Who We Are

dnaIf we had any real idea how utterly alone and separate each of us is, it would likely drive us mad. When we talk with someone, we think we understand what they are saying, what they mean, what they are feeling when they say it, what it is like to be them, to be inside their body. We have no idea. When we express our love for someone, we think (or hope) that what they feel for us is similar to what we feel for them, we even imagine we are ‘as one’. We are not. We don’t really even know what it is like to be ourselves, who or what we really are.

Perhaps that’s we are so distraught at the idea of the individual as nothing but a collection of organisms that have self-organized for mutual advantage, and developed a mechanism (sex), and a code (DNA), that produces similar collections, already partly self-organized, to perpetuate not our species but theirs. The idea that our brain is nothing more than a warning system evolved by these organisms for their own survival is an affront to the idea of who we are. Our mind, science shows us, is just an incidental, our thoughts just ephemeral precipitates of this warning system brain. This sense of self, of one-ness is a kind of delusion, a hallucination, an imagining, and the sense of self-control is even more so. We are self-conscious not because that represents a higher evolution of life, but because it is a convenient mechanism for the protection of the organisms in whose service ‘we’, and that consciousness that we foolishly use to define ourselves, toil.

What madness, then, to believe that what this ‘body’ (this bag of chemicals that ‘are’ us) feels or thinks, can in any substantial way influence or communicate such feelings or thoughts to any other physical body! The 18 ‘conscious’ bits of the total 16 million bits of data that this bag processes each second is so minor as to be negligible. What arrogance to talk or think of ourselves as an ‘entity’, singular, when any idiot would realize that each of us is a collective, and that the part of us which is self-conscious is, in the vast local realm of things, insignificant. Why would we consider the unmusical gibberish of human language of any importance, when it is a mere extension of that warning system to other bags of chemicals, each containing 40 trillion cells and hosting another 40 trillion bacterial cells in a mutual arrangement devised a hundred million years ago, working together in ways that have been proven to work, not for the sake of conversation but for the sake of continuity of each of the 80 trillion co-habitants, three million of whom die or are sloughed off and are dutifully replaced every second?

To keep our brain in line, so it does not get sidetracked from its security work by the hallucinations of separate existence, our bodies wash it regularly in chemicals designed to addict it to the tasks at hand. Here’s how those addictions have played out to those collections of cells, those bags of chemicals, born (in large numbers, as instructed by their parents’ cells to replace the losses of war) as baby boomers:

In the 1950s, our first years, we were addicted to play. The purpose of that play was to discover and coordinate how to carry out our bodies’ instructions without causing unnecessary damage or exposing our collective cells to unnecessary risk. Don’t force us to read, we want to play! We couldn’t get enough of it, and many of ‘us’ still look back fondly at those ‘simple’ years. Nostalgia is, after all, just the longing for things we used to be addicted to, like the ex-smoker’s silent, sighing craving for a single puff, the longing that never really goes away.

In the 1960s, our teen years, we were addicted to love. The purpose of that addiction is to ‘socialize’ us, to ensure that each body stays physically close to similar, selected, healthy bodies in preparation for procreation, and to ensure that each body does not unduly harm other bodies (which could lead to isolation or scarcity of other bodies for procreation). Such intensity of emotion that new addiction brought us! — Will we ever feel that high again?

In the 1970s, we were addicted to sex. Fashion, social mores, everything about the 1970s reinforced this addiction. Its purpose, of course, was procreation.

In the 1980s, we became addicted to work and to self-fulfillment. Two-income families became accepted, and necessary. The purpose of the work addiction is to prepare the nest for the bodies we are programmed to want, more than anything else, to bring into the world, and to be ‘responsible’ for. We can’t help ourselves. Those who instead became addicted to self-fulfillment, having ‘decided’ (as if ‘they’ had anything to do with the decision!) to delay procreation until a better nest was available, found this substitute addiction to fill the void, to further improve their readiness for possible later procreation, or just to pass the time. Crows, other than the breeding pair, also fill their adult barren years with the distraction of discovery and recreation instead of procreation.

In the 1990s, we became addicted to wealth and consumption. There were ominous signs of a long ‘winter’ ahead, and we began to stockpile in preparation. No one seemed to notice that this behaviour was contrary to everything we claimed to believe in during the 1960s. We were under the influence of a different addiction, moved on to a new program. We amassed more than any generation in human history, and as one consequence are now the most unfit and overweight generation in human history. It’s not our fault, we’re just doing what ‘we’ are told.

Now, in the 2000s, having delayed procreation, we have at last become addicted to security. We must now be responsible for the new bodies we have brought into the world, and protect them. Get between us and our fledglings and we will attack without remorse.

All of this behaviour, of course, was designed many millennia ago, and a lot of it is horrifically ill-suited to the realities of the 21st century. No matter — we cannot be other than who and what ‘we’ are, responding to the instructions and addictions that have guided every living body on our planet since the era of the primordial soup. When it comes to impact on our actions, the faint realizations in the ‘conscious’ human brain and the incoherent ramblings of our invented abstract language are no match for our bodies’ stern and relentless marching orders. “Don’t worry your pretty little head“, they tell us, “we’ll tell you what to do. This is a time of great stress, we’re sensing, so go on the attack, against any body that threatens you, and kill off the weaker bodies in the flock so that there’s more for the stronger. And if that doesn’t suffice to ease thestress, then get prepared: You may have to eat your young.”

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11 Responses to Who We Are

  1. medaille says:

    I thought this was an incredibly funny post for some reason. It seemed to both strike as something familiar and something entirely distant at the same time. Perhaps its because I’m from a different generation and those experiences don’t line up with my own.I usually find it funny, when I catch myself reacting unconsciously in a way my conscious self wouldn’t choose as its own. There’s a part of me that thinks its sad when other people are just puppets to the chemicals in their bodies and the thoughts in their unconscious, so I always get this nervous fit of laughter when I catch it relating to myself.I especially liked the punchline at the end, because it slaps you in the face with the cold reality of what you are doing without really thinking about it.

  2. Mariella says:

    ¿Gaia´s neurons making each the needed synapsis?Mariella

  3. Dave Smith says:

    All of this belied by the grinning character shining out from the left side of the page. Dave

  4. medaille says:

    I’m not really familiar with Hinduism (probably just enough to be dangerous), but this whole gaia thing seems like another view on hinduism (or maybe just the interpretation that I quickly read) where instead of us being slaves to our DNA, we’d be slave to our gunas. I’ll do more reding with time and we’ll see if it becomes clearer for me.

  5. Jon Husband says:

    Dave’s post reflects … in a relatively concise way … the very interesting .. and bitter, angry-about-the-boomers long conversations in this comments section.Long read, but worth it .. also brings to mind much of the difficult (as in strong medicine) recommendations offered in the book The Fourth Turning, which i still believe is proving to be quite accurate about North America’s – and by definition, the world’s – coming rendezvous with raucous major changes, the likes of which we who are now alive haven’t really seen or experienced yet.

  6. theresa says:

    Interesting post and a most curious St Valentine’s day messege. Perhaps you were looking through some of the works of the romantic poets for inspiration, as some of us do on February 14, but could find no more appropriate motif for our age than to go back as far as the Greeks to the story of Cronus, son of Gaia and Uranus, who ruled the golden age of the Titans until his fear and suspicioun compelled him to swallow his children. If that is the case, I will take the messege to mean that there is a happy ending in store for use since in the Greek version Zeus (Jupiter), the lucky 6th son of Cronus, escaped the fate of his siblings, overthrew Cronus and freed the world from the rule of the Titans (corporations?)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CronusAnyway here is another fine poem for anyone forced to blog on St Valentine’s day: Dylan Thomas, In my Craft or Sullen Art http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/476.html

  7. Dave Smith says:

    I’m not quite sure what Jon’s comment means, but I’m reading a wonderful new book The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy which lays out what really happened in the 60s and 70s, how we boomers responded to a culture crisis in creative and meaningful ways that are now diffused into the values of everything we do. And if we have any chance whatsoever to survive the coming long emergency, it will be led by those who are not afraid to conserve, drastically cut back on energy use, live much more simply, and most important of all, be supported by like-minded fearless community-spirited creative action heroes. Tribal cooperative values are our only chance.

  8. MikeT says:

    Yes, how could it be otherwise?

  9. I think especially single people who’ve never had a mate think that there’s some magical togetherness that happens between partners. No, you’re still separate people, and you never fully understand the other. There’s no perfection in relationships, they’re more like a celebration of human imperfection. In fact, mistakenly assuming one does know the other may be the reason some relationships fail. Self-reliance is an important relationship survival skill. So is a sense of wonder.I’ve come to realize that every conversation with another person teaches me a little more about the topic discussed, a little more about the other person, and a little more about me. But knowing each other is an incremental and organic process that’s never really completed.

  10. Jon Husband says:

    I was referring to Dave P.’s post, and I also meant that there are people discussing the Boomers’ (and other generations’) responses to both the societal/cultural environment in which they have found themselves. The reference to the linked post and its attendant comments seemed useful to me because there are both positive and negative persepctives about the Boomers’ trek through the stages of a life.It demonstraes to me that many people feel that there is a long slow emergency either starting or underway, that many are concerned about it or scared by the implications, that there are differing views as to causation, and that there is fertile opportunity in the diverity of views and accomnpanying divisions to find key points where both heat and light can be applied to the raw ingredients of human voice and emotion.But basically, the recommendations I have found here and there from people concerned about this lonbg emergency focus more or less on what you pointed out … with which I agree. I have been making sure I am honest, have sustainable friends based on integrity, trust and mutual support, live within my means, reduce my dependence on materials and activities that may hurt other people or the eart .. etc.I agree much with the move towards tribes of various sorts .. I think it’s inevitable .. and I keep in my near-term memory that most history and anthropology I have read suggest that one or another tribe often finds conflict with other tribes in its vicinity. I hope against hope that more nad more tribes does not mean more and more conflict, but I think that is a realpossibiloity. Conflict over who gets and who doesn’t, and why … over and over and over again. In the western 1st world, we argue much too much over who gets and haves, which can eventually lead to some desperate savagery on the part of those who don’t get or have. And in today’s world, thos eless fortunate just get erased, one way or another. What’s that Annie Lennox song ? “One wayor another, I’m gonna getcha … I’m gonna getcha, getcha, getcha .. one way, one way or another …”

  11. Dave Smith says:

    I agree with you, Jon. And we have to be especially careful with what the real motives are behind what may seem on the surface admirable efforts to solve community problems. We have an upsurge of community outcry and organizational efforts when an outside developer announced a huge housing project near our small town. A “Smart Growth Coalition” was formed with films and forums following rapidly. Great! Community involvement! Sanity! Then the whispers started that the true hidden agenda was to bypass the democratically elected and appointed planning commission. Oh? Really? Confusion, finger pointing, denials. I don’t have a clue now who stands for what and why?

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