Monday, June 3, 2013

Naughty Monkeys (1/2)

Humans do not impress me.  Chimpanzees?  Always.  Baboons?  Sometimes.  But the Homo sapiens?  No way.  You must always be on your guard with these knife-wielding bipeds, because you never really know what they're thinking.  In fact, most representatives of this deranged species (with the rare exception of me and you, dear reader) are walking contradictions, guided first and foremost by base appetites, not reason.  We manufacture rational arguments for a fait accompli.  Reason follows desire like a hired gun to do the latter’s bidding.  We operate under certain principles only when it suits us to do so.  For instance, it doesn’t take long for a self-proclaimed pacifist to utter violent language when describing or confronted by those who espouse a different social or political ideology.  Benighted self-interest guides our behavior no less than the other species on the planet.  Humans are always bitching and moaning, hootin’ and hollerin’, posing and posturing.  It’s like they’re not content unless someone is just as miserable as they are.  I didn’t arrive at this viewpoint overnight, mind you; a consilience of evidence drew me to this conclusion.  Nietzsche was correct: what drives us is the "will to power," a determined effort to gratify our passions.  We want to control or dominate others, though some are more subtle than others in this Machiavellian endeavor.  We spit out words and slogans designed, consciously or not, to create an environment, a social psychological "space," for our will to prevail, for others to see the "wisdom" of our point of view, all the while wearing a cloak of righteousness.
We instill fear, guilt, or a sense of honor and moral obligation, whatever does the job to get a desired outcome, the one that yields us more wealth, more prestige, more sex partners, more real estate.  In its most vicious and systematic form, we commit genocide.  Ethnocentrism and xenophobia guide our behavior, argues anthropologist Michael Ghiglieri in his book The Dark Side of Man: Tracing the Origins of Male Violence, binding men "along kin lines and/or via reciprocal altruism to fight and kill other men genetically more distant from them in genocidal wars aimed at seizing or usurping what those other men possess, including the reproductive potential of their women."  It behooves us to attend to these biologically-driven demons and not rest satisfied with a simple social constructionist viewpoint of human violence.  Otherwise we'll continue to scratch our heads in frustration and incomprehension as to why new programs designed to desensitize males and more reinforced social institutions to create an equitable society continue to make an insignificant dent in the problems we face.
Perhaps this assessment of the human condition is rather bleak for some of you, especially for those of us (myself included) who want to believe in human decency, the possibilities of community engagement, and the potential for meaningful collaboration.  Moreover, you might be inclined to say that human naughtiness is an aberration, an exception that only a hasty fool would take as our core nature.  After all, don't most people just want to live in peaceful coexistence with their neighbors?  Don't they generally avoid confrontation?  Isn't the act, if not the thought, of killing another human being generally revolting to people?  But don't be deceived by outward appearances.  Our biology hasn't yet caught up with civilization.  Don't look to ideal conditions for an accurate portrayal of our nature.  And don't draw your conclusions from those times when it's easy to behave with grace and dignity.  A deep mysterious ocean surges and swells under the city streets; you could easily drop off and succumb to its forceful current.  Admittedly, my view is not particularly original nor is it a "fringe" perspective.  Just ask Darwin, Freud, Voltaire, Hobbes and others who have dared to explore these dark waters.