I spend a lot of time thinking about things. Some are meaningful, some are mostly irrelevant, and some I think about simply to entertain myself (generally about things most people think are stupid).
One such thing (the importance of which I am admittedly unable to decide), is how fascinating it is to consider how much human beings have evolved over the short window of time we’ve existed on this planet. Among any other species that we know of, whether existing or extinct, Homo sapiens boast the most complex evolutionary timeline. I’m not referring to solely physical evolution, either. I mean intellectual, cultural, and other forms of evolution.
Here’s something I have a difficult time wrapping my head around. At ONE point in time, at the very earliest stages of our development, human beings were quite literally, animals. We had no concept of trade, commerce, or moral standards. We simply operated on the age-old animalistic rule of survival of the fittest. The weak were taken advantage of, the strongest/smartest rose to tribal dominance, and there was an overall lack of what we would now call “decency”. It was the commonly accepted status-quo that the strongest prevailed.
As time progressed and humans developed “culture”, we began creating the “rules” and “standards” of commonly accepted ways to act. We became the first species to transcend our carnal, animal instincts. We collectively began a societal quest to persecute the oppression of others. We created governments and criminal justice systems to set consistent, uniform punishments for certain types of behavior – many behaviors of which happened to correlate with our human instinct. We started to suppress our instincts in favor of the greater good.
I like to consider this when I see and hear about “immoral” behavior. I try my best to ask myself why a given person is displaying these types of behaviors. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not justifying criminality or immorality, but this thought process has been a tremendous help in my efforts of trying to understand others’ perspectives. Why does a person steal? Why do they cheat? What makes the people at the top of society oppress others?
The answer, at least to the majority of these questions, is that those behaviors are simply their instincts as a biological organism. As I mentioned earlier – at our core, we human beings are animals. That statement might not make us feel very good, but it’s a harsh reality nonetheless.
Perhaps one of the most perplexing questions, at least for me, is this: what exactly are our basic, carnal instincts? In my attempts to answer this, I can’t think of much more than to draw parallels to other species in the animal kingdom, something of which we ourselves are members. Overall, I think some general conclusions are as follows, which I try and apply to real-world situations when I try to explain our behavior.
- Males, in general, desire dominance and are strongly motivated by ego.
At its very foundation, I think this is a vastly governing characteristic. Many behaviors can be explained using this very simple concept. Why, for example, are men statistically more violent than women? Why do they occupy the VAST majority of powerful positions professionally, socially, and otherwise (policy-making, etc.)? It’s quite simple: our egos make us view obedience and subservience as weakness, something of which we men hate feeling. This first observation, at least seemingly, can be applied to an enormous degree of reasoning as to why the world exists in its current state.
Obviously (as it is with all of these observations) there are going to be exceptions, so please don’t be offended – as they are merely one person’s perspective. All in all, though, I think (at least hope) the majority of what I’m saying is grounded in unbiased logic and reason.
- Historically, women have settled for an obedient role (likely due to the unreasonable responses men would give if challenged). Instinctually, as it is across other species, this seems to be a basic instinct (albeit a complex one). Fortunately for women today, this is trending in the opposite direction, which I think is a good thing.
In my opinion, women have played their hands well – much better than men like to think. Some would say they are master manipulators. I would argue they are simply smarter than men want to give them credit for. Women, as it seems, have a thorough grasp on observation #1 above, and have used that knowledge to engineer their actions to satisfy men’s egos in order to obtain their own goals. In other words, women know how egotistical and unreasonable men can be – so rather than fight what they know is a worthless fight (since men will refuse to give in even when logic proves them wrong…another result of ego), they instead leverage their knowledge to obtain what they want. For example, let’s say a woman in the 1950s wanted the American Dream. You know what I mean – the whole white picket fence and a solid family unit thing. Well, women then were well aware of how men wanted to control their family as if it were their property (sounds bad, but you know how we are). This is illustrated by simple language: how many times have you heard a man say “my” woman and/or “my” house, etc. (rather than “our”). So, armed with their comprehension of the male psyche, they were willing to fill the role of housewife, supporting the man and his career while raising the kids.
Today, this second observation of human instinct is beginning to change. Women are becoming more empowered than ever. The battle, while certainly not over, is definitely progressing in the right direction. After all (even though personally, I think she kind of sucks), we finally have our first female Presidential candidate. While perhaps not the best selection for such a monumental moment, she is, in fact a symbol for progress. This is a good illustration of how humanity has the cognitive ability to transcend our animal instincts.
- As a general rule, humans tend to do what satisfies their own desires and are not inherently altruistic.
Many people will probably struggle with this one. I can understand that, since I admit this is probably a very controversial statement – as we all want to think the best of people. The harsh reality, however, is that this observation can logically apply to an enormous proportion of “immoral” behavior.
Example: ask yourself what percentage of the population has practiced infidelity. And don’t just assume that the cases you hear about are the only ones. Understand the real number: the one that includes alllllll the instances in which the assailant actually got away with it without incident or discovery. I believe you would find the statistics absolutely, mind-numbingly depressing.
So, why is this the case? Why do SO many people cheat on their partner/spouse? The answer, in my humble opinion, is simple: people are selfish. This sort of ties back in with observation #1; at least in regard to the male ego. Among most animals, the dominant male has many female partners, as this asserts his position as the alpha. In other words, he takes what he wants and any who dare get in his way are dealt with harshly. Having the ability to be with many women is a stroke to a man’s self-image of his desirability, thus, he cheats. It’s not a very complicated thing when you really sit down and think about it.
Now in regards to infidelity, the issue runs much deeper than simply ego. Obviously human beings have inherent sexual desires, thrill-seeking behaviors, etc., which all contribute to our heinous acts. In general, though, it can be explained quite easily.
The broader statement of people being inherently selfish can somewhat be illustrated by the moral standards we have had to set. If we all naturally behaved in an unselfish manner, we would have no need for these cultural “rules” to begin with. The fact that these laws, regulations, and rules exist in and of themselves back up the statement that we have to consciously try to transcend our instincts.
I could go all day with these kinds of observations. Overall, however, my point is that this is the kind of stuff I spend a lot of time thinking about. Some people probably view this as pointless. On the contrary, the tangible result of these thoughts is this: these types of introspections have vastly improved my relationships and communication skills. Over time, this thought process has helped tremendously my ability to understand the perspective of other people, which has in turn helped me respond to said perspectives. This used to not be the case, but I can now honestly say that before engaging in a debate or disagreement with someone I make a point to first ask myself: why are they doing or thinking this? It’s helped me in many respects. I’ve been able to successfully change people’s minds, as well as change my own mind (after listening to their reasoning).
Ultimately, the hard truth is that we live in a world where there are literally billions of different points of view. Our instincts can unfortunately cause us to have a lack of consideration of these differing views. At the end of the day, we have to consciously transcend our tendency to see things solely from our perspective. We have to maintain the intellectual capacity to know when we are being hard-headed, sometimes swallowing our pride to say “you’re right”.
Being wrong or misguided is not a bad thing. Rather, having the intelligence to know when we are wrong or misguided is precisely what defines us as thoughtful, well-rounded, considerate individuals. One’s inability to do this only renders them unjustly biased and stubborn – two traits of an unintellectual.
I hope one day these things become universal knowledge – because I sure think it would help us iron out the unending differences we keep seeing in the world.