The Murderous Chimp

When I think of people who suffer from a morbid fear of feeling unsafe or exposed (or getting killed or hurt), what surprises me the most is that not everyone in this world suffers from the same condition. Humans are murderous beasts, competitive in the same measure as cooperative, and the fragility of this divide rests upon a very, very thin line of trust and fear mechanisms which are continuously threatened by the desire of maintaining and increasing one's position in the power hierarchy. One of Alinsky's Rules for Radicals (my personal favorite) is that power is not only what you or your group has but what the enemy thinks you have. Power inhabits both the objective world of accountable and tangible resources as well as the intersubjective world which arises from what two or more humans perceive as real.

When a person cooperates with others it comes spontaneously; it comes from a deeply rooted need for social contact but also a recognition that without others it is practically impossible to live a full life. When humans hurt each other, though, there is always an element of trust gone wrong and, in hindsight, it seems obvious that there should have been more care, alertness, prevention, or distrust than what was shown by the victim. It is exotic to see a happy outcome from cooperation and think "yeah I knew that would eventually happen"; unlike situations of aggression, when there is rarely a feeling of surprise. Spectators at funerals and emergency rooms will always have in their minds thoughts such as "he should have not walked through that park in the night", "even when there's a red light one must check if cars have fully stopped", "those greedy corporations will always cut corners in order to make an extra buck", "those X will always be a bunch of brutes", etc.

If you look at the life of dogs, though dependent on the area of the world and degree of domestication, it has way more certainty than the life of humans. Dogs sniff, eat, shag and sleep in determined patterns and know exactly what to expect from other dogs. Not so in humans. Though it is possible for a mastiff and a pinscher to be friends, quite frequently humans are difficult to be at ease with those who look different. Moreover, the complexity and the speed with which humanity has altered its environment and society makes the most elemental and profound instincts clash with a different set of tools which can't be developed fully in one or two generations. The deepest evolutionary traits in humans are still there with very few changes from the cave days. However, a lot has changed since then. The alertness, fear management, and defensive systems in human brains are still wired in the way which was needed to remain alive, but life is way different nowadays. Moreover, the learned behaviors of Western civilizations, which inform policy and technology everywhere, are proper of the Western level of development and do not correspond to less Westernized areas. These two facts are at the root of many problems.

For example, take your average hipster in some place like London or San Francisco. Life is easy, isn't it? His everyday worries are to find a cool startup with some faux meaningful purpose where to feel fulfilled while designing mobile apps, get the latest iPhone, find a decent brand for beard wax, date a pink haired feminist who also digs coke, or score tickets for a concert by some band which is not yet mainstream. His instincts, brain, body, learned societal cues, and the like, are all perfectly in tune to survive and thrive in that environment. However, take that same hipster into a really, really extreme situation, whether in his little urban bubble or abroad, and really deep, dark things will come to the surface, the ones inside his brain which are still wired for survival in the wilderness. A terminal disease, stabbing, sweeping bankruptcy without options to keep afloat, abduction while touristing abroad, etc. There are only two options for that kid, i.e. on the one hand, he crumbles completely and gets offed, either by his own hand or by those around him; on the other hand, his more primordial instincts light up inside his brain and he ends up doing really nasty things in order to survive. The life of most people does not happen in those extremes I described, but in between, so now picture the little things happening in that middle area and it is not difficult to see how problematic is to organize oneself in a changing environment where stimuli comes from every direction, and where one's reactions depend on very small cues before going either way: highly socialized or brutal.

Moreover, there is the issue of disparity in development. Not all areas of the world are London or San Francisco, yet in a rapidly globalized world, the social and technological advances that shake the world do not correspond to the cultural and brain behaviors of every culture. So, you have a world where stimuli get shaped by a certain cultural model for which there may not be learned behaviors for coping yet. It is profoundly troubling and perhaps the reason why everybody seems to hate each other right now. The worrying tensions we're seeing right now in the world are not only due to greed-fueled inequality but, ironically, humanity has changed too fast for humans to cope with it. For me it is tremendously amusing, because, what do I care as long as I get my belly scratched and I get my food and pampering, right? But for you, it is worrying. It is like throwing cavemen into a Blade Runner world or hipsters into a ice age world, both mixed by force, unable to read the situation or to choose whether to cooperate or compete.

Good luck.