Noodling: What’s So Funny ‘Bout…

Elvis…peace, love and understanding? Nick Lowe wrote it, Elvis Costello sang it, nobody’s got an answer (me included). But I am curious about it, this tendency to see peace, love and understanding (I’ll throw in happiness too) as childish fantasy or simply unrealistic aspiration for humanity as a whole (“it’ll never happen” is the common refrain).

CruelWeirdly, this meditation was all prompted by another Costello song “When I Was Cruel No. 2”. A song I interpret as a mature man having to deal with life’s absurdities without the cold comfort of dishing out cruel zingers. I know this firsthand, as a young punk something as simple as what movies you liked allowed me to judge you unclean, there’s a weird, “natural” comfort in viewing the world through “good/bad”, “smart/dumb”, “right/wrong” prisms.

Fair Warning

FrustrateFrom this point on I’m going to be employing broad leaps to get to my primary point. If you want completeness read Kant or Nietzsche (don’t be lazy!). I think the thing that stands between us and having a global party is inborn, it’s related to survival and replication – it’s competition. It is neither good nor bad, it simply is – our nutty desire to think of ourselves as different from/above animals keeps us from addressing it (I’m nice, I’m not mean, other people are mean). Brass tacks: if you see yourself as above or below another, it’s an aggression born of competition (in the evolutionary meaning) – this lies at the root of no consistent peace, love, understanding (or happiness).

Haters Gonna’ Hate, Hate, Hate

One of the many downsides of consciousness is the ability to see finer and finer distinctions, making things seem separate when they’re just actions along a continuum (less extreme to most extreme).

  1. Kid hits another kid because they got a cookie and he didn’t.
  2. Friends chortle over somebody being a slut.
  3. Congressman pushes legislation to treat citizens differently under the law because they are an abomination.
  4. Isis cuts off a head because it belongs to an infidel.

IsisThese are just various forms of competition in action, “I’m going to make it, my idea is going to win – whether you do or not is immaterial (except as it affects my ability to win)”.  It’s a scarcity mentality forged on the dry savannas of Africa by creatures foraging for food, looking for sex, all while sweating the arrival of some apex predator – none of our modernity has overtaken this genetic program. In our best moments we can overcome it with thought and intention, in our worst we revert straight back to frightened ape mode.

If I had to guess, I’d say this is also why people want simple answers to complex questions, and are willing to suspend all traces of logic to get them. This “one and done” thinking is an efficiency – the left is soft/lazy, the right is stupid/crazy, Obama is a socialist, great taste/less filling, the Devil made me do it, all you need is love – by interpreting feelings as thoughts, the mind is freed for more useful pursuits like getting sex and food. Platitudes replace the hard work of thinking.

The Sameness Fallacy

StabWe’re all just one big happy family under it all, so, why can’t we all just get along? Clearly (logically) a life led in peace, love and understanding would benefit everyone. The personal and communal energy and resources spent on conflict, hate and confusion obviously would be better spent on more productive pursuits. This made the same sense 14,000 years ago as it does now, so what’s the hang up? I think at it’s root is that we’ve never dealt with our competition jones. This is made all the more complicated due to the following paradox: we are all the same, and all completely different.

The aggression in me as a teenager bears no resemblance to me as a quinquagenarian (hence, why it was so much easier when I was cruel) – it’s still there, but it changed with each passing year. A “solution” for aggression in my teen-self would need to be different for my now-self. And this complexity can be multiplied across cultures, economic circumstance and family dynamics, so there’s not “one competition type” to be addressed.

And let’s not forget, competition is interesting. A story about someone with an enemy is compelling drama. A story about a bunch of people who get along all the time, and live in harmony is a snooze-fest.

Ain’t Easy, but Ain’t Impossible Either

LadderSo, you may ask, does this mean we’re doomed to perpetual conflict till the inevitable Planet of the Apes apocalypse? Maybe, the cynic in me sees how much we LOVE all our little aggression’s – from mini-road rages, to gossip, to political flame-wars, to domestic violence, to sports hooliganism, to religious intolerance, to bigotry, to little wars and big.

But I also know for a fact, that most people at some point in their lives have witnessed or experienced kindness. And how it makes you feel. Feels good. It doesn’t have the kind of reputation that binging on gambling, hookers and blow does (again, which makes a better movie), but if enough people become mindful of how pleasant it is to exchange kindness, real no-strings-attached-ego-free kindness, we might have a shot.

I ain’t holding my breath, genetics is a hell of a thing to combat. The best I can do is work on my own emotional ecosystem, encourage others to do the same, and use tools like this blog to extend that reach. Not much, but it’s worth doing.

Okay you monkeys, get out there and use your aggression for good, compete to be the best at something you want, remembering you don’t need an enemy to be motivated.