People. Despite the cesspool that our species too often lets itself sink to, people are sometimes astonishingly noble, good, compassionate, empathetic, and kind. Speaking in regard to the life of us common folk especially, there must be at least marginally more good than bad, more honesty than dishonesty, otherwise civilization as we know it would not function. However, the farther I go in life and the more I observe, the more I see that humanity hardly fits neatly within some sort of good versus evil binary. That works fine in basic storytelling, especially tales crafted to delight children and teach them the beginnings of morality. It does not translate to reality.
Of course there is something of a caveat to this. I believe all humans are occupied of some ratio of what we’ll temporarily call good and evil for simplicity’s sake. Obviously some members of the species are so thoroughly tilted to one side that they might as well be seen as one hundred percent evil, practically speaking. Some people seem to be born literally without the capacity to experience empathy. We all have darkness within us, though. Religious folk, especially the monotheists, recognized this but perverted a simple observation of nature into ideas such as original sin. They perpetuated the notion that humanity was somehow at one point pure, uncorrupted, but became tainted by evil, passing this on genetically such as that now every child is considered a sinner from the moment they’re born, or even conceived depending on who you ask. Clearly this was a metaphor describing humanity’s evolution from pure animal that lacked the ability to perceive the ugliness of what it had to do to survive, to a species with sentience and self-awareness. We weren’t some pure, uncorrupted beings, certainly the opposite, it’s merely that the evolution of our brains reached a tipping point that opened the door to abstract thought. With each succeeding generation or set of generations, we kept opening up more and more brain power to handle more complex ideas and eventually build what we know as civilization, guided by morals, ethics, laws, codes of conduct, all designed to keep our animal natures in check.
“We can admit that we’re killers,” Captain Kirk said (TOS: “A Taste of Armageddon”), “but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes.” A simple line from a 1960s television show, but how astute it is! Few want to admit it, but we’re all animals. It’s not because of sin. It’s not because we failed some morality test from birth, or are harboring evil spirits. We’re animals, born and raised on a planet that, while beautiful, wondrous, and spectacular in so many ways, is incredibly deadly and treacherous. Nature does not broker favors. It’s not out to get us, but it’s not for us either, it simply exists and we are but one part of it. In order to survive and evolve on a hostile planet, in bodies that can die all so easily and in an exhaustively long list of different ways, our survival instincts had to be hardwired to a fault. We had to learn to be wary of all dangers, and in a development unlike many other animals, we learned to anticipate possible future dangers (this is the beginning of what we now suffer from, namely anxiety). The earliest forms of storytelling were useful methods to warn other humans of what threats lurked out in the unknown, but also what potential wonders might await. There is this general attitude we carry as a species, that somehow these deep-rooted survival instincts are something from our distant past and are no longer relevant. I beg to differ. They permeate everything. We may have executive functions in our brain, what we might call our true inner voice, the voice that is more or less the same one you speak with, that which is meant to represent and encapsulate you as an entire being. This executive, however, is not fully in charge.
“Alright, it’s instinctive,” Kirk said, in the same aforementioned scene. “But the instinct can be fought. We’re human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it.” That’s what our brain executives do, keep those instincts in check. It doesn’t always work; for examples, I direct you to think about what happens to your rationality when you go from merely hungry to starving, or when you have to go to the toilet so badly that you’re barely holding everything in. You get really cranky, don’t you? In the latter example, social programming might stop us from simply relieving ourselves on the spot, but it’s more than that. It’s survival instinct, wrapped up in a nicer-sounding veneer. We don’t do it, because we’re avoidant of disease and uncleanliness, and also because we don’t want to be seen doing something that makes us less attractive as a potential mate or otherwise someone worthy of inclusion. If we’re not welcome in the club, we’re physiologically wired to feel bad about it, because our chances of surviving and especially reproducing just went down. This is the crux, in my observation, of how humans end up being shitty to each other.
What do I mean by that? As an example, examine the attitude of those who are bigoted toward gay folk. Aside from likely lacking empathy and an open mind, the haters are operating on survival programming. They lack the capacity to think outside their own genetic conditioning, thus falling back on viewing something they don’t understand or that falls outside their bubble world view as a threat. The parts of their brains designed to react to disease, danger, to existential threats to human survival and propagation, these all get triggered. Someone trapped in this way of thinking will default to categorizing a gay couple as “unclean”—a dangerous attitude that led to a lot of unnecessary death and suffering at the apex of the AIDS crisis, for instance—and as traitors to the species, because they aren’t reproducing more humans and not roleplaying the stereotypical family structure, that might once have been serviceable from an evolutionary standpoint but is now archaic. None of these attitudes are justified or warranted, however I have found it helpful to understand where these ideas come from, as they don’t simply pop into existence from nowhere. It is helpful, in my reckoning, to figure out where the hate in others comes from, the better to tame the darkness in myself. If I can’t pick deconstruct the genesis of hate and harmful bias, I run the risk of allowing my own animal impulses to propagate more hate into the world instead of love.
Thus, “being excellent to each other” and even its follow up line, “party on, dudes,” ends up having a way deeper connotation aside from being a lighthearted and humorous catchphrase in a goofy comedy from the late twentieth century. It takes real effort to be excellent to other human beings and to ourselves as well. To “party on” is to enjoy life but also live and let live. We tend to be so stupefyingly obsessed with the personal affairs of others that it qualifies as patently absurd. Is the thing the other person is doing hurting you or someone else? Is it doing something to someone too vulnerable to consent? Is it harming the environment? No? Then kindly fuck off. Sure, everyone is allowed to have an opinion, and I for one do not advocate censorship, however the overwhelming majority of commentary in the world is absolute trash. The internet and its shield of anonymity was handed to an immature species that clearly was not at an appropriate level of social evolution to handle the explosion of technological progress. It has opened up a lot of beautiful possibilities, to be sure, and given voices to a lot of wonderful people and ideas that might otherwise not have had a chance to shine. The internet is also, however, the waste trough of whatever impulsive shit crosses the minds of chuds, the trolls out there.
It’s easier said than done, but when you see the haters, remember that they’re trapped in their own programming, their own Matrix, that they are avatars of what evolution is leaving behind. While there is some utility in remembering how to tap into survival instincts and skills in a crisis (a healthy example of this would be learning from someone like Les Stroud) and not all notions that happen to fall within what is politically called the conservative hemisphere are without merit, we can and should rise above our animal impulses. We are capable of looking at any given thing with more sophistication than merely figuring out how to kill it, eat it, or fuck it.
We can admit that we’re animals, but we’re not going to act like animals, today. There doesn’t need to be some divine presence or destiny for us to strive to be better than the mere sum of our genetic programming.