As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all races and nations.
When did we become the most important thing in our lives? At some point in the past, we began to identify ourselves as defined by what we do, or what we believe. This has created the fantasy we live in, where we obsess over ourselves and how we are perceived by others. This could be a simple speed bump in the development of our comically low-bandwidth prefrontal cortex, or perhaps a cognitive virus contracted from the advent of monotheism.
As heathens, we had no concept of how or (more importantly to us, why) we and the world around us existed. The easiest way to deal with this was to make a bunch of shit up. There were all powerful beings responsible for volcanic eruptions, thunderstorms, disease outbreak, the sun coming up and plagues befalling us.
Patterns in Everything
We evolved with an innate knack for spotting patterns. This is what kept us alive. It also led to our being able to decipher the world around us, slowly but surely. If we paid attention, we’d be more likely to survive on the whole. Figuring things out meant slowly but surely we became less fearful of the wrath of a deity unappeased. Pattern matching is a hardcoded mechanism and an excellent template for survival. A rough causal idea means we can hedge our bets as to how not to die before our time. It also does the ground work for us to critically evaluate our surroundings to a deeper degree – which leads to innovation and progress. Mmmmmostly.
Our volcano gods, plague gods, thunder gods, crop gods fell as we thought our way out of a fearful existence. Our selves became tribes, our tribes became societies and with that came the need to create more intricate guidelines for ensuring harmony. We had to have a way of unifying everyone under an overarching ruleset, put enough why behind it to stick, and fill the gaps in our understanding at the same time. Enter the one true we-got-it-right-this-time catchall deity.
Running parallel to this was an increase in survivability. We needed to spend less time watching our backs and each others. That was outsourced to armies, governments and of course the mighty one true deity watching over us. We acquired our own wealth. Our own domiciles. Our own portraits. Our own statues. This shift away from the need for a small scale non-zero sum mentality brought with it less focus on pattern matching for survival. It became pattern matching for Other Stuff. Hunting for systemic exploits that would allow us to singularly progress our way up Maslow’s triangle of selfishness. We had a single deity that demanded unconditional love and servitude while at the same time we were finding ways to demand more for ourselves. Funny that.
This singularistic* shift in focus has led us to myopically glancing at things through a self-created veil. No longer do we have to search for cause. We settle on a reason. When we can’t identify one, we put it down to something supernatural. This is a hard stop on an inherent evolutionary pattern matching trait. We like to think “Why did this happen to me?” rather than “What caused this to happen?” We talk about the universe giving us signs. Why? Because it’s easier. It’s too hard to figure out what caused things, and sometimes irrelevant. We are so used to outsourcing thought, coupled with now being hyper focused on ourselves, the big picture appears useless to us.
We have created an edifice that satisfies us and the threat of death is such a foreign concept we no longer have the faculties to deal with it on any level whatsoever. The most interesting part of this shift is that we have created the same stress conditions as those of our fearful ancestors for whom banding together was the only way to live. Now, however, we cannot see the pattern. Having dismissed the need for big picture thinking, we are in a state of stress about our rights, accumulated wealth, our appearance, what we can acquire, how quickly, why we deserve it and how to be identified in an over-populated world of vacant adherents to a singular mentality.
We suffer an intense cognitive dissonance as we argue with our firmware’s need for a tribe and pattern matching for survival by attempting to dismiss what we see (over-population, large scale environmental destruction, a significant decline in physical health juxtaposed with an increase in life expectancy) with simplistic, singular, top layer ‘reasoning’ and avoid at all costs taking any form of personal responsibility.
Love Me for What I Believe
The v*gan wishes no death to animals that would otherwise be torn apart by predators or die of starvation or decrepitude in misery, blames cow farts for environmental destruction and red meat for cancer as they drive to work and buy plastic wrapped products manufactured in factories from pesticide laden soy plantations that have wiped out entire ecosystems and threaten yet more.
The fitness enthusiast dons headphones (so they can listen to their music) and desperately tries to outrun or outlift mortality while sleeping less to fit their training around the job they hate or missing out on social occasions because it doesn’t dovetail neatly into their fitness agenda, while sharing images of their fitnessing on social media in a hope someone will care about it.
The worried-well intermittently fast, walk past fresh food sections to stare at the “guilt-free” ingredients on packaging, drink no sugar, no calorie soda and buy supplements that will surely protect them from the reaper’s scythe.
This bizarre simultaneously indolent and covetous attitude is amplified by novelty disguised as advancement. We cluelessly stumble from one new thing we deserve “because we’re worth it” to the next and hope to get noticed for our car, our phone, our bodies, our memes, our morals or our beliefs.
We yearn for a tribe but carry a torch for ourselves.
Perhaps were we to sit down and look at this for a while we’ll be able to identify a cause, then avoid that trap in the future.
*is not a word.