We come into this world 100% dependent on others for our survival. We cannot feed, drink, think or move for ourselves. We are cute and beautiful and precious, yes, but in terms of survival, we’re really very stupid. Even a new-born foal, all stumbly and drunk, kicks into full horsepower race mode within a few hours. A turtle is born into this world like a fully formed Bruce Willis compared to us pathetic mammals. It smashes through a tomb-like cocoon, zero cover from predators, and army barrels down the beach screaming yippie-ki-yay motherfuckers all the way to the goddamn ocean.
Then even when we humans do begin to form ourselves physically, to walk, talk, tie our laces, climb up onto the kitchen counter for a bag of crisps (our equivalent of the sea turtle army barrel), our brains are still really very stupid.
That is to say, stupid relative to the complexity of the environments and the relationships which we’ve built around us. Horses and turtles come into this world near to or fully formed precisely because their environments and relationships require a far simpler, far more primal, set of principles to master.
So it’s not our fault. I’m not having a go at all of humanity or taking evolution personally. I’m just stating facts: Long ago our species did a Darwinian deal and traded a very long period of infant dependency for a very large and complex cerebral cortex. We knew what we were doing, and we’ve been dealing with the consequences ever since.
Those complex cerebral cortices take a couple of decades to develop. And so we decided to be utterly pathetic to begin with in order to become unrecognisably advanced some time after.
Except here’s the glitch in that trade-off.
The ingenuity of our brains is to be an open system which responds and adapts to its environment (resulting in the ability to form and recognise patterns, to communicate through the incredibly hi-tech code of language, to understand the concept of the self and of consciousness itself, and so on) is also its very undoing.
It’s a system which forms itself according to experience without having the experience to know how best to form itself.
Consequently, the experiences that take place early on in life have the deepest impact on us—at the very time in our lives when the higher executive functions of reason, logic and prioritisation are yet to develop.
It’d be like an apartment building constructing itself in real-time in response to the changing weather conditions as it’s being built. Imagine that. If on day one it was sunny and on day 57 there was a flood, then the building would have a ground floor sun deck prone to flooding and a totally sealed roof terrace.
Or imagine a government of a newly formed nation charged with drafting a constitution applicable for the next 100 years. But rather than a wise philosopher or democratic legislator at the helm with the ability to look 100 hundred years hence to determine a set of laws which will allow for its citizenry to flourish through time, we have an utterly mad and stupid despot who will burst into inconsolable anguish if it doesn’t get a Ribena.
This is our condition.
We, each of us (unless we’ve done some serious heavy lifting), have an utterly mad and stupid little leader living within us. The young Ruler-Architect rushes forth at the merest provocation and takes charge of our higher functions with all the deftness and dexterity of a toddler smashing birthday cake into its ears.
For those of us who wish to liberate ourselves from this tyranny, perhaps the first thing to do is to simply recognise when we’re being tyrannised.
Then, with time, we might begin to see that the mad little bastard’s methods are only mad and stupid in the context of the present. At the time of initial research and design, the methods employed were the most advanced and savvy on the market. They were astoundingly successful at the enterprise of survival and the proof of that is being here now to recognise the fact.
But little by little, the job of the self-integrating adult is to graciously retire the inner child leader. To thank them for their long and fiercely loyal service and to let them see out their days in rest.
This is no small task. It is, I think, a life-time’s worth of work. But it’s good work if you can get it.
I suppose this is the very reason I’m writing these weekly pieces; the same reason Stephen wrote his books. It’s to document my own thoughts, challenges and progress in the (ad)venture toward liberation, and to share them with whoever might find them helpful on theirs.
The alternative, of course, is to be the turtle or the horse. And that’s perfectly fine as well.