Been doing a bunch of thinking lately. Been also thinking about what a woman mentioned in the last post told me the other day. She said nothing I hadn’t already thought of — much of it was just the sort of things that blackens my heart from time to time and causes me to look upon humanity with disdain.
But, she also brought out my need to defend humanity against such cynicism, though admittedly I’ve flip-flopped since our conversation, sorting through all the horrible stories I remember hearing of, and this also being the week that Michele Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus were discovered after being held captive for a decade. Doesn’t help the case for optimism.
Every day I circle around and around in my feelings toward humanity, oscillating between extremes, but much of the time contemplating shades of gray. There is no confidence in this assessment, only aimlessly looking around and trying to take in what’s going on. People confuse me, and I confuse my own self. Our history boggles my mind.
The woman said she doesn’t believe we’ve evolved in any real sense over the last 10,000 years. And I can’t say one way or the other as to whether I agree. Personally, I tend to think our species’ apex occurred thousands of years ago, perhaps during some point in humans’ hunter-gatherer phase or during early agrarianism. But what would I know? Oh, I do imagine we have evolved, and by this I’m referring in terms of our becoming domesticated, and it’s a process still very much underway. Doesn’t necessarily make us better, and perhaps it has made us worse off, in terms of the civilizations we’ve created as well as what it’s made people into, psychologically. And perhaps I’m imagining things when I entertain the possibility of us ever having been any better than we are today. I can’t even say what might be “better.”
What strikes me as interesting is how we seem to have developed a sense of disgust over what humankind is capable of, and this makes it very easy for people to dismiss other humans as selfish, mean-spirited, corrupted, overly aggressive, deceptive beings. What I wonder, though, is how often that mirror is turned around on oneself?
Also, it’s come to my attention over time how many people out here take great issue with their own species, yet lavish love and heart-felt appreciation on other animal species, particularly their mammalian and avian pets. What troubles me about this is that the very traits they describe as despicable in humans, they tolerate in animals, as though animals simply cannot help their natures, yet we are different. I do believe, of course, that we do differ, yet the truth remains that we too are animals and remain bound to our natures as well (at least to a large extent). Because our natures differ and contain a greater measure of free will doesn’t lead me to completely sever us from the natural kingdom and declare us as “bad.” As I told the woman, the traits she described don’t strike me necessarily as all bad, and she abruptly responded that that indeed is how she feels. She said that humans are mostly “bad” by nature, and I’ve heard this over and over again from people. But what is it that they are pointing to? What makes us so horrible?
Is it that we have some power to choose, whereas animals are largely led by instinct (or, in the case of household pets, driven by habits and reinforcements)? Are we simply angry at one another for not living up to our potential, for not turning away from our base nature, for not making better choices? I can understand all of that. Yet, how much control do we really think we have? Because I don’t believe it’s as broad as we tend to imagine, especially not when we consider the societies we grow up in and what we’re exposed to that influences our thinking. How much free will does one possess when his or her imagination is stunted? How free are we really?
I think sometimes we take issue with one another because we do not like living in captivity. In modernest times, we face the very weird reality of cameras everywhere capturing us, recording us, documenting our whereabouts. With so many people around there’s little room to move about, to do as we wish, without hearing the complaints of others. Even our relationships are scrutinized, as are our financial decisions. Ideologies are at war with one another, and there can be no peace. Technologies have advanced beyond our capability to handle them responsibly, with the common drive for power distorting our worldviews and undermining ethical considerations. We are still very much tribal peoples — that apparently has not, and perhaps will not, change. Much as many have come to realize we all share in our humanity, that we on some level are ONE, these considerations don’t sink in as deeply as we might like to believe. A shift in consciousness radical enough to overwhelm the direction we find ourselves collectively heading in may indeed come too late to be of real use to our species. It is possible.
When people get scared, they tend to get angry, then tend to want to lash out against something. What we do not understand worries us. The unpredictability of others concerns us for our safety and our emotional well-being, and from all directions we are bombarded by news stories and personal accounts and claims of all sorts that degrade our faith in humanity. It all adds up to make it seem like life is meaningless, like it all boils down to avoiding suffering to the extent one is able. Why not? Why not protect oneself from chaos? Well, because that sort of reflexive response typically points back to the very traits people take issue with in others. That blatant hypocrisy points to a greater truth, which has been paraphrased as: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Because others don’t wish to do it, we then don’t wish to either, because we are afraid of appearing to be suckers, and we’re afraid of being taken further advantage of.
But consider the logic, and we hear this sort of thing all the time. Because she has witnessed disturbing aspects of her fellow humans, she withdraws into her “cocoon” and avoids them like the plague. Because they are “self-centered,” she feels perfectly fine retreating to the comfort and security of her own home, away from all those “selfish” people. She is not made happier as a result though, so this strategy doesn’t seem to be benefiting her incredibly much. Though I will say that the blessing of privacy to return to at the end of the day is a wonderful thing, and I will not disparage its necessity and value. My qualm is only when we hide in here and use this secure perch to lash out at others, others whom we oftentimes do not even know well, whom we make assumptions about, whom we hide from and in person would say no such sort of things to. That cowardice is a bit confusing to me. I grasp the need to put on an act around some people because of the need to remain employed, but that’s not what this is all about. The internet has provided a space for people to vent relatively anonymously through, so we’re freed up to say the most wretched things to one another.
But that lady spends her time online looking at animals, not worrying with other people. She spends her time at home with her pet, and she claims to donate money to causes that benefit animals. And she works in a profession operating under the guise of “treating” people, albeit sometimes against people’s will. The people she comes into contact with are pretty often at their worst, in search of help or brought in in an ambulance. She, like a police officer, sees a disproportionately negative side of humanity as part of her daily work. I can sympathize with how that may skew one’s perception.
I guess my own views are that we are animals nowadays born in captivity and that we tend to be highly-reactive, self-concerned, and unfortunately not terribly good at self-directing in a productive fashion (which partly has to do with boundaries set within our society). We are expected to walk a new path as designated by the rules of our societies, even though plenty of this runs counter to our natures and plenty also runs counter to our interests. But even without our concrete jungle, we have likely always lived as contradictions and likely always will. Just as nature has her contradictions as well. We are not above that, nor are other lifeforms, including our beloved pets, simple as they may individually seem to be.
We have a tendency to reduce everything down to too small or narrow of a view, and once formed we tend to cut off information that contradicts that view, keeping it small and narrow indefinitely. What propensity exists in us to do this, I do not know, but I assume it has to do with individuals reaching their thresholds in terms of the will to process information. It seems all of us narrow our focuses as our lives unfold, hence the notion of us becoming old dogs unable to learn new tricks. It’s not uncommon to hear of old people being accused of being set in their ways, because it’s largely true. Most are. That is what typically becomes of us, perhaps because we cease being as curious, perhaps because the free hours in each day to explore and learn are very limited, perhaps because we’re exhausted from work and our own social lives. And perhaps because we’re not pushed to engage with others and come into less contact with others unlike ourselves due to positioning, as becomes possible when income increases and we can afford to move to the suburbs or when we take a job where we are in a position of power and interact with others unlike ourselves primarily through that lens. We’re molded by our life choices just as much as by what we’re born into.
So what might propel us to be the change we wish to see? What might motivate us to behave differently than that which we claim is “evil” or wrong? Apparently when it comes to the opinions of others, we’re pretty content with playing a part, putting on an act, so it’s unlikely that real and authentic connections can occur between us. What might motivate someone to take time with the people they criticize and condemn so as to gain a deeper understanding of why those people behave as they do? Because so often we judge based on superficial appearances and limited contact.
I’m asking myself these questions too. Perhaps what bothered me most about what that woman said is that I am well-aware of the wrongs in my own being. It is easy to get depressed and to become stuck right there staring at that reality, but I believe a more productive goal would be to step beyond, to continue exploring (particularly that which I find most offensive), and to seek redemption through improving myself and taking action of greater value. Perhaps it won’t prove a thing one way or another when it comes to debating whether humans are “bad” and beyond deserving sympathy, but that’s not what it’s ultimately about at the core. Underneath it all, each of our lives is a journey, and how we conduct ourselves has a lot to do with how we wind up seeing others and whether they wind up relating with us.
All of that is being said as someone who, if she only knew, belongs among those she derides and looks down upon. At one point she declared that she knows what she’s talking about, her being much older than me, nearly my grandmother’s age. I am still relatively young and perhaps still clinging to idealism that will fade with time. She spoke of my generation’s and younger people’s lack of work ethic, and I stood thinking to myself that I see no reason to work as a cog in the wheel for a business that by all accounts gives not one damn about me. If that is due to my lack of work ethic, then so be it. But I do believe our view of work is changing, that people are awakening to the pointlessness of the rat race. Transitions don’t always look like they have a purpose when observed from a traditional vantage point — to her it may seem like ridiculousness and nothing more. I see it as holding the potential for a grassroots revolution of sorts as people try to figure out other way to get by than selling their souls to a job that they loathe. There’s creativity in this. But I suppose it wouldn’t look that way to someone who’s tired from playing the game for so many decades.
I’m not trying to put her down, just trying to understand. She is angry about the reality unfolding, as am I, and our concerns overlap in areas, though I’d be willing to bet our proposed “solutions” would differ dramatically. But that doesn’t make us enemies, even if we can’t see eye to eye. She has been good to me over the last couple of years, and I’ve aimed to be good in return. But admittedly our conversation saddened me a bit. I realize she was just venting and sharing. But I wasn’t in a position where I could give her a full and honest response, nor would it have probably been worth attempting anyway. I too would like to keep my job. So I suppose she’s right at least on that count, that we tend to interact as actors.