What is the conundrum of our contemporary existence? Of the last 12,000 years that have passed since the agricultural revolution? What has the great dilemma of my life been?
It is simple: we have been conditioned to be at odds with our nature. We were molded by nature to live in small bands of hunter gatherers. in order to form large agricultural societies we needed to reprogram ourselves, to change our instincts to fit our new and rapidly changing way of life. (if you examine history, you will see how change has been accelerating over the past 2 million years, from era to era, from one species of homo to the next, from society to society).
This conditioning – socialization – was done by traumatizing children whenever they would violate any of the taboos of the society. It worked, with all its fabulous side-effects (fascism, emotional repression, etc), but not all people are the same, not all people share the same experiences. Some have it worse than others, accumulate more emotional trauma as time goes by, and this attracts yet more trauma. This works a little like the accumulation of negative mutations which may increase, in certain lines, from generation to generation, until it creates individuals too sick to be able to procreate. The same goes for the accumulation of emotional trauma. It will be vented out of society through those people, those “scapegoats”, which will be born at the end of long lines of bad experiences and calamities and will be too sick to be able to attract mates.
This is how it works. If enough people can survive long enough to procreate, if most people can handle this constant grind of life, then evolution is happy, and all is well. As for our personal happiness and that mind-equilibrium that Harari (Dr. Yuval) was speaking of in his 2011 lecture series and in his book (Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind)…. this is a little more complicated, though it all serves the same end: the whip is there, the carrot is there, we survive.
– To die is the ultimate pain, in its finality, and we are wired to sense it and to resist it to the very end. To not exist, once you have already expended your single chance at existing, is the ultimate loss. We fear it instinctively, and no matter what memes we invent to make the idea more bearable in our day-to-day, we would still avoid it at all costs –
As for this equilibrium that has been plaguing me so long…..
What is there to be said about darkness / The night / Reveals nothing of itself
Yes. Genetics have set our “section boundaries”, to use my idea of a military term, but they have also decreed that fine-tuning must be done by us, by the current generation, to the new generation. This communication, the process we call “socialization”, mentoring, education… the need for it to happen has been wired into us, genetically. We cannot adjust to an environment that does not interact with us. We will develop behavior only to the extent that our experiences will require.
This behavior, this programming, will be completely shaped by our experiences, as interpreted by our genetic makeup. We can, different species to different extents, repress some of our urges, overwrite them, in order to satisfy other urges.
A few words about the brain, first: (this is completely from the functional perspective, I do not pretend to be a brain scientist or to have a profound understanding of brain structure or biochemistry) Our brain is a biological computer, wired for procreation and for survival. We do not control it – science has been pulling the ground from under the idea of free will for some time, now, and not much, if anything, has been left for it to stand on, anymore – it controls us, it IS us (in fact, the idea of free will is part of our programming. We need to believe it in order to better obey our subconscious).
The agenda of our genes is written into our subconscious, and into the structure of every cell in our organism. You could regard the brain as an impulse-processing device: the nervous system provides the input (sensory input from the outside – the periphery – from the various organs, impulses created by neural networks in the brain). Whenever this input is sufficient to warrant a conscious response an “impulse” (for lack of a better term) is generated. Once this happens, this impulse must travel down a certain processing “chain”, go through a procedure, before it can be dismissed. If this chain is interrupted a charge will remain in our system, in our brain, a certain tension, stemming from the need to perform an action essential for our survival that has not yet been performed.
The evolutionary logic behind this is simple: the organism that will be complacent about matters concerning its own survival will not survive. This is why, in our society, the image of a husband coming home upset from work, taking all his day’s aggravation out on his wife, is so familiar. This tension needs to be discharged, even if it’s done in inappropriate circumstances.
The impulses are first interpreted in our subconscious. Then an emotion or an urge is generated. This phase of the impulse acts on the self. What is this mysterious “self”?
To put it simply, it’s a component of our brain that is central for running the algorithm of survival. It is so essential that I believe it was created, in its earliest forms, within the very first organisms that had behavior – decision making, who’s actions were not all a direct result of their biological structure (as is the case with viruses and, possibly, microbes too). I have no idea how it is implemented and, frankly, it’s not that important. There is nothing supernatural involved in it, because there is nothing supernatural in this world (or in any other world), period. It’s all physics, we just don’t understand it yet. But it gives us an organ that feels pain and pleasure, and enables our genes to use the old stick-and-carrot routine on it.
Why build a conscious biological computer, why not build them like we do, today, as complete automatons? Well, where would be the fun in that? This – an “emotionally motivated” computer – may be the optimal way to do things, or it could be the way evolution “approached” the problem – the path that was open to it considering all the choices, all the minute steps, it had already taken before, and considering how evolution works: in little steps, each step having to improve the spread of the gene containing it in the next generation in order for the step to be taken, for the mutation to persist.
But I’m guessing this “choice” (I’m using personification, when speaking of evolution and its ‘intents’, merely for convenience) had not been random. That, somehow, it makes more sense to create organisms that suffer, from the purely selfish perspective of the gene. That pain makes us more effective survivors.
So, the impulse travels through our subconscious and acts on the self, via an emotion. The self evaluates it’s pain-pleasure potential and generates a response-emotion, which then runs through the execution section of the impulse-chain. The closer your response to the demand created by the impulse was to the optimal response, as perceived by you, the more readily will the charge created by the impulse dissipate, and the imprint it will leave on psyche will be smaller.
This is a general, simplified, description of the process. I’ve not mentioned the fact that all our actions are constantly moderated by feedback (new impulses modulating the execution of the original/main impulse chain pertaining to a particular event), and I will not go, right now, into traumatic/subconscious memories, neurosis and the theory of regression therapies. I will address this in a separate article.
But if we consider impulses as carrying an “emotional charge” intended to generate behavior and if we realize that emotions are part of the algorithm governing our brain; then, if by force of circumstances (ie – the Agricultural Revolution), we are forced to let certain impulses disrupt the execution of the response-chains of other impulses, usually of a particular type, in a consistent way, in order to survive and to adjust to these circumstances, then we must assume that charge will be accumulating in our brains, over time, and that this charge will either have to be released, in some way, or it might cause damage, an overload of some kind, or maybe an illness of psychosomatic origins.
I’ve described, in the previous paragraph, the dilemma of the civilized human-being: how we abandoned our purely instinctual animal existence, slowly and gradually, to make adjustments to our way of thinking and feeling, and to our society, in order to become more competitive in the brutal jungles of social evolution.
Our repressed impulses need an outlet. The more primitive the culture, the more readily available such outlets are to its members. In fact, things really come to a head in the 20th century, during which, by the way, the population of the world had at least quadrupled (I need to check this, it may have even grown 5 or 6 fold – antibiotics, hygienics and modern medicine are mostly responsible for that). I’ll just make a quick mention of Thomas Malthus now and will get back to it in another article, but, basically, the guy was right: social evolution, with all its evils, is directly proportionate to the size of the population of Earth. It’s all stemming from the fact that more and more people are competing for the same finite resources, and they are finite, don’t let all those free-markets-farm-world utopians convince you otherwise, not to mention that simply space, free of people and full of wild nature, is a very important resource in itself.
The great divide happened around the time of the agricultural revolution, when we took the most significant step away from our primordial way of life, the one we’ve been biologically wired to live. This required reprogramming. And how do you reprogram a child? You traumatize them when they display unwanted behavior and then you show them how to behave if they want to avoid being hurt again. The trauma creates intolerance towards the unwanted type of behavior – when someone oversteps a social taboo you are reminded of the pain that was inflicted on you when you did the same thing, as a child. Your subconscious mind evaluates the traumatic recording, trying to figure out how to come out on top when the same situation, or a similar situation, is repeated.
This, again, deserves a separate article, but, in brief, our subconscious mind selects a role, out of the roles available to it in the traumatic memory bank, the role that appears to be the most successful at survival, and assumes that role when the traumatic memories are triggered. Thus we educate. This is how members of one culture become intolerant, instinctively, towards cultures that do things differently.
To sum this up, before the word count gets out of hand, a traumatized mind is an unhappy mind. A mind that has been reprogrammed, via series of traumatic events (punishment, discipline), to repress its natural impulses in order to function within the social order, having lost its true reason for existence, will seek artificial, alternative ones.
We do things, we pretend they have meaning, on the grand scale, or we may believe in progress, think we have achieved something permanent, secured or improved the future of our children, of the species, of life on earth or of the planet itself. But we haven’t, we will not, really. Being mere pawns, mere puppets-on-strings controlled by universal powers that are omnipresent and omnipotent….
There is no freedom, we are all slaves, so I guess freedom means having as few masters as possible. 2, I think, is the minimal number: the laws of physics and our own nature (which is, pretty much, an extension of #1). If we are left free to live wild in the world, like animals, obeying our basic instincts, in nature, living the moment…. then we can be truly happy, or at least, be free, and that’s a kind of happiness in itself. And if lying to ourselves and making up mystical meaning would contribute to this happiness, since our brains are wired this way, then maybe we should do some of that too, when we have reverted to our primordial condition.
Some would argue that the life of our not-so-distant ancestors had been brutal and short. This has been bloated by contemporary researchers who tend to be biased in favor of civilized life, who hold beliefs about progress and enlightenment. True, freedom of this kind has a price – infant mortality, the absence of the most basic medical services, or, at least, of most of them, the lack of security, the ever present possibility of a famine, or a drought. But our civilized existence – we are paying for it dearly, too. So, there is a trade-off. There is always a trade-off. We have grown, evolved, adjusted, in a civilized world, to a civilized life. We will find it hard to readjust to a much more active and intense, and different, way of life. It becomes more difficult the older we get. So we tend to prefer our end of the trade off deal. The life we know. But if we could start fresh in any kind of world we would choose, I am pretty sure many of us would prefer the caveman’s lifestyle.
This is all, for now. A general introduction, of sorts. Good evening.