Thursday, September 1, 2011

Human 2.0

"The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind."  
- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

I am coming back from a week of incredibly intense experiences, one right after another.  Needless to say, the gearing up to those pivotal hours was emotionally overwhelming at times. I don't want go into detail on how I reacted during the bad parts, nor do I really want to publicize the parts that had me acting like a little kid who just was given a brand new Playmobile Pirate Ship.  (That was what I got for my 5th birthday, by the way.  I was a lucky, lucky kid.  And hell yes, I still have that sucker.)

But, it has gotten my thinking thoughts going again.  Having gone through a record run* of stressful experiences, I was faced with people (including myself) who willingly created conflict rather than smoothed the passages for communication.

Retail Is The True Test Of Faith In Humanity 

I don't know if you know this but I have had a lot of experience working in customer service.  And anyone who has worked in customer service knows to the full extent that there is a portion of the human population that will misbehave, act out, yell, throw tantrums, threaten, humiliate and verbally abuse the other human given the doleful task of handing them their bill.  In those moments I found myself repeating an odd inner mantra, sighing:

"We're animals."

It's a simple mantra.  It got me through the day.   But, I noticed I was saying it a lot, which brings about two possible facts:  1) I don't know when I've beaten a line to death and 2) A lot of human beings "misbehave" a lot of the time.  Not willing to accept number 1, I have since decided to methodically examine conjecture number 2.

Luckily, I have a human test subject that's willing to give me feedback on her recent personal experiences being human and dealing with emotional stress:  me.

Unattainable Life Goal No. 576

I'd like to think of myself as tough.  I'd like to think that I can handle bad.  Sure, I'll get mad when I watch an animal get abused by a human, and yes, I will turn into a puddle watching The Lion King.

Lion King: Years of Therapy in the Make
But, in general I try my best to stay calm when the people or worlds around me come crashing down.  You might not think it to look at me (I do look like a goober) but I have immensely high standards for my behavior:  during hard moments I inevitably feel ashamed of showing my true emotions as I feel it would reveal that I am less than a full grown, mature adult human.  

Perhaps this is because my role models as a child were Mr. Darcy, John Harmon, Martin Chuzzlewit and Elinor Dashwood, i.e., English aristocrats who all have the interpersonal skills of a dried walnut.  

Mr. Darcy's attractiveness summed up
Regardless, I am attracted to this. No, not Mr. Darcy--although I want do want to be him; he wears fantastic clothes.  Being perpetually mature, emotionally under control is something I wish to achieve.  

And in reflecting on this latest unattainable goal of mine, I am seeing that I'm not the only human who has made the human mistake of thinking we're bigger and brighter than we really are on average. My case in point:  If humans really were divine then customer service would be a breeze and everyone would want to do it.

Naturally Emotionally Immature 

The majority of evolutionary scientists** contend the beginning of Human Civilization (as in, agriculture, the written word, technology and increase in longevity) began to kick off around 10,000 years ago.  Right?  So, before agriculture, humans were hunter-gatherers, as in nomadic animals, running around trying to live long enough to breed.  Then we sat our seeds down and slowly stayed put.  Then that gave us time to develop strategies for static living conditions, language, culture, shared technology, mass food production--all the big stuff.  With me so far?  Great.  Because this is the last time you'll see me try to summarize human civilization's evolution in four sentences.

Here's the upswing I'm seeing of this evolutionary track humans went on 10,000 years ago:  Setting aside the change in gene frequencies in the human brain, psychological traits (which are still results of our chemical, biological, environmental and cultural inheritance) in the human brain haven't really changed in the last 10,000 years. Yes, our technology and accountability for a wider range of knowledge about the world and ourselves rapidly expanded.

But, we haven't.

I want an expansion pack.

In the heat of the moment, how often do people really try, really actively work on rising above the need to HIT IT WITH A STICK ?  I think our struggle as humans is not so much how we "rise above" being human--but how we deal with ourselves when we don't reach the standard of our preferred definition.

Conclusion:  Humans are naturally emotionally immature. We have the same cognition ability as Ms. Gatherer way back when. She would have eaten her weight in Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey if she could have gathered it, just as much as my friend Rickey would if no one was watching him. And even then he'll still eat it. I've seen him do it.

It's not healthy.  But, it's natural.


*If you're scratching your head going, "Jesus, what happened to you last week?" then here is the factual answer:  Within 48 hours I turned 25, officially spent a morning mourning my grandma's death, which caused (as death usually does) familial strife, went to a wedding for my two good friends and I asked a girl to dance.  I want to be noble and say hitting the quarter-century mark, dealing with death, mama-drama, or even watching my friends turn into a family has transformed me into a more maturer me.  But, instead I just keep kicking myself in the head that I must have looked like an idiot asking a girl to dance--a really, really pretty girl--only then to realize I don't know how to waltz.

**If you're like me and like to watch science discussion videos for reassurance, then check out what evolutionary psychologist, Professor Satoshi Kanazawa, said during his interview on The Big Think.  He discusses some interesting points--some I find myself cringing over because they sound potentially like sweeping generalizations about women (Dear Scientists, stop leaving out lesbians, love, Beryl).  But, his take on the psychological evolution of the human brain is fascinating.  He only gets away with it from me because he goes on to compliment those who are "unnatural" by saying we're more "intelligent."

After doing some more research on Prof. Kanazawa, I've gotten the sober reality check of a lifetime from other leading scientists:  Dr. Kanazawa is a bit of a hack.  But, you have to admit, he gets his attention from the likes of me because the idea of sweeping generalizations over time is always fun; it makes one feel connected somehow...this is turning into a metaphor for religion...oh dear, not my intention.  Anyway, so I officially apologize to anyone who is completely dependent on my scientific delusions for accuracy--this just goes to show you that anyone is susceptible to falling down the rabbit hole of theory versus factual, methodical proof.  I've left the original link I had advertised above so that anyone can make their own decision on the value of his theories.  But, now you have a link as well to Dr. PZ Meyers, who will quite happily yell at you for believing anything before researching it, first.

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