I feel a little sick typing this, purely because evolutionary arguments unsettle me, but I suspect the answer is that we evolved in a time of scarcity, and then stopped, by finding ways to invent plenties.
This is a simplification. And we’re still evolving. Just weirdly so, as we’re able to change so much of the context we’d have previously been adapting to. Feedback loops and self awareness are perfect ways to confuse an issue. Especially the issue of offspring.
So we’ve still got urgent physical imperatives for things that used to be hard to come by. I’m thinking immediately of fat and salt, maybe even sugar, but this could just as easily be applied to love and security, maybe even anger.
Things in short supply in the wilderness become available on tap in civilisation, at the expense of environment and others. But those drives don’t scale back, they are fed, grown and preyed upon. We’ve built a world hyper-efficient at feeding addictions. In both senses, satisfying and increasing.
But I sound puritanical if I say we should learn to tone back.
Fuck it. I’ll be puritanical (but not about love). We’re getting fat on the suffering of others. The people on the other side of the world. The animals and environment we walk all over. And the everything of the future.
I lecture on this like I’m not a decadent monster. But I am. For all my attempts to tone down my consumption, I still drown myself in things I don’t need that are only possible through through suffering. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing. And I’ve spent so long feeding my heart what it fancies, that I feel like it’s a life support system.
A life support system of cake and music.
Both of which I’ll take in tonne containers and shovel towards my face with barely a second thought.
I can’t figure out where I’m going with that, and self loathing seems too obvious. I started this blog to avoid that, so let’s change tack. Think of it as a literary representation of my cognitive dissonance.
The thing is, we have got to listen to our selves. We’ve built these huge complex feedback systems with which to engage the world. They get confused, they crave the sugars and loves that’ll kill them, but they’re all we’ve got. We need to learn how that works.
The thing I hate about evolutionary arguments, is that they ignore our metacognitive abilities. We are no longer just a bag of instincts wrapped in paper, we are thinking creatures capable of reflexivity.
We must take responsibility for who we are and who we can be. Because we can.
I am not my lusts and passions, I am what I decide to point them at, and how I decide to interact with them, and others.
Don’t just fancy. Don’t rest on simple instincts. Think of the hugenesses we are capable of.
We can build futures. Let’s do it better.
Illustration by Adam.