Because I am grim, that’s why…

Posted: October 22, 2009 in Humans

Actually, I just tend to think of myself as far more realistic about things than most people would like.  Not even overtly pessimistic, just realistic.

That statement is made after I have spent the morning out and about in blog world and I see people calling for the end to, eradication of, so on, so forth, of everything from shit that is ghastly like war, rape and murder, to other things I obviously have a different view on like sex for money and BDSM.  And as I am wont to say in times like these when I am all mellow and thoughtful and such- you know, people can call for the end of whatever as much as they want, even work on that- kudos to them if it is a truly horrible horrible thing- but you know…

I don’t see it working.  I just don’t.  I’m a realist in that aspect, and well, if there is one thing the human race has proven since we climbed out of the primordial ooze it is that we are really good at a couple of things- fucking and figuring out new and interesting ways to kill each other and anything else in the way chief among them.  And sure, we can learn other things, change and all that good stuff….but after however many eons on the planet…dispite the calls for peace and harmony and respect and woo, lets all sit by the river and strum the guitar and sing John Lennon and Joan Baez….we’re still really good at fucking and figuring out new and interesting ways to kill each other and anything else that gets in our way.  I mean, we as a species have completely wiped other species off the face of the earth, kill our own species with amazing zeal and efficiency, and pretty much have proven ourselves to be amazingly resourceful when it comes to being violent and twisted- so when people call for the “end” of things they see as violent or universally horrible (whether they really are or aren’t), well, I sort of feel like handing them a nice cold beer because they sure are going to need it (and several more) when they end up sorely disappointed. 

I mean, as a student of history and avid observer of the human species, I have to say that I honestly do not think that things like reason, or logic, or compassion of love of fellow human or any of that other sensible or pretty in bows shit works on humans.  Greed works…I mean, if you could pay people more not to go to war than to go to war we’d have less wars I’d wager, but alas, it seems and can be proven often wars are good for business.  Fear.  Fear works even better.  Fear is one of those deep down primal things that we cannot, for all our fancy universities and dinner parties, deny.  Fear however is tricky, because sooner or later a person or a group of persons who simply are too crazy, too fed up, or too bad ass will come along and they will not be afraid.  A person who has absolutely no fear is actually the scariest thing in the world.   

But people, we’re strange.  I mean, yeah, some people will deny it and say they aren’t that way, hell, maybe even some aren’t, but truth is, we’re at heart pretty simple creatures.  We can get along (in small doses) and work with each other so long as there is a “them” (usually other humans) to rail against.  We can be content with what we have (all the while deep down envying and resenting other humans who have more or better than what we do).  We can come together and do amazing things (especially if we are afraid or angry), and we can be civilized (because not being so can get you locked away in a very small cage or executed), but then sooner or later….we come up with new and interesting ways to hurt/torture/alienate/annihilate/ kill each other.

It seems to me that is what we as a species actually do best.  And why?  Why to all these things?  Because humans a fucking scary.  Hyper-aggressive bundles of fear and hate and anger, lust and envy and greed wrapped up in neat little skin sacks.  And  I am not sure if all of the psychology or self help or political movements and agendas in the world, all of the faith or religion or spirituality or political correctness or t-shirts that say make love not war on earth, will ever change that.  For however many centuries, for however many times we’ve tried or people have rallied for something other than…well…sooner or later one hairless ape picks up a rock and smashes in the brains of another one. 

I’m not sure we can change.  In fact, I am not so sure deep down we even want to.  That, after all, might be really scary.

So yeah, call for the end of…I’m here with the beer, betting that any new beginning, new era of whatever, will look like a lot more of the same.  Nice try though.  Alas, we are what we are.

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Comments
  1. rootietoot says:

    “dispite the calls for peace and harmony and respect and woo, lets all sit by the river and strum the guitar and sing John Lennon and Joan Baez….”

    seriously…that would make me want to kill someone. Just thinking about it make me want to polish my pistol and crank up the Holst.

    Human nature won’t change. Never has, never will. The best anyone can hope for is to change oneself, but as a collective? Nope. Ain’t happening.

  2. Erik says:

    Okay, so you are no utopian. Good. Most utopian schemes, predicated as they are upon the perfectability of humankind, behave brutally towards actual imperfect human beings. This tendency holds whether the guiding vision is political in nature, as with Communism, or religious, as with Jonestown. Even utopianism writ small, as in communes, is problematic: mistreatment of children can be endemic.

    Disillusionment with utopianism need not, however, entail cynicism. At least small “c” cynicism, which is narrow and unrewarding. (The original big “C” Cynics were a school of Greek philosophers who sought happiness, virtue and self-sufficiency beyond conventional social behavior.) There are pragmatic and realistic ways to work towards peace and other social goods.

    Greed can become enlightened self-interest, as in the tendency of entrepreneurial classes to prefer political moderation to extremism. Fear can be a useful check upon warmaking and as such is a factor in diplomacy. There are also human impulses to generosity, seen in the national youth commitment to service, and hope, which animates the Muslim women’s movement.

    The blogosphere is a world of words, as is academia – so these are the environments where utopianism tends to lodge. Both bloggers and academics have important roles, but most of the real work happens elsewhere, where people are doing actual conflict resolution, teaching in schools in poor communities, rebuilding disaster-impacted areas etc. This is not about utopia but about real and pragmatic improvements.

    • Ren says:

      erik:

      don’t get me wrong…I think humans are fully capable of pragmatic behavior, kindness and a whole host of other good things, but when push comes to shove…we’re creatures with thumbs and firearms.

    • You need to be very careful when describing “Communism” as a “utopian scheme”. In fact, Marx and Engels were very scathing about utopian versions of socialist or communist thought, and were very careful to avoid stating what exactly a communist society might be like, precisely to avoid the sorts of problems you highlight with “utopian schemes”.

      It is also debatable whether there was really any such utopian scheme at the heart of Bolshevism or Leninism/Stalinism, though there may be a stronger case for those than for Marx and Engels.

      I think that many on the New Left (dating from the 1960s to the present day) probably do fall into the trap of utopian socialism and the promise it presents that one can simply legislate one’s way to a better society – I suspect this has something in common with the more recent forms of “cultural feminism” ideas about women being naturally better and more peaceful/constructive/caring etc.

      Anyway, really just to say, if you’re describing “Communism” as utopian, you really ought to be clear on which version of communism you’re talking about.

      • Erik says:

        Yes, certainly Marx and Engels wanted to distinguish themselves from earlier socialists like Fourier and Saint-Simon, and therefore the Communist Manifesto formally distances itself from their utopianism. But even classical communism envisions a sort of perfectability to human society. My best guess is that Lenin, for all his pragmatic brutality, and perhaps even Stalin, that former seminarian, understood their actions within this context.

      • It also depends on whether you really believe in the idea that Marxism is truly “scientific socialism”. As somebody who’s studied science at a graduate level, and have long-standing interest in the philosophy of science, I don’t see in Marxism much that bears any resemblance to empirical, scientific thought. Its certainly not a system where social policies are evaluated according to an evidence-based, hypothesis-driven method where basic points of theory could be abandoned if they consistently fail to have explanatory power.

        Given that, it falls back on what are basically utopian or even religious ideas about historical inevitabilities. Is there really any evidence-based justification for the idea that the productive classes will inevitably unite as a class, produce socialist revolution, and progress toward full Communism? Of course not – that’s only one of many possible futures and probably not even a particularly likely one.

        • Ren says:

          What is seems to me is a great many people who are in favor of communist systems of any kind forget is that the human animal is selfish. It wants the best for itself and its “people” (allies, family, so on). It will not be satisfied with doing more work or better work while getting the same as one who does less work or worse work. It will not want to carry those who do not do their share. It in essence sets everyone up to do the least amount of whatever possible beause doing more achieves nothing, there are no rewards for being exceptional.

  3. Gaina says:

    We are like any other animal, we just have more sophisticated ways of controlling our numbers than the ones with scales, feathers and fur do. What we call ‘crime’ is – in some cases – a mirror of what happens in other animal communities.

    I had this debate with one of my Art lecturers yesterday because this is the year when we have to say what we are ‘about’ as artists and I am coming from a Pagan Perspective and want to show how for all our fancy clothes and fast cars we really aren’t that different to other animals. He argued that point with me and we went back and forth for a good hour – it was fun! haha.

    • Ren says:

      Giana- Way, way back in high school I took AP art classes and we had to, for the majority of our works, declare a theme- and thus work in that theme for a whole year making art that fit it. Would you believe (shock, I know) mine was “sex & violence’? My art teacher tried to get me to change it to something that sounded more classy like “attraction & aggression” but I was quite stubborn about it. 😉

      • Gaina says:

        LOL Oh you would *love* my tutor. My classmates felt sorry for me because after I’d done my powerpoint presentation about what I think my work is ‘about’ (I had to Bullshit for England on that one cos my art is about what I feel like doing at the time but that doesn’t fly on a degree course! :P), he totally de-constructed my presentation and my motives. However, I took it as a compliment because if he sees something in you that he recognises about himself as an academic he’ll bust your chops to make you stretch to your full potential.

  4. Erik says:

    We may indeed be like other animals, but that apercu need not lead to reductionism. Animals display ranges of complex behaviors, including altruism. There is a body of research on this phenomenon. As for population control: other animals may be just as sophisticated as we humans. Some researchers contend that migratory behavior is a form of population control. Group travel seems rather more sophisticated than, say, the government-mandated abortions and forced sterilizations prevalent in some human societies.

    • Gaina says:

      That’s the point I was arguing, not to *reduce* humans but to make the point that non-human animals are far more sophisticated than we give them credit for being. My tutor argued the other way, citing something Hofstadter called ‘Sphexiness’.

      He (my tutor) maintained that animals do things because they have to, not because they are capable of expressing preferences and also questioned the research that I cited done on various animal species that proves they do have cultures e.g two troops of Chimps will teach their young to find food in very different ways, even if the Chimps live in the same geographical area.

      I tell you, I was utterly exhausted by the end of the lesson! haha

      • Erik says:

        I wonder whether your tutor has ever had a pet and, if so, whether he has ever really attended to its behavior. Anyone who has lived with a dog should know that animals are more than capable of expressing preferences. And not just because they have to. As for canine culture, it has over the millennia so merged into human cultures that likely it is not separable. Your chimp example works better here.

        • Gaina says:

          Yes, he has a lurcher. When he said that his dog doesn’t have the ability express feelings or a preference for one food over another I quipped that maybe he should have got a cat instead. LOL Mine knows *exactly* what he wants and displays at least a basic understanding of time and order of events – woe betide anyone who puts chicken flavoured cat food down to him on a fish day!

          He obviously adores this dog but sees it as less intelligent because it isn’t ‘one of us’ whereas I’m someone who feels a deep affinity with animals likes to get into their mind and learn their language rather than make them fit into my human context.

          What I was trying to say about the direction of my work is that I understand animals better because humans have so much noise and crap in their front brain all the time it gets in the way of *being*, a state that doesn’t demand rationalisation to be deemed ‘legitimate’ – the fact of it’s very existence is enough. It’s that pure state that I am trying to express in my art.

          But then again I am the worlds *worst* control freak (only with regard to myself, I’m curiously liberal and understanding of others) so I probably need to address that first 😛

          • Erik says:

            Best wishes on dealing with the control freakery. Which ain’t an exclusively human phenomenon. One of my “granddogs,” a Jack Russell terrier, is a classic obsessive-compulsive. He has just been expelled from his walking group because none of the other dogs can stand him. Curiously, he has, like you, a well-developed liberal and understanding side. He is unfailingly polite to humans and exhibits nothing but patience and tolerance in the face of the grandchildren’s depredations.

            • Gaina says:

              Y’know I am not sure I’d want to get rid of it, maybe just tame it a little and learn to channel it positively. It definitely gives me a little ‘spark’ and I have to say when I channel correctly, I get some nifty side effects like writing a good essay and – most recently – exercise and diet routine that has me losing weight and feeling pretty damn good :).

              P.S. I don’t know your dog but I love him already! 🙂

              • Erik says:

                Not my dog: Billy Jack belongs to the kids. He is a 50/50 mix of lovable and horrid. One moment he is letting my one-year-old grandson stick a finger in his nose and the next he is tearing out a chunk of his brother’s ear. Not the child’s brother but the dog’s brother, Sid Vicious. Maybe you could help Billy Jack channel his energies more creatively. I just know he has a good essay in him. He stares so longingly at the Joseph Addison compendium on the bookshelf

  5. I reckon I’m probably one of the more optimistic of people here commenting, but even I have no patience for the “end war/violence/nastiness” chants that go up all everywhere. There are always going to be those who think that force will get them what they want, which means there will always have to be some way of other people not just saying it won’t, but proving by action that it won’t.

    But, on the other hand, if there wasn’t a great deal of hope that the human condition can be greatly improved, then there would be nobody making the calls for “the calls for peace and harmony and respect and woo, lets all sit by the river and strum the guitar and sing John Lennon and Joan Baez” because they’d all be the same with the fear and greed and fucking and violence, and see nothing wrong with that.

    Instead, for millennia there have been people looking for ways in which these negative aspects can be changed. And sure, a lot of the time they’ve only been calling for those things because they’re at the bottom of the food chain and they’re afraid or envious of those at the top, and sure, many of them when they topple that ladder have ended up being just the same or worse than the people they replaced. But equally there have been those who fought to make a difference also, to improve and elevate, and without them there would be no democratic societies in the world; there would be no philosophy of human rights; there would be no sense of justice except “might is right”. I believe we can be better than we are, and that we can be better than “eat, fuck, kill” – even though those are our primal urges.

    In a recent post you quoted from “The Watchmen”, Ozymandias: “It doesn’t take a genius to see the world has problems” the Comedian: “Yeah, but it take a room full of morons to think you can solve them.” Maybe the problems can be solved, and maybe they can’t. Maybe human nature can be changed for the better, and maybe it can’t. Maybe it is stupid to try to change them. But that doesn’t mean we follow the Comedian’s example and give up on society, conclude that violence and selfishness are all there is. Always there is justification in believing things can be better than they are, we don’t have to fix everything forever, we don’t have to make everything perfect. We just patch up the bits we can for now, and hope to do a better job than the last lot did.

  6. Vladimir says:

    Man is the thinking animal. This is not necessarily always a good thing.
    What most eglaritarians, social activists and the like fail to realize is the end result of rational thinking.
    Rationalism followed to its logical conclusion is Nihilism, the belief that we will never understand any truth, that life has no intrinsic value, no absolute meaning or value. Most if not all of humanity without admitting it, especially in civilized, educated societies are nihilistic societies, they won’t admit it but from abortion, to the gang violence in inner cities, to the farming out of our elderly to homes. to the mindless all consuming pursuit of intagible wealth that only exists because everyone believes in it, we expose this truth.
    Mankind is savage, and he reasons. Reason is not a virtue, logic is not a value system, they are tools. Reason tells me a true society of equality never works, never as good as one that is inequal in my favor does, so why aspire to equality, rather we aspire to power. Appeals based on reason and rational behavior are doomed, in fact they themselves are irrational (For example look at radical feminism, they state everything is a gender struggle, and white males have all the power and reap all the benefit, yet they want white males to relenquish said power? What do they offer in return? A worse lot, and no rational thinker will aspire to less than they have, so why do they wodner the masses aren’t embracing them? Also one could argue reason allows one to see’s many of the holes in their arguments but this is not about radical feminism ;p). Why do the powerrful ethnic groups in African countries not share power? Because they are rational.
    In a world built as a zero sum game, violence and calculated savagery are the rational choices.
    Humanity is shit, the dross.

    Does this mean it is hopeless, pointless? No. We must come to the ultimate point of aspiration. Mankind must decide to be better, and knowing such a choice is simply an imposition of their will over the world. Not the rational choice, not the end result of logic, but rather accepting it is simply an act of sublime stubborness. We must accept that it is not a sort of global good feeling that is our salvation, but rather a personal selfhish choice to be more for no reward other than our smug satisfaction, and then to impose
    this outwards.

    Two things give me hope that this is possible. One, the abilty to comprehend suffering, if you have suffered, if you can understand it, truly empathize (and I don’t mean those bullshitters who empathize with people’s plights and grand causes, they are snake oil salesmen one and all, for if they truly cared, they wouldn”t be telling you what you have to do to fix it, they’d already be over there giving their all) with sufffering, well then there is hope. No one likes to suffer, and if we all simpy strived to not cause needless suffering, we’d be okay. Not everyone is willing to have a big screen tv if they know somewhere a child gets drowned so they can. But this has to be on a personal levle, abbrogating responsibilty to a governemnt or a class of people to solve it, well that doesn’t work. All you have done is created an institution who’s power and existence is founded on the problem never being solved.

    The second is esthetics. I find no evolutionary advantage for it. Being captivated by a beautiful sunset, having a cord struck by Beethoven in your soul when you hear it, well if you can do these things, there is hope. There’s something noble in beauty, in appreciating something for just it’s craft or its natural perfection or imperfection.

    Though the impetus of the world is trying to drown this out of us. There are a few winners (though no one wins forever in a zero sum game) and a few losers (who understand what it takes to be a winner) who try to debase and destroy all that is noble in the human soul. If we are all reduced to our lowest common denominator, we will all ahve the same goals as them, and play the system as opposed to understanding it fucking blows. We are drowned in ugliness, and cheap shoddy things they tell us are beautiful and transcendant, or they tear down the things that are and tell us they never were, they were products of evil societies and inequalities or things have realtive value. Beware moral relativists, artiscit relativists, purveyors of the new critisicism and deconstructionism,
    and iconclasts of all stripes .

    In the end hope may be foolish, and mankind changing unlikely, but the possibilty exists. The problem is most people who try to lead us to change, either don’t understand or worse do and are jsut misleading us, not to uplift us all, but just themselves.

    In the end, we are all alone. And it is up to us to answer the world solitarily.

    • Ren says:

      Vladdy- you so smart.

    • I don’t believe in the zero-sum game of life.

      Your “reason and logic leads us to…” situation sounds like another formulation of Hobbes’ hypothetical “State of Nature”, in which life is “nasty, brutish and short”. That is not a zero-sum because it applies to everyone, winners and losers alike. There are ways in which it costs everyone, and even the winners come out with less than they started.

      But I don’t believe reason and logic lead necessarily to nihilism or to calculated violence and brutality as a matter of course. To say that they do is to insist that the world is nothing more than a giant game of Prisoners’ Dilemma. And sure, if you believe people only act from a consideration of their own outcome, and ignore the ways other people act as well, then the Prisoners’ Dilemma leads to the less-than-zero sum situation we have now. But if people think about the ways others act and how their actions make a difference and how our actions make a difference to them, then we can beat the Prisoners’ Dilemma.

      All the examples that “prove” that our society is nihilistic, to me only prove that Capital is nihilistic, that the small minority who hold power now have shaped this world into the nihilistic statement it appears to be. I resolutely deny that people choose rationally to be the way they are, though they might be making individual rational decisions that end up leading them there.

      This leads me to a position remarkably close to your “two reasons to hope”, although I may have some differences (informed by my Marxism and Christianity).

      I am having terrible trouble with this thread keeping from quoting “Imagine” at everyone, but since I have one eye on the folks polishing handguns, I think I’ll refrain!

      • Ren says:

        Quote Lennon on yer own blog, dude! (Just kidding…no really…imagine? A lovely idea for a world with no people on it….)

        See, I could talk about this stuff ALL DAY…and I just might. Also, HUGE fan of Hobbes, actually.

        • You know Hobbes was effectively writing to justify the more tyrannical parts of Oliver Cromwell’s policies?

          While I think that the State of Nature theory is useful, I think that his reasoning regarding the Sovereign is weak.

          if I’m going to appeal to an argument for an ordained ruler, I’ll go with Plato’s philosopher-kings instead.

          I agree that if you take all the words of Imagine, then it’s a pretty bleak picture, but I rarely take all the words of anything! And no, I’m not going to say which words I was going to use!

          • Ren says:

            Yes, I know that about Hobbes, and a lot of other historical writers, I can still grok what they say even if I am not a Cromwell fan (interesting dude thou, for certain).

      • rootietoot says:

        I have no trouble with people wishing for a perfect world, where everything is distributed equally and no one is hungry or cold, but it’s wishful thinking, it aint gonna happen. the closest we’ll ever get is a society where everyone has the same opportunity to be warm and fed. As long as someone shouts “it’s unfair” and sits and pouts because someone else has worked hard and made well for themselves, there will be apparent inequality. As long as there are people who use their strength to hold other people hostage for food and all, there will be inequality. I mean, look at Sudan…they’re not starving for lack of food, they’re starving because of unequal distribution, and nasty men holding food hostage. When there are people holding to the ideal of a utopian society, there will be people fighting for equality. While I think it’s a pipe dream, it’s a necessary pipe dream, because it gives us a standard to reach toward. I don’t particularly believe it’s going to happen, but the people who think it’s attainable are important to the evolution of society. I’ll polish my gun and sneer at them, and I think that attitude is important as well. Someone has to look behind while others look forward.

        • “the closest we’ll ever get is a society where everyone has the same opportunity to be warm and fed.”

          Meaning what, exactly? That some people would choose not to take that opportunity?

          “As long as someone shouts “it’s unfair” and sits and pouts because someone else has worked hard and made well for themselves, there will be apparent inequality.”

          As long as people can work hard all their lives trying to make well for themselves, and still end up with fuck all because someone else ended up with it – and that someone else says that they ended up with it because they worked hard and “made well for themselves” – there will be people saying that’s unfair! And that’s before we get into inherited wealth, unearned wealth through interest, and so on…

          “Someone has to look behind while others look forward.”

          The change to a better society cannot come without doing both. The way I characterise Marx’s thinking is “Know the past, understand the present, choose the future”. Until we do the first two, we cannot do the last. But once we have the first two then we can open up the possibility of everyone being able to achieve their potential.

  7. Gaina says:

    Can I just say how much I’m loving this conversation? I’m with Ren, I could talk like this all day and never get bored :D.

    Actually I talk like this a lot on my blog, but usually end up talking to myself 😛

  8. Gaina says:

    Erik (decided to type down here before our replies got insanely squished LOL).

    He is starting to sound more like my kind of dog every day I’m fond of chewing the ears of my own species too :P).

    Not sure how far we can go with the writing though. Opposable thumbs and all that, y’know 🙂

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