Cook: No one is from Mars

photo David Cook

Race is an illusion, men really don't mind asking for directions and your wife is not from Venus. Or Mars.

Black folks? White folks? Differences are only skin deep.

And the whole idea that human nature is violent, beastly and red in tooth and claw?

"Humans spend much more time in peace and cooperation than anything else,'' Dr. Agustin Fuentes told about 200 college students Thursday afternoon.

Fuentes, a professor of anthropology at Notre Dame University, gave a powerful 45-minute talk at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

His lecture -- billed as "It's not all sex and violence: Complexity and cooperation in human evolution and why it matters'' -- continued his national work as a cultural myth-buster.

"There is a myth about what it is to be human that we're going to bust today,'' Fuentes said.

On a national level, Fuentes claims our culture has swallowed whole three false myths about race, sex and violence.

First, we believe that race is an actual biological and scientific fact, like gravity. (It's not.)

Second, we believe men and women are fundamentally very different. (Nope).

Third, we believe that humans are naturally and innately predisposed to violence and aggression. (Not true either).

"The human experience is not all about sex and violence,'' he said.

These myths are well-ingrained in our society. Man caves, Bruckheimer films, shopping malls, rap music and water-cooler jokes -- (Men are like mascara. They usually run at the first sign of emotion.) -- all represent a continuation of these myths: race as a divider, men as natural born killers, the battling sexes trying to understand one another.

"What we see in the movies and media is what we think reality is,'' he said.

It's all a social construction. Something we've created -- and believed in. Kind of like summer break. The Thanksgiving story. Or college football rankings.

Such social constructs are dangerous because their widespread acceptance only pushes further down the road any chance we're going to figure out the answer to that all-important question. You know the one ...

(Why won't he just ask for directions? Why does she want to talk so much? Why can't white men jump?)

"What it means to be human,'' Fuentes writes in his book "Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths About Human Nature.''

Oh. That question. What does it mean to be human?

At UTC, Fuentes focused on sex and violence, using studies and stories to claim in graceful and intellectual ways that our human story is quite complex, and while we have great potential for aggression, our experience is one rooted more in cooperation than conflict.

"There is not a single system in the body that is specifically designed for aggression,'' he said.

I call it the "Lord of the Flies" lie.

Remember the high-school novel about British schoolboys marooned on an island? With no authority in place, they regress into a beastly existence.

Thus, the need for law. Rule. Order. Homeland security.

Not so fast, says Fuentes.

Cain may have killed Abel, but the long view of human history is one of cooperation and community building. Had it been otherwise, we wouldn't have lasted all these years.

Likewise, men and women -- despite obvious physiological differences -- exist on a wide spectrum, sharing many of the same rich dynamics of being human.

Yet our American construction of gender is narrow, producing a Mars-Venus, sugar-spice-and-everything nice, male-female dichotomy that isn't true.

"We are all the same species,'' he said. "There isn't one way to be human.''