Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Pragmatic: Controlling Our "Inner Beastie"

What keeps our inner beast at bay?

What keeps our "inner beastie" at bay?  What makes most humans civilized creatures that generally treat one another in fairly benign ways? Is it all the outside pressure of societal rules, religious dictates, and mutually agreed upon standards of conduct?  Or do we have an "inner saint" that keeps us from degenerating into our basest of selves? Do we have a hardwired propensity for compassion just for compassion's sake? Or are we merely tightly controlled animals waiting for an opportunity to let our savage sides strike?

More than likely it is a combination of the two that maintains order and stability in group settings. It's an inherent desire for structure, order and a sense of belonging to a group maintained through external mandates of socially acceptable behavior. Then again, it could just be a genetically rooted selfishness to always seek what benefits individuals the most.  In my opinion, the majority of people aren't good or evil.  They are primarily pragmatic, doing what needs to be done in order to create the best conditions for living.

The reason civilized society works pretty well isn't that we are all running around in love with one another and wanting the best for everyone.  It's because we do well individually in well-ordered and structured groups. If we were beings based solely on an inherent love for our fellow humankind, there would only be an us paradigm and not an us-versus-them dynamic that usually dominates social groupings.  Groups aren't identified solely by their own unique characteristics, but also by whom the group opposes. We are as much identified by what we are as by what we are not.  This tendency for a group to create an "other" to position themselves against helps to strengthen the internal structure and order of the group. Everyone moving in the same direction creates a formidable forward momentum, and in that solidification of the group, each member receives individual benefits.  

People keep their "beasties" in check because generally being a beast has limited advantages. Everyone knows that one jerk who acts badly on a consistent basis and in turn has a pretty crappy life.  His lack of control keeps him from creating situations in which he excels or succeeds. Our baser, uglier aspects of our nature usually reveal themselves only when the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. We don't go around randomly acting like asses because we would never get anywhere.  Sometimes people let the "inner beastie" out when the group assents to allowing beastly behavior to exist, especially if the bad behavior in some way creates an advantage for the group.  It's one of the things that allows for mob mentality that occasionally ends in horrific events like genocide. Because the savagery is directed towards the "other" and not towards anyone within the group, people will indulge in their ugliness because it doesn't create damage for individuals within the group.

Sometimes people just lose their sense of control and our beastie rears its ugly head only to quickly retreat in the face of social pressure and consequence. Thank God for that.  Having laws, ethics and morals as a society creates circumstances in which people will do good for society as a whole.  It shouldn't matter that this goodness is rooted in an inherently selfish motivation.  The good acts in and of themselves have validity regardless of their origin. We may not be all saint nor all beast.  We may, in fact, be neither. But, as long as the end result is a society in which good behavior prevails, then our pragmatic natures are working as intended and society at large benefits.  It would be seriously spiffy if we strengthened this pragmatic goodness and had fewer incidents of beastly group behaviors.  As a whole, humankind needs to focus on and create more opportunities for individual benefits through group behavior in order to make this happen.

In the fantasy world I like to regularly inhabit, people are mostly good just for goodness' sake. Evil people are an aberration and our "inner beasties" are mild and fairly benign.  Intellectually I understand how people and groups behave and interact with one another and why they do what they do, but my "inner saint" wants to believe otherwise.  I'm all for unicorns, rainbows, glitter and an inherent, selfless love for humankind.  However, as I type this, I am still looking for how this particular fantasy benefits me as I know it somehow does, thus proving my point we are all selfish bastards at heart.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Road Rage and Old Age

As I pulled up to the parking space at the convenience store, an older woman proceeded to get out of her car and walk slowly across it.  As she exited her vehicle, she did not look around to see if anyone were nearby and intently began making her way towards the store.  I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting her and almost uttered some choice words under my breath.  We all know those words, the special ones reserved for those people who disrupt traffic and movement either through their own stupidity or a well-hatched conspiracy designed solely frustrate someone's day.

I surprised myself, though.  Instead of expressing my anger with a volley of questionable words and the oft-repeated mantra "I really effing hate people!"  I said something nice instead. "God bless old people.  I am going to be one of those someday."

What makes this unusual is that I am notorious for early morning road rage.  My kids consider it the start of a good day when I only pop off with one or two swear words or engage in a mini diatribe against humanity as I drop them off at school.  They have become immune to my petty outbursts brought on by being cutoff, made to wait for a right hand turn, confronted with a slew of old folk on their way to the senior center driving at a snail's pace or forced to artfully maneuver between long lines of the parked cars of over-protective parents still walking their pubescent children to class hand-in-hand. My kids tell me to chill and to calm down, but it is said automatically with both amusement and exasperation, as if dealing with a small child unable to control her temper tantrums

Even though I am aware that having this behavior is not a healthy thing for me to engage in, for the last six months or so, I've had a hard time not bursting out with expressions of rage and frustration.  These early morning drivers don't deserve my wrath.  They are just doing the same thing I am doing--getting kids where they need to go, going to work, taking care of the daily business of living.  They don't have time to craft plans to piss me off.  It is not a grand conspiracy on the part of Alamogordo to specifically ruin Melanie's day. I know I am projecting the deeper level of dissatisfaction with my life onto the rest of humanity when I do this, and frankly, it's not fair.  That's why when I didn't automatically condemn the elderly woman walking in my space, I realized something had changed for me: my attitude and my level of peace with my life.

What I realized this morning is that I'm feeling pretty good.  Recently I've made a few changes that have benefitted my mental and emotional outlook.  I am experiencing a lightness within that I haven't felt in a very long while. After hanging out unwillingly in a twilight state for many months, I am feeling more centered, active and ambitious--as if I can pretty much do anything I want to do. I am so grateful for this renewal.  I'm grateful for that old lady this morning too.  I meant it when I said God bless her.  She helped me to see that I am on the road to better circumstances, to something quite like happiness, and that is a very, very good thing.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Few Poems


I should have said yes
or at the very least maybe.
Still, no for spite tasted good
and hearty upon my tongue.

Unexpectedly, the word fell upon itself
sliding backward down my throat
to settle like a stone in my stomach,
a rock upon my conscience.

Cracking beneath its weight,
I should have said I'm sorry.
But apology tasted like spite
so I took another bite instead.

Royal Flush

You-a paper king,
decorative tissue and gilt,
sparkle with glitter meant to attract.
You are a Valentine of sugar and salt
unable to withstand Love's precipitation.

I-a queen of stone,
weighted thoroughly by care,
so solid, dull, forever still.
I am a heart of earth
unmoving in my constancy of Love.

We do not match,
nor in any fashion meet same with same.
Yet we romance as if this rhythm
--lovely, lovely, lovely--
plays true.