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Monday, September 24, 2018

To You

"Though you're someone in this world that I'll always choose to love..."

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Pack Man

I've been thinking about podcasting some thoughts I've had, but haven't quite managed to record.  So I'm going to try to type them in here for your consideration.

There have been some issues fairly recently that seem to have people baffled. Now I'm a puzzle-solver, it's in my nature.  I don't always solve the puzzle, but I always try. And when I see something that doesn't make sense, I pick it up, turn it over, and turn it around backwards, maybe walk a few paces away and look back. A lot of problems come from looking at things from the wrong direction.

Let's start with some basics that you've probably heard before and probably take for granted. I think they call them postulates?  Anyway, some reasonable assumptions that lead to everything else I'm going to try to remember to say. A lot of this you've heard before, and many of you will say "well of course" about a bunch of this.

Thousands of years ago, say maybe 50,000 years or so, human beings ran around naked, on the plains and the hills and the mountains and in the valleys, though the jungles and forests and swamps.  We'd gather together in packs, chase down other animals, beat them to death with rocks and sticks, maybe some simple spears, eat their flesh raw, and pee and poop wherever and whenever we felt the need.

Like most critters that run in packs, we'd have rather drastic reactions to anyone who wasn't Us, our tribe, our pack.  Wasn't about thinking, just lizard-brain level instincts. Sometimes we'd chase them off.  Sometimes we'd kill them. I wouldn't be surprised if we'd sometimes eat them.  Because if they weren't us, they weren't people.

Think that last bit is an exaggeration?  Maybe.  But some anthropologist pointed out if a tribe has a name for themselves, the literal translation of that name is almost always "The People." By extension, if we're THE People, and you  ain't us...

As for the violence, at a much later time, the Tribes of Israel came up with the First Commandment, which you'll remember as Thou Shall Not Kill.  Another anthropologist said it actually translates as Thou Shall Not Murder.  Murder is killing one of The People. But if you ain't us... Then of course there's the story of how King Saul lost favor with God.  I'll let you look that one up for yourself.

So, Way Back Before That, primitive humans, no language, not much for clothes, knee-jerk xenophobes. Not a way of thinking, something functioning back in the lizard-brain right on top of the spine. Three (there are always three) main drivers.  Smell.  You don't smell like us, you ain't us. Not just "you smell like a human." Our tribe chases something down kills it and eats it, we all eat it. We find berries, we all eat berries.  We find bugs, we all eat bugs.  Add to that common diet the peeing and pooping, plenty of smells.  We cross a river, we all cross the river at the same time, so we all "bathe" to the same extent. We get sick, we all get sick. We all smell like Us.

Appearance? Well, to a certain extent. We're talking small packs of humans, living cheek-by-jowl day after day, so we know each other by sight. And then there's behavior.  No language, so we learn how the tribe behaves by watching the rest of the tribe. Behave some other way, get whacked up side the head by mom or dad till you learn better.  Or get chased off, and so on.

 Smell, Appearance, Behavior. Because their's always three.  Moving on.

Eventually we learned to take the hides from some of those critters we killed, so we weren't running around naked anymore. We even learned to tan leather.  This is where all that peeing and pooping came in handy. The earliest way to tan leather was with urine, which is why in medeval towns nobody much wanted to live downwind from the tanner's street.

We also figured out fire somewhere in there, which helpfully meant we didn't have to eat all those critters raw anymore.  And we picked up a few more clever tricks fairly early on.  Yet another anthropologist concluded that those early fellas who chipped out all those flint spearpoints -- didn't actually know how, as such. They banged away till they started making some good sharp ones, and from then on worked from muscle memory. Damn all in the way of language, so they couldn't explain it, but they could do it, over and over.

Most remarkable thing we got from somewhere, was language. Someday I'll tell you my theories about language, once I have them.  I have a couple half-theories, though.

So, we're wandering around in smelly hides with flint spears, and the usual rocks and clubs, basically going where the food is, because that's what we do. But we find places where there's an abundance of food, and we stay a bit longer... and a bit longer...

Let's say our exemplar tribe/pack/gaggle/mob finds a place by a river, maybe with a little bay, lots of fish.  So we stick around for a while. We puzzle out some basic shelters, and our tribe settles down, not permanently, but for an indefinite period. Something remarkable happens. We don't die so fast, and our tribe grows. We spread out, this bigger tribe of ours, not cheek by jowl anymore.

We're still smelling the same, mostly of fish now. We're still mostly familiar with who's who in our tribe. But we're not always around that tight little group we used to be. So some of us change a bit. Some get chased off if they get too outlandish. But we gradually learn to tolerate a little bit of difference in the tribe.

The tribe up the way, they've found a crowd of wild pigs, even domesticated some. Initially we might do our usual thing and kill the tribe, but then we dunno what to do with pigs, so eventually we figure out we can trade some of our fish for their bacon. I mean, hey, it's bacon, ya know?  And we can't just chase off or kill the pig guys, or we won't have them to trade with. So a little more tolerance.

And the rest is, well, history.

We learn to tolerate people a bit different from us. We learn behaviors that make that toleration easier. And remarkably, we learn how to teach our children to do the same. We in our little village, which becomes a town, which becomes a city. People from other tribes come to our little city. People from our tribe wander off to other cities, maybe even the pig guys, who do smell a bit funny, but hey, they have bacon!

There's a technical term for all that, civilization.  You may have heard of it.

A side note on the smell thing. One of the first somewhat diverse yet successful societies was the Romans. Just about anyone could become a Roman citizen, and somehow for quite a while they stayed fairly cohesive. And what did Roman cities almost always have?  Baths.

And here we are, way off from those confusing issues I mentioned at the beginning, looking at things from a whole nother perspective.

How'd I end up taking this long thought journey?

We've had a horrendous number of kids killing more other kids than we can bear. And when it happens, people always ask "How could our sweet innocent little kids end up as killers?" I suppose you end up with similar questions about all the other crimes, too.

Something might not have crossed your mind about this. Civilization, civilized behavior, is learned. Kids are not born with that behavior. Kids are born only with the genes we gave them. And those genes are not a whole lot different from those from the naked packs of feral humans, coursing hunters, chasing other critters down in packs and beating them to death, peeing and pooping at will.

 Running around naked and peeing and pooping at will, that basically describes any young enough child, without a lot of supervision and a supply of diapers.

It is a damn good thing we don't see our own kids that way, that we see them as sweet and innocent and blameless. But it's a bit unfair to expect them to be born knowing those things we're supposed to teach them.

We have, by some wildly unlikely chance, figured out a way to teach our kids to not behave that way. But till they're taught, they're feral. And without a whole lot of watching, they'll do what feral humans do.

The remarkable thing isn't so many kids going feral. It's remarkable that most of them don't.  It's truly amazing that somehow our parents learned to teach so many of us to not respond like a pack of wild animals. And somehow, some of us have taught their own kids the same.

And of course, some kids don't really learn civilization by it's positive rewards. Some simply learn the negative punishments. Some just behave because, well, that's the way the Tribe is behaving. Or they behave on the surface as civilized.  Ever hear of the MacDonald Triad? Three behaviors that were at one time believed to be the precursors to becoming serial killers: bedwetting, fire setting, and killing small animals. Sound familiar?

You'll notice some small towns might only need one Sherriff, because most obey the law. Then there are the growing number of towns and cities with LEs in body armor with automatic weapons....

And there's more.  A lot of these kids aren't going feral. What happens in schools, over and over again? Without close watching, kids form up in packs, and harass and attack those who are different. It is, as I've explained, feral human nature. A lot of those kids coming to school to attack their fellow students were subjected to those pack assaults. They've been taught that That's Not How You Treat People, by parents who know how at least somewhat. And that's not what they found. So not offered alternatives, not defended by the adults who are supposed to be teaching all the children to not attack strangers... a sad story. But not a surprising one.

Is it just kids?  Of course not. Civilization is a learned and self-imposed set of behaviors. Tolerance is something civilized folks have to re-learn every day of their lives. Picture those wild humans with rocks and clubs. Now picture the scene from "Frankenstein," the mob of villagers with pitchforks and scythes and torches rumbling up toward the castle to attack the stranger, the Monster.  Is that different? Picture the mob in the street with the signs and the flags.. and possibly torches and clubs, we've seen that... Is that different from those wild feral humans chasing down the strangers? The big game is over, all those happy people come pouring out of the stadium... and end up running through the street in packs, throwing rocks, breaking windows, turning over cars, setting fires... and sometimes killing.

There's a video you can find on YouTube called "Don't Be A Sucker." A casual group of individual, well-enough-dressed, civilized humans gather and listen to a demagogue. What's the message? All those strangers, they're not like us, we need to defend our tribe... oddly of course no one notices the demagogue is presenting each member of the crowd as one of the tribe, but also as the enemy. But if he can turn them into a pack, they'll respond without thought. Because we do that, Smell, Appearance, Behavior, if they're different, chase them off or kill them.

No thought required. With the smallest excuse we stop thinking.  And civilization requires thought. Thought is hard work for a wild animal with a club and a pack to belong to.

When the government wants to take a bunch of citizens and send them to war, what do they do? Put them in a big group. Get them all dressed the same, with their hair cut the same, make them all behave the same. Make them spend a whole lot of time running together, often carrying weapons. And of course make them bathe a lot, so they all smell the same.

A lot of the small-town folks at the beginning of World War II didn't bathe often, maybe once a week, because bathing was a huge chore, getting hot water together  and a tub and a place to bathe. But the recruits and draftees?  Showers. And when they went off to war in Europe and Asia, they couldn't bathe all that often. They were given a fair supply of cigarettes -- which supresses the smell. But your own unit, your own little pack, you all smell the same anyway.

And soldiers don't fight for the government, they don't fight for the American Way of Life, they don't fight for Mom and Dad or the Girl They Left Behind. They fight for the guys around them. The rest of the pack.

We need to remember that we need to teach all of our children, all of the time, to treat everyone the way civilized people do. We need to remind ourselves every day, sometimes every moment, to do the same. Kids still learn by watching Mom and Dad and the rest of the tribe. And every day, Mom and Dad could find themselves in the middle of a pack becoming a mob, and acting and reacting the way our genes predispose us to do. Grabbing a sign or a flag, a club or a torch, a scythe or a pitchfork, and running off or running down those who aren't The People.

We. The People.

Episode Zero -- A Minor Local Celebrity

With "Meditation Impromptu" by Kevin MacLeod Originally posted to Libsyn under my original setup around 02/2007.  When I ran out ...