The Realisation that Man is a Beast
Now that the fuzzy wave of Christmas cheer has subsided, I’ve got something to say, and you’re not going to like it. You are not good enough for Christmas. In fact, it offends me that you even dare think that you’ve got cause to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. I think that you’re delusional and conceited, but if it’s any consolation, I think that just about everybody is in the same boat, myself included. The whole idea of Christmas reeks of pathological conceit: a celebration predicated on the delusion that humans are the creator’s preferred project in the menagerie of universal life. Humans have no special place in this universe apart from that which we’ve designated for ourselves. To every other organism, humans are mostly irrelevant, yet we afford ourselves an importance greater than the universe itself by conjuring up gods – powers greater than the entirety of everything – and moulding them into our own image.
Despite our efforts to deny reality, it remains that we are simply one manifestation of the life project, no more, or less, important than everything else that’s ever lived. We are an organism, and as such share the same purpose as every other form of life – to procreate. Humans exist only to perpetuate our species, to breed, to raise young who share our DNA who will in turn bear offspring who will carry our genes, and so on and so on for as long as possible. Every other aspect of life serves only to assist this aim. This is what bears do and grass does and gnats and mites do, and so it is what Geoff down the road does, and what you are programmed to do too. Everything that has ever lived has done so to contribute to the continuation its species, and humans, and you, are no different.*
Once this is apparent, we realise that we our genes are replete with reproductive tools, forged and honed through millions of years of evolution, designed to trick us into mindlessly serving our life’s procreative purpose. Love, happiness, anger, affection, jealousy, arousal – all the facets of the human experience serve no greater end than to ensure that we do our bit for the perpetuation of the human race, while blinding us from that very fact.
Love, for example, lasts for the amount of time it took our primordial ancestors to conceive, give birth, and raise the offspring to the point where it could survive without direct parental care. We’ve identified this, given it a cute, non-descriptive name – the seven-year itch – said that it’s just the darndest thing, and given it mostly little more thought.
Affection has been embedded into our genetic code, as it has been bred into many other species of ape and other mammals. Those born into environments where their parents care for them have a greater chance of survival, leading to producing offspring of their own, than those who do not – and with them carry, and pass on, the gene particular to affection. Survival of the fittest, over countless millennia, has ensured that propensity to be affectionate, at least to our own offspring, has become the norm.
Happiness too, often mistakenly designated as the meaning of life, is yet another tool created to assist our procreation. Happy environments are conducive to conceiving and successfully rearing our progeny, because happy environments tend to be peaceful and safe. The endless pursuit of happiness, which many of us wisely undertake (though often mistake as having more importance than its evolutionary purpose), is little more than our genes fooling us into trying to create safe nurseries for the next generations.
This doesn’t deny the existence of human emotions, nor does it diminish their importance. To the contrary, imbuing these innate traits with a purpose beyond their ability to satisfy us as individuals – no less than the perpetuation of our species – gives the pursuit of happiness, the encouraging of affection, love in all its forms and the acceptance of sadness so much more gravity. They are no longer individual indulgences, but actions undertaken for the good of the future generations, while continuing the work of every organism that lived and died so that we might be here today.
Human consciousness, our ability to be aware of who and what we are and introspectively ponder our very existence, has allowed us to acknowledge our internal evolutionary motivators. All other life forms just act: the adolescent lion challenging for the right to a pride, the salmon swimming upstream to spawn – these are highly consequential, dangerous acts done without so much as a second thought, because the animal’s genes are compelling it to do its breeding duty. Humans, with our big brains, are able to second guess our genetic motivations and make decisions more suited our modern social environment. This is exceedingly handy, as evolution was designed painstakingly in our long, primitive state, and is perfectly suited for that primordial environment, not the one we find ourselves in now. Human social progress has happened at a rate much faster than our biological evolution can keep up with.
That means that we are able to deny our genes when they compel us to be prolific breeders. What this ability allows us to do, if we accept it, is to have options, to step outside our natural drives and choose whether to act on them or not. We are able to love without it necessarily leading to procreation. If we are receptive to this knowledge we can modify our behaviour as we see fit – we’ll always have our genetic drives pushing us towards doing our bit for the species, but if we know that we can somewhat resist the impulses, or at least acknowledge them for what they really are.
Once we realise this, we realise that we are all pieces of the puzzle with a shared purpose and destiny; our differences become superficial, our similarities profound. Maybe we can remove ourselves from the teat of an almighty we’ve conceitedly created in our own image, and realise that it is us and only us who can ensure the perpetuation of our species. I fear that the longer it takes us to realise this the further we continue on our path towards a world that may no longer be the ideal vessel for our DNA.
We are all in this together and nothing but ourselves is going to save us. Once we realise this, we’ve got something to strive for, consciously.
*It should be noted, though, that evolution considers humanity as a whole. That’s why there will be deviance within humanity, individuals who seem to be acting in a manner that totally contravenes our sole purpose on earth, but as long as the species continues to exist, evolution is doing its job.
**This isn’t an anti-religious diatribe, I myself am agnostic about being an atheist; the thought that something may exist outside of space and time, perhaps the impetus for the big bang, leads me to sometimes believe in an, entirely incomprehensible, higher power. I just don’t think that it gives humans any preferential treatment, cares if we worship it or not, or indeed has any interest in any of this universe’s machinations. And it definitely isn’t sporting a white beard.
This is meant to instigate thought and hopefully a discussion, so please if you want to discuss any of this any further, light up the comments and I’ll try and give you an enlightened answer, with the assistance of my friend Google. For further reading on evolutionary psychology, a book called The Moral Animal, by Robert Wright is a good starting point.
Cover by Greg Rakozy