Oops, I meant to title this “Animal Instincts”. Oh, well – maybe that was one of those Freudian slip-ups. I dunno…
We all are animals, right? Mammals? Sure we are. We all have fur, a self-regulating body temperature – and our females have mammary glands (that’s boobs for those of you who don’t normally think in more precise anatomical terms). Besides, if we aren’t plants – with a few exceptions that I’m sure are coming to mind out there – then we gotta be animals. That’s the only other choice.
So if we’re closely related to critters like dogs, cats, lions, tigers and bears, doesn’t it make sense that we showed up here on planet earth with at least a few of the same type of traits? Animals are naturally assembled with characteristics that will permit them to survive in less than ideal environments – and do all those things it takes to keep their species alive for thousands of years. Yeah, I know – that is unless we humans start putzing with their environment and remove all chances of their survival. That’s happened entirely too much.
But apart from that, if left to their own devices animals do a darned good job of hanging in there (surviving) at least long enough to do the propagation thing (make more of their kind of animals). Since we’re animals, that applies to us too. Experts generally agree that we humans arrive here on earth pre-wired and pre-programmed to do those things it takes for us to survive – not only as individuals, but also as a species. That makes sense. These animal instincts have allowed us to grow from an indeterminate handful of Homo sapiens to a population of over six billion people.
For the most part, our survival instincts serve us well. Threats to our survival (perceived or real) however, have occasionally prompted us to take drastic steps to protect ourselves – both as individuals and as groups. I’m not necessarily saying “bad” steps – just beyond the ones we normally associate with everyday living. Such as? Such as moving from an area of town where there were a couple of drug busts to the perceived safety of a nice secure gated community. Oh yeah, then there’s installation of the security alarm system and the purchase of a 9mm handgun as backup. How about a big dog and pepper spray – just in case? Classes in self defense might not be a bad investment either come to think of it. And maybe bars on the windows, too. And… well, you get the idea. An instinct for self (and maybe family, too) preservation coupled with a touch of fear can easily direct us down a path we would not normally have taken.
Our survival instincts commonly push beyond our personal desire for physical survival. Most of us have developed over the years, an image of ourselves that that keeps us well above the rank of second class pond scum. We have developed a level of self-esteem that reinforces our worth as a valuable human being. Any threat to either our self-worth - or to those things we have placed high on our priority list such as family, property, freedom of expression or religious beliefs – will cause us to react. Take away any one of our personal priorities such as family, values or religious beliefs and our personal identity begins to crumble. Is it any wonder we get an adrenaline surge?
So where have these basic survival instincts and surges taken us? In response to playground threats, the belligerent words came first, usually followed closely by the pushing and shoving match. It might have started out as a personal safety issue (damn Big Bully anyway!) – or a grabbed food or drink – or a comment on our personal appearance, mother’s breed or father’s anti-freeze level.
As adults, our instinctive reactions to threats have resulted in everything from verbal confrontations to murder. The triggers? A questionable “look”, verbal comments about our ancestry, appearance, companions, mannerisms, opinions, vehicle, driving ability – the list is endless.
On the job, threats (real or perceived) to our job security or position that could impact our income or self-esteem have created epidemics of “turf trauma”. This in turn has resulted in hoarding (and zealously guarding) of information, over-accumulations of materials and equipment and bulging, inefficient departments. And yes, manipulation, backstabbing and fiscal shenanigans along with the basic lying, cheating and stealing. All in the name of survival.
It doesn’t take a vivid imagination to see how our survival instincts apply to larger groups of people. In schools, these instincts lead to predictable conflicts among the different groups - the jocks, brains, gothics, cowboys, etc.
The survival instinct leads our children into the perceived security of gangs – which of course, leads to the inevitable conflicts as these gangs then fight to protect their turf, status and self-esteem. Our survival instincts have produced battles between tribes, conflicts between religions and races, and wars between nations.
It doesn’t take much imagination either, to figure out that our chances of survival either as individuals or as a group of people, increases dramatically if we’re the tall dog on the block. People (or groups) in a dominate position are able to exert more influence over others and are therefore more likely to survive. Is there any wonder that there’s a mad scramble for the top spot?
I think it’s important for us to understand that a lot of the weird stuff that we see happening around us is not just the result of screwed up, warped or evil individuals or groups of people. Sometimes - sure. But a bunch of the time, the underlying motivation to these situations can be traced right back to our foundation animal instincts – and particularly our instinct for survival.
Well dang, here we are at the end of the article and we didn’t even have a chance to talk about sex. Maybe later – or should I just let you use your own imagination on this one? FantasyLand anyone…?
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