem to come to us with comparative ease — as if we were paddling our canoe downstream, rather than struggling to paddle it upstream.
For instance, we might find it requires relatively little effort on our part to pick up and understand math, but a great deal more effort to paint or draw anything truly creative. That would be a good indication we have an innate talent for math, but not much of one for drawing and painting.
When we turn our talents into actual skills, we are self-flourishing in that area of our lives.
A second area of self-flourishing is our fundamental personality. By this, I do not mean our transient quirks, nor any of the myriad masks we typically put on in the presence of others (and all too often are unable to remove even in private), but rather the most lasting aspects of our personalities.
Personality manifests itself as someone’s characteristic behavior and thought. “Behavior” here meaning both what one does and does not do in a given situation or set of circumstances. For instance, if I behave uncharacteristically by not getting excited when my favorite team wins a tournament game, that would be my behavior, but not my personality — since it would not be characteristic of me.
There are numerous theories of personality, but I favor the Big Five trait model (a full explanation can be found at the link). For a person to be self-flourishing in terms of their personality, they should be as true to themselves in this area as reasonably possible. That is, if they rank high on, say, agreeableness, then they should as much as is reasonable and appropriate express agreeableness, without fear, shame, or reluctance.
It should be noted that the Big Five model does not account for intelligence, creativity, nor rationality. Those things make up the next three areas of self-flourishing.
Depending on which scientists you listen to, some, all, or none of those three things is very changeable over one’s lifespan. I myself believe all three can be at least somewhat changeable, and for that reason, I would not include them here were they not so important. I see flourishing in terms of them to generally be as intelligent, creative, and rational as one can be.
Last, I see one’s core — or more or less lifelong — values as part of one’s self-flourishing. That is, one can be said to flourish in this area to the extent that one lives according to them.
That pretty much sums up what I mean by “self-flourishing”. The last thing to turn to is what I mean by “in a socially and environmentally responsible manner”. This is where ethics enters the picture. Suppose things conspired to give you a disposition to commit serial murders. Without the qualification that one should act in a socially responsible manner, my ideal adult human might be a psychopath! That, of course, is the reason my ideal adult human includes the concept of social responsibility. And the same goes for environmental responsibility.
Let’s take a look at a couple things left out of my model. The first is socioeconomic status. I do not include it in my model because I believe it is irrelevant — at least in a theoretical sense. It doesn’t matter to me whether someone is rich or poor, high status or low status. In any case, they could be my ideal adult human.
A second, closely related, concept is whether someone is — as some folks put it — a “maker” or a “taker”. That is, whether they contribute positively to society and the economy or are a net drain on them. I find that sort of labeling overly simplistic to the point of clownishness.
In practice, it usually has been represented to me as meaning that, if someone invented the light bulb, they would be morally superior to someone who was “only” a disabled ex-barber. Never mind they might also be a royal jerk, raping women and butchering pets, while the barber might be living a life largely without severely harming anyone. The very idea that people ought to be judged according to such a childishly simplistic criterion grabs me as ridiculous.
In my opinion, no account of an ideal adult human is complete without at least a brief mention in passing of what would be the best society for him or her to live in. I envision such a society as one in which personal freedoms are maximized within the context of being reasonably socially and environmentally responsible. Basically, your rights stop where mine begin and vice versa. For instance, I am free to go where I want so long as I don’t infringe upon, say, your right to property, etc.
Beyond that, my good society would be politically and socially stable to the extent that such were reasonably required for foresighted planning. A person going into business for themselves, or planning on starting a family, should be able to enjoy a reasonable expectation that the society and its key institutions will be around tomorrow.
Again, I would expect a society in which the people were sovereign. The notion that someone — or some group of — elites are sovereign over the great number of people seems to me to conflict with the notion of maximizing personal freedoms. Under this heading I would include some form of representative government.
To recap, my ideal adult human is an authentic, functional individual who is self-flourishing in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. Short of spiritual enlightenment, I can think of no higher personal goal for me.