I’ve been working on a theory. It is SURE to piss a lot of people off, but I am learning YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYBODY, and MOST PEOPLE LIKE TO USE THE INTERNET TO ATTACK, NOT TO CONNECT. This second fact makes me very sad, but also plays into my theory: WE ARE ALL ANIMALS FIRST, PEOPLE SECOND.
I’ve heard it called a variety of things: human nature, primitive instinct, the “natural self.” We are taught it is a good thing to be in touch with these feelings as sometimes they warn us when there is danger, and other times they drive us to compete, feed ourselves and survive if not thrive. I want to make it clear I AM NOT SAYING THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH THESE INTERNAL DRIVES. Oy! What I am saying is that I recently became aware how much they drive every single person every single day, and it was an unsettling feeling.
As some of you know, I live in New York City. Here it is easy to be a witness to human nature – you just have to step out the door and keep your eyes open: people pushing and shoving one another to get down the sidewalk, annoyed by those moving too slow, is a common enough site. Aggressive competition is the name of the game here and that is the ONE instinct in particular I want to talk about. The aggression. The hatred of “the other who is different.” The fear of the one that stands out. The desire to claim and keep ones piece of hard won territory.
I feel like this aggression has become endemic. I see it everywhere these days: from neighbors to strangers, in TV, films and theater productions, and ALL OVER politics, the news and media outlets. Everywhere the story under the story seems to be the same: this person is angry; that one is afraid; this group wants something and that group feels they will crush another person before letting them have it.
We live in a civilized country, but you wouldn’t know it from the way so many people talk to one another, and if you suggest anything different, anything like “hey lets talk it out, lets try to understand one another” the tendency, even in the most civilized of company, is to mock, ridicule, slander or humiliate – some form of aggressive competition designed for one person to win and the other to lose.
So why TRY to be civil? Why not just accept that we are ALL ANIMALS, operating from our basest nature and go from there? I have been seriously thinking of switching my worldview radically. “We are all the same at heart and need understanding” isn’t really doing a hell of a lot for me, so I’ve been thinking about coming from the viewpoint that everyone is like my dog: scared and snappy when he doesn’t feel protected; defensive around those larger or different from him; unable to survive without love and companionship; territorial of his space and with a strong instinct to pee where other’s have peed before.
I think I am going to go with this because it makes more sense. All the neurosis and emotional drives pale in comparison to animal instinct, and as a society I think we are being driven to extremes for some reason. It’s as if nothing less than high adrenaline, high risk, base entertainment and social interaction will do to satisfy.
What’s the matter with us? Are we missing passion or some kind of satisfaction in our lives? Is that why we attack one another?
Sometimes, if I didn’t believe in the possibility of good that entertainment, social discourse and the Internet can do, I would unplug from it all, because these days it’s beginning to feel like a relationship with an abusive lover. Crazy, dramatic, and soul sapping. But I do believe. I believe that writing this right now is bridging some kind of gap with somebody, somewhere who feels as confused and sad about the world they are looking at today as I do.
So what is the solution other than going back to what is usually labeled the “idiotic liberal socialist dogma” of loving acceptance and care for all? CAN we as a society find a middle ground where we accept our aggressive nature without indulging it? Does it have to be all one way or another?
What I find myself falling back into is politeness. Learned social behavior that allows me to walk certain territory with some grace. Saying “please,” “thank you” and “excuse me” allows me to feel good about the way I navigate my life.
Wouldn’t it be nice if more people practiced some of these old fashioned basics? Maybe it’s like putting a coat on a dog (for SOME people) but at least the dog still has to take the trouble to unzip before he can pee on you.
I would like to invite you to share your feelings about my theory, but please, try not to prove me right.