Just thinking…

Why can’t we just live our lives? What is it about human beings – supposedly the top branches of the evolutionary tree – that makes us abandon those ‘normal’ things that most of us find enough – home, family, community, responsibility, personal satisfaction – in favour of creating mayhem, destruction and chaos?

Robert Ardrey – of whom I am a great fan, despite his ideas being comprehensively pooh-poohed by the erudite – suggests in his book The Territorial Imperative that man’s three basic needs are for identity, security and stimulation: the need to know who we are and where we belong, to have the security to go about our lives, and enough happening to stop us getting bored. This makes absolute sense to me.

At a personal level, a lot of things can get in the way of attaining the first two: conditioning, injustice, inequality, chance, circumstance… And social history is littered with examples of individuals exacting revenge for individual wrongs, real or perceived. But none of that leads to global chaos: to a plan to snatch a random bystander off the streets of Sydney, wrap them in your flag of choice, behead them on camera and post the footage online.

The obvious answer is ‘ideology’, but the way I see it, this isn’t enough. Most of us have ideologies of one sort or another, and if we feel fiercely enough about them, we’re likely to ram them down the throats of those we consider misguided. But we don’t kill for ideologies alone. The Irish Troubles, for example, were the product of poverty, injustice and inequality, as much as religious conflict. Which brings me back to Ardrey’s third basic need: stimulation.

The Western World certainly reeks of all sorts of unsavoury things that we should be thoroughly ashamed of, but on the whole, those most affected by them are too busy surviving to create chaos in the name of an idea. Look at it this way: the Crusades in the Middle Ages, undertaken in the name of religion, were organised and led by lords and knights – those well supplied with the good things of Mediaeval life, looking around for something to do. It’s also interesting to note that while the riots in the UK a few years ago were triggered by perceived injustice, the looters targeted shops selling not food, but entertainment – TVs, sound systems etc.

So while I in no way underestimate the supreme importance of ideology – or the blind stupidity of Western greed that has trampled its uncaring hobnail boot across Eastern culture – I do have to wonder what makes it so easy to persuade young men and women to abandon the ‘normal’ instincts of mutual care and personal safety, and undertake acts that violate both so spectacularly. Or is it really very simple: they have nothing better to do.

I mean, it’s not as if Osama bin Laden had to earn a living, is it.

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17 Responses to Just thinking…

  1. Jan Wilberg says:

    I’m with you on this. The ability of ISIS to recruit people to their activities (I won’t even say work or mission) is completely baffling. What is the human need being served by getting involved in such horrible violence toward other people?

  2. I don’t understand why so many people, especially the so called “elite”, think they know what’s best for everyone else, and try to force everyone else to think and do what they (the elite) think is best for everyone else, but themselves (the elite).

  3. I think that we have so much that instead of striving to survive (food, shelter, protection) people are bored look for that high elsewhere.

    I think we should bring back Gladiators and I don’t mean steroid pumped, lycra clad bodybuilders wielding cotton buds. I mean those that attack, murder, rape, torture and persecute others should be made to compete in an arena to the death. The profits can go towards the person or family of those they have wronged. Those who come forward before they use their energy this way, could be trainers and chariot drivers and get to live. Whattaya think?!

    • Totally agree – any society where people line up all night to get the next generation mobile phone has got to be so well fed it’s obscene, when the other half the world is starving.
      Love the Gladiator idea. Have thought before that young perpetual troublemakers should be sent to Africa to dig wells etc – keep them occupied doing something worthwhile, and learning how lucky they are even if they haven’t got the latest trainers and flatscreens.

  4. Fascinating question, Helen. Did the young men of Germany feel bored in the 1930s? The Japanese of the same time? I wonder sometimes whether we get into such trouble because the bottom layers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are met….or because they are not. I’m blathering, sorry, but find this topic intriguing.

  5. Noah Weiss says:

    Very intriguing, and I agree with your premises. The basic needs seem to be met in most places, but the thrill of the chase is just a recipe for trouble.

  6. Fran Macilvey says:

    The bonobos of West Africa share something like 99.8% of their DNA with homo sapiens, compared with something like 97% for the chimpanzee. Bonobos are matriarchal, and use tea parties, chats and sex to keep everyone happy. The chimp is characterised as more overtly aggressive and territorial, which seems to have doomed us humans to a period of pseudo scientific assertion, circa 1971, that aggression and territorialism are necessary human imperatives. Thank God, at last we can move away from that deadly logic into something more peaceful. Very interesting article, honey pie. Hope you are having a lovely day! xxx 😀 ♥

  7. Richard Leakey — decades ago and I don’t remember the name of the book — posited that is was our need to cooperate that enabled us to form armies and destroy. That it was our social urge, not an anti-social one, that makes us so dangerous. Interesting theories all. Maybe they are all true.

  8. bkpyett says:

    I think if leaders had to have their own children involved in the fighting, they’d be a little less cavalier and try to negotiate outcomes, rather than put other lives at risk.

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