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Angels, reptile brains and genetic masters - lost_aesthete [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Si natura negat, facit indignatio versum

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Angels, reptile brains and genetic masters [Apr. 18th, 2011|12:56 am]
lost_aesthete

The better angels of our nature...

I was sitting there on the sofa the other day...staring blankly at the flashing images on the screen when I snapped to...one of the mutant forehead characters in this space opera I was half watching uttered one of those idiomatic phrases that just speak to you...she said something like 'let us pray that the better angels of his nature win out' or something along those lines. For some reason I just phased out of where I was and went on a little thought journey. I would like to share it with you.

What I thought first was the interesting thing about this phrase is it sums up the duality of our nature...we have better angels and some not so good (seriously I can speak from personal experience on this...I don't even want to mention what the less good angels of my nature get up to on occasion), the way the phrase is set up demands we admit the possibility that those less better or for simplicity shall we say 'bad' angels can and often do win. So we are not singular individuals, but individuals divided between the better angels of our nature and a dark, amorphous nature....

Fairly simple so far right...

So next I thought, well if this is the case and I am reasonably certain it has some truth to it, what are the natures of these two divisions, these two forces that pull at us, or alternately the two personalities within us that vie for dominance. My first thought is that what is good is what is human and what is bad is what is base or to some degree animalistic. Of course what is human we could define as the products of a self aware consciousness with advanced language skills and the ability to think in advanced abstractions, good, duty, honour, honesty, etc. So these better angels of our nature then seem to become socially defined constructs that dictate what is esteemed as, shall we say, noble and decent behaviour historically within a certain culture. On the other hand what is bad are our instincts, our lusts for the three essentials of survival: reproduction, food and shelter, translated in the modern world as uninhibited appetite for sex, money and power.


Still reasonably simple yeah...our better angels = cultural notions of good conduct – vs bad angels = modern versions of animalistic instincts...


I am not saying I necessarily think this is a good thing or bad thing, but it certainly 'is' to some degree. Something did not sit right though (and it wasn't just that asda chicken pie) and as I stared out the window I thought surely much of the existential troubles we suffer arises from the fact that we are at all times forced to suppress an intrinsic part of ourselves. I read somewhere that the brain has three parts (I think its called the tri model or something), each part of the brain representing a stage in our evolution. Right at the base of the structures of the brain is the reptilian brain. We share these brain structures with birds and reptiles, they represent that first step in our advancement towards true consciousness. I imagined that within in us lies this instinctual animal, it wants to fight, to kill, to eat, fuck, dominate, territory, fear. From the moment we are born we are trained and trained and trained to suppress, deny and control this creature lying forcibly dormant at the base of our skulls. This suppression of something so in essence a part of ourselves must have its consequences...


So still with me....basically the division between the instinctual and the human causes issues....


So then I thought why? Why do we do it, why do we try so hard to suppress this part of ourselves? Why do we prioritise these 'better angels of our nature' to their less attractive reptilian cousins? At first I thought of the old straw man...or for those of you who don't know what that is, the old punching bag...religion...this lead me on a bit of a tangent stay with me...i thought people are always blaming religion for causing war and so on and so on, specifically christianity (by the way the inquisition killed like 5000 people...that's peanuts...the great persecution of the Romans killed between 10000-100000 christians...so I think the pagans have the upper hand when it comes to body count). Regardless all I can say is all those crazy fundamentalists with their religious persecutions are a bunch of fucking pussies...5000, Bah, 10000, humbug, even the Crusades with the 1-9 million is pathetic!!! You want fucking genocidal maniacs...Atheists every time Hitler, Mao, Stalin need I say more..but anyway besides all this at the end of this little tangent I concluded that the fact that we are consistently willing to suppress an intrinsic part of ourselves and kill in the millions in defence of these ideas we use to suppress that part of ourselves, well this demonstrates to me that they (these ideas) must have some value, but what?


Ok so here we are...still there...its not religion, its not atheism, its ideas...


So I went and made a cup of tea at this point..came back and it was obvious. Evolution...its always the easiest answer. At some point in our evolution the suppression of the reptilian part of ourselves became evolutionarily beneficial. At some point running around fucking, fighting and eating paid off...but then over time, those who didn't do these things (well who at least did them in an organised way in cooperation with a group of others!!!) gained an evolutionary edge and thus was born the suppression of instinct. Aristotle worked this out early on when he said that man is by nature politikon zoon or a city beast (commonly translated as a political animal). What does he mean? It is simply the recognition that man prospers best when he is part of a community with customs, rules and what not. If we all get along and provide each other with mutual help there is a greater chance that our offspring will survive and then themselves reproduce thus ensuring the survival of our genes. So it seems that the elaborate rituals of civilisation exist to convince us to suppress our reptilian selves in the interest of our genes.


So we have a kind of answer – we suppress because its good for our genes...we aren't there yet though...


So that seems to be the why, we want the better angels of our nature to win out because when they do we as a species win. When they don't we as a species suffer, even if some individuals benefit, on a species wide basis we don't.

So that got me thinking....so religions are simply tools that help us to suppress our reptilian selves and thus ensure a more cohesive society (if I think I'm going to burn in hell I wont kill my neighbours husband and run off with his pretty wife), the political ideologies of the 20th century (Fascism, communism) did the same, but what now? How is this 6000 year old system we have devised coming along? I hate to trot out poor Nietzsche at a time like this but here goes 'if god is dead, everything is permitted'....


So still here, well done!!! So as Nietzsche says if we kill God (either the God of religion or of politics) what is there to stop me now from killing that other guy and taking the blonde for myself?


So there I was thinking – do we still have an effective mechanism for suppressing the instincts? We have punishment of course, the fear of punishment is a reasonably effective deterrent...well kindof...actually I don't really think it is, in my job I deal with people who have ended up where they are because no amount of punishment has made the slightest bit of difference...there will always be large proportions of people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain from breaking the rules essential to the genetic strategy of the politikon zoon. Still I think in essence whether or not punishment works on its own is really a story of scarcity and plenty. In a society where I have a reasonable expectation of having my reptilian needs met, the need for an ideological or religious rationale to glue together the social fabric is less essential...BUT as we are fast approaching a time where population pressures, energy shortages and environmental problems may very well bring us back to a situation of at least relative scarcity what's to be done?


Then I got thinking about the ancient Greeks again (amazing lot they were, but then again if I owned 100 slaves and only had to sit around all day I may be pretty amazing as well)...this idea they had of the telos...the final purpose of a thing...all things had a final goal towards which they aimed...even a city...it was an agreed upon goal that all worked towards...this we lack and as Nietzsche knew full well and I ended my little reverie by wondering at the consequences of breaking a 6000 year old system, an unwritten agreement between the reptilian brain and our genetic masters, should we pray that the better angels of our nature emerge victorious?.....

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him -- you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing?

Nietzsches the gay science...

http://www.historyguide.org/europe/madman.html

 

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