Bindaree Falls – High Country Victoria
Human beings are the least worthwhile species on the planet.
Or, as my wife more succinctly puts it, “People are shit”.
Big statements, which will probably send the “feel-good fraternity” into a foaming frenzy.
If you’re going to make controversial claims, you really need to have some evidence to support them.
There’s no shortage of evidence to support this claim. If you are exposed to any form of media, at any time of the day, the evidence leaps at you. If you have any knowledge of history, you will be able to find overwhelming evidence to support my view.
Why, then, do I expect people to find my views worthy of consideration? The answer is simple – we human beings consider ourselves to be the superior beings on planet Earth. We are not, but the potential exists for us to be a lot more worthwhile than we presently are.
What is preventing us from utilising that potential? Again, the answer is simple – it’s human nature.
Like dogs and cats, and whales and dolphins, and snakes and lizards, human beings are animals. However, aside from the obvious physical differences between us and other animals, there are character differences that clearly set us apart from them.
Perhaps the most significant difference lies in the fact that we allegedly have a higher level of intelligence. Although some have suggested that dolphins may be our intellectual equals, and perhaps even our superiors, it is generally agreed that human beings are smarter than non-human animals. We are more advanced. We are “evolved”.
All animals, human and otherwise, are driven by the urge to satisfy needs. These needs range from the most basic – survival and reproduction – present in all animals, to more sophisticated and complex needs – psychological and emotional, supposedly found primarily in humans.
“Lower order” animals seem to be governed by the most basic instincts and driven to satisfy the most basic needs. Their survival requires the satisfaction of the needs for food and shelter, whilst the continuation of the species depends upon the opportunity to mate with their own kind. Beyond that, primitive animals have few needs and yet some show the capacity for “love” where offspring and mates are concerned. So, even within the most primitive levels of the animal kingdom, there exists a range of sophistication in terms of behaviours.
This range of sophistication can be readily identified in humans also.
Let’s consider an extremely simple model of human behaviours, built upon the satisfaction of needs – survival, psychological and emotional.
Survival needs include sunlight, water, food, air and a habitat that is supportive. The satisfaction of the need to reproduce is dependent upon the capacity to engage in reproductive activity and in the availability of reproductive partners.
Failure to satisfy survival needs may result in death. A global failure to satisfy the need to reproduce may result in extinction of the human species.
Some humans will do almost anything in order to survive, their behaviours moderated by conscience. Some will do absolutely anything in order to survive, with no consideration of the morality of their behaviours.
Experts such as Abraham Maslow list a range of psychological and emotional needs. Although terminology and emphasis differs from expert to expert, the following list includes most of the commonly identified needs:
- Certainty – A sense of security, safety and comfort in the world
- Variety – A sense of change, interest and adventure
- Significance – A sense of uniqueness, individuality and being special
- Love & Connection – A sense of acceptance, belonging and support, the feeling that we are connected to something, giving and receiving
- Growth – A desire to learn, grow and evolve
- Contribution – The desire to give to those around us, a sense that we are accomplishing things of value.
- Autonomy – The sense that we have the power to exist autonomously and direct our own lives.
- Privacy – Mental and emotional well-being require that we have time and space enough to reflect on and learn from our experiences
- A Sense of Status – It’s not enough to have a group. We need to have a sense of our value within the group dynamics we’re part of
- Meaning – The sense that we’re part of something greater than ourselves, having a coherent set of beliefs about life and what’s it all for
- Competence – The belief that we are capable of independently managing the affairs of our lives
(You will notice a degree of “overlap” within these terms. It’s a natural consequence of labelling, a process which is inherently dangerous but necessary if we wish to keep this article to less than a thousand pages.)
Remove, or severely damage, the source of any of these things and life, whilst still possible, becomes less enjoyable.
Effectively, then, for human beings, the nature of life is layered. First tier, basic and essential survival needs are overlayed by second tier psychological and emotional needs. The extent to which all of these needs are satisfied determines our quality of life.
This theory has its basis purely in my observations of human behaviour, (particularly my own behaviour), over a period of almost seventy years, but there are distinct similarities with the view of psychologist Sigmund Freud, who suggested that there are three components to personality – the id, the ego and the super-ego, which operate together to create our behaviours.
In simple terms, the id is the primitive part of the mind, containing sexual and aggressive drives (critical in ensuring the survival of the species), and hidden memories, whilst the super-ego is the centre for the moral conscience. The ego is the moderating part that manages the potentially conflicting desires of the id and the super-ego.
According to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, the superego is the component of personality composed of our internalized ideals, which we have acquired from our parents and society. The superego works to suppress the urges of the id and tries to make the ego behave morally, rather than realistically.
In our daily lives we float between, or merge, these “layers” of the mind in order to choose behaviours which make us, and perhaps those around us, happy.
Whilst survival needs appear to exist in most humans at a reasonably consistent level ( the influence of the id), it is the existence of this second layer of needs, and the extent to which these needs are met, which largely influences the type of people which we become. By utilising the influence of the ego and superego we contribute to the satisfaction of our second tier needs.
Where first tier needs are all met, and second tier needs are adequately met, we tend to find “civilised” people. These are people in whom characteristics such as empathy, sympathy, loyalty and integrity, can be found to varying degrees. Here we find behaviours that enable survival and at the same time, contribute to the quality of our functioning as social creatures.
Failure to have any of these needs satisfied, however, can radically change the behaviours of individuals. It has been said that “civilisation is a veneer” and this is undoubtedly true. It takes relatively little to cause us to ignore empathy and focus totally upon self-interest. Such behaviour would seem to indicate that Freud’s “id” is taking charge.
The personality characteristics of the id are inherited and remain unchanged throughout the life of an individual. Reactionary, with no filtering of input, the id’s extremely primitive response to experience or desire creates impulsive behaviour. Demands must be met immediately in order to ensure harmony. Failure to meet these demands results in stress.
We have no control over the nature of the id. It is genetically determined in the same way as hair and eye colouring are set by our parents. We have often heard the phrase “s/he takes after her/his father” when hearing the behaviour of a child explained. A quick temper, or an aggressive stance in a child, will often echo similar character traits in one or both parents. In some cases, the most basic behavioural characteristics of a child will almost replicate those of either parent, whilst in many cases, children appear to mix the characteristics of both parents, creating a new and unique personality.
The influence of the id is most easily recognised in the behaviour of children. Dominant in infants, it becomes moderated by the ego, as an individual gains experience. Babies cry when hungry and continue until they are fed. A ten year old will usually have learned that, when hungry, a request for food will achieve a more positive response that a tantrum. Here is where the influence the ego and superego impact upon behaviour choices, and here is where the discussion swings to the inevitable and eternal debate regarding “nature or nurture”.
So, first tier needs, and the manner in which they are satisfied, are heavily influenced, if not totally controlled, by the most fundamental, innate, part of our personality. In order to limit arguably extreme behaviours in individuals, the more sophisticated controlling mechanisms, with which we may be born, or which are taught to us, come into play.
The depth of the second layer needs, and the behaviours generated by the quest for their satisfaction, may vary enormously from individual to individual and perhaps, as some have suggested, from race to race. Whilst I accept absolutely the first of these propositions, I cannot subscribe to the second.
It is impossible for a layperson such as myself to account for the disparity in the nature of human beings, as demonstrated by their behaviours. I am, however, prepared to suggest that both nature and nurture play key roles in determining the types of people we become.
As stated, genetic factors play a huge role in making us what we are, both physically and emotionally. We inherit physical characteristics from our forebears and these are often immediately obvious. However we may also have passed down to us unseen characteristics such as a predisposition to particular health conditions.
Whilst a degree of generational transference in emotional “types” is almost certain, my observations suggest that, in this area, it is life experiences, particularly those gained in childhood, which most influence our behaviours and attitudes as adults.
Bindaree Falls – minus tourists
This has been the most challenging Rant that I have so far attempted, which is hardly surprising considering the topic. Human nature creates our world, its positives and its negatives, and is so diverse as to be inexplicable.
I’ve been arguing with myself for weeks about the best way to proceed from here, trying to avoid both extreme complications and the use of platitudes.
I’ve decided to just write whatever makes most sense to me and hope that it will make some sense to others.
I’ll risk the entirely justified accusations of over-simplification and the wrath of trained psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists, and try to create a model which explains my views.
I’ll suggest a “behavioural continuum” which describes the extent to which people are affected by innate factors and by the level of satisfaction of their needs. I’ll need to use loaded descriptors which will have the “all men are created equal” proponents, frothing at the mouth.
Here we go:
At birth, we inherit certain qualities, physical and emotional, from our parents, who had inherited theirs from their parents. The mixtures of characteristics from all of our antecedents are visited upon us. We all begin life with some predispositions. None of us starts life with a “clean sheet”.
The nomination of behaviours as indicators of personality characteristics is a practice fraught with danger, especially when the task is undertaken by an amateur, but I can’t think of any better way to describe the natures of individuals.
I have chosen some that may serve to explain my views:
- Managing change
- Responding to opposition
- Undertaking learning
- Managing conflict
- Displaying self-image
I’m going to begin the continuum by describing people who are almost totally dominated by the id and end the range with those who are far more altruistic, those in whom the ego and superego are much more influential. If you care for a crude description, we are going to trace behaviours from “caveman to sophisticate”.
I’ll describe five “levels” for no other reason than to use more would become overly complex.
Level One – Dominated by Id:
Managing change can be almost impossible if that change is not initiated by the individual him/herself. At this level, the individual needs to feel that s/he has complete control of his/her environment. By retaining absolute control, the individual retains power.
Change brought about by external sources can present a threat to the well-being of these people, who may respond with emotions and behaviours that range from anger to extreme violence.
Responding to opposition will inevitably involve the use of negative behaviours. A tantrum will often represent the mildest of these behaviours, with physical violence against an opponent resulting in situations that are perceived by the individual to be extremely threatening. Negotiating skills are non-existent.
Undertaking learning is one of the key ways in which we grow emotionally, intellectually, and behaviourally. Level One individuals are often so egocentric that they will tend to believe that they have no need of change and will be likely to reject opportunities for learning new behaviours.
Any offer of learning will probably be perceived as a threat by an external power, as an indicator of opposition or rejection by that power, and responses will therefore be negative.
Managing conflict will involve a limited range of strategies chosen to suit the individual’s need to retain and exercise power. Verbal and/or physical violence are often first response measures, used in order to “win” the conflict rather than resolve the issue.
Displaying self-image is commonly achieved through self-obsessed behaviour which reflects the need to maintain and exercise power. Membership of a group, perceived by the Level One individual as dominant in social settings, is critical to the individual’s sense of self. Chosen behaviours may include the wearing of “group-approved” clothing, the use of language common to the group and, in social situations, actions and responses that reflect the group’s values. Conflict with social norms is often viewed as an expression of group and individual power.
Level Two – Heavily influenced by Id:
Managing change can be difficult if that change is not initiated by the individual him/herself. At this level, the individual needs to feel that s/he has primary control of his/her environment. The need to retain absolute control is not critical.
Change brought about by external sources is challenging to these people, who may respond with emotions and behaviours which range from significant discomfort to violence.
Responding to opposition will commonly involve the use of negative behaviours. A tantrum will often represent the mildest of these behaviours, with verbal violence against an opponent being used in situations perceived by the individual to be extremely threatening. Negotiating skills are very poorly developed and seldom used.
Undertaking learning will tend to be sporadic and contingent upon Level Two people seeing “something in it for them”. These individuals will tend to view the learning process in purely practical terms, seeking a tangible and positive outcome. The learning of new behaviours will not be seen as intrinsically worthwhile.
Any offer of learning will probably be viewed suspiciously and may be perceived as a criticism.
Managing conflict will involve a limited range of strategies chosen to suit the individual’s need to retain and exercise power, thereby maintaining a positive self-image. Verbal challenges are often first response measures, used in order to defend a position, rather than resolve the issue.
Displaying self-image is commonly achieved through aggressive or simply negative behaviour which reflects the need to display personal power. Membership of a significant group, is important to the individual’s sense of self. Chosen behaviours may include the wearing of “group-approved” clothing, the use of language common to the group and, in social situations, actions and responses that reflect the group’s values. Conflict with social norms is often viewed as an expression of group and individual power.
Level Three – Influenced by Id and moderated by Ego:
Managing change at this level means accommodating the needs of other people in the decision-making process. The individual needs to feel that whilst s/he has primary control of his/her environment, the thoughts and feelings of others can be considered, without relinquishing personal power. The need to retain absolute control is less important.
Change brought about by external sources is less challenging to these people, who may respond with emotions and behaviours which range from significant discomfort to anger.
Responding to opposition will commonly involve less use of negative behaviours. A tantrum will often represent the mildest of these behaviours, with argument being more commonly used in situations perceived by the individual to be challenging. Negotiating skills are being developed and used.
Undertaking learning will be more favourably viewed. These individuals will tend to view the learning process in practical terms, seeking a tangible and positive outcome, but may also begin to see intrinsic worth in the process.
Any offer of learning may be viewed as a positive step in building a relationship and may be perceived as an opportunity.
Managing conflict will involve the use of an increasing range of strategies chosen to suit the individual’s need resolve conflict whilst retaining and exercising power, thereby maintaining a positive self-image. Verbal challenges are often first response measures, but there is greater inclination towards listening and discussing, rather than automatically rejecting opposing views.
Displaying self-image is commonly achieved through direct membership of, or identification with, a significant group, as a statement of the individual’s sense of self. Chosen behaviours may include the wearing of “group-approved” clothing, the use of language common to the group and, in social situations, actions and responses that reflect the group’s values. Challenging of social norms is a considered expression of group and individual power.
Level Four – Dominated by Ego, affected by Superego, influenced by Id:
Managing change at this level means considering the needs of other people as having equal importance in the decision-making process. The individual needs to feel that, whilst s/he has primary control of his/her environment, the thoughts and feelings of others should be considered. This does not represent the relinquishing personal power. The need to retain absolute control is unimportant.
Change brought about by external sources is not threatening to these people, who may respond with emotions and behaviours which range from simple acceptance to constructive contribution to change.
Responding to opposition may involve the use of contributing behaviours. Constructive argument may be more commonly used in situations perceived by the individual to be challenging. Negotiating skills are developed and consistently used.
Undertaking learning will be favourably viewed and actively sought. These individuals will tend to view the learning process in both practical and aesthetic terms, and may readily see intrinsic worth in the process.
Any offer of learning may be viewed as a compliment, as a positive step in building a relationship based upon mutual respect and will often be perceived as an opportunity for personal growth.
Managing conflict will increasingly involve the use of negotiation as one of an increasing range of strategies chosen to suit the individual’s need resolve conflict, rather than simply retaining and exercising power. Moderate verbal challenges may be used as first response measures, but there is rapid movement towards negotiation. Opposing views are not automatically rejected.
Displaying self-image in a demonstrative sense, is less critical. Individuals may choose group membership, or identification with a significant group, as a statement of the individual’s sense of self, but at this level people tend to be more self-aware and self-contained.
Whilst chosen behaviours may include the wearing of clothing associated with certain personality or social types, the use of language common to those types, and, in social situations, actions and responses that reflect values of those types, overt challenging of norms is a not considered necessary in expressing power.
Level Five – Dominated by Ego, influenced by Superego, affected by Id :
Managing change at this level means operating with great flexibility, giving consideration to as many factors as possible during the making of decisions and considering the needs of other people as having equal importance.
Consensus and compromise come with relative ease to these people, who are willing to sacrifice some personal gain for the welfare of others. Level Five people tend to be self-assured and confident in their own abilities, so, although the Id will protect against purposeless self-sacrifice, the need to display power is much reduced.
Responding to opposition will involve less partisan consideration of the critical issues, demonstrating that the Level Five person does not view opposition as personal attack.
Problem-solving will be the primary goal, achieved principally through the use of highly developed negotiating skills.
Undertaking learning will be viewed as a sharing process, involving all parties in the learning. The learning process is both a practical and aesthetic exercise, and may be undertaken for the simple pleasure of gaining knowledge or as an intellectual exercise.
Any offer of learning may be viewed as a compliment, rather than as a criticism, as a positive step in building a relationship based upon mutual respect and will usually be perceived as an opportunity for personal growth.
Managing conflict will involve the use of negotiation as one of an increasing range of strategies chosen to suit the individual’s need resolve conflict, rather than simply retaining and exercising power.
Response measures will typically include de-escalation, with a rapid movement towards negotiation. Opposing views are accepted and considered, and compromise sought.
Displaying self-image is unimportant. Individuals at this level tend to be self-aware, self-confident and self-contained.
Let’s go back to my original assertion concerning the relative value of human beings. There is strong evidence to support the contention that the world is principally ruled by arseholes whose typical behaviours would seem to place them squarely at or below Level Two, on the above continuum.
For these “leaders” to have gained power suggests that they have been chosen by other, like-minded arseholes, or have gained their positions by default, due to the apathy of the remaining members of their particular society.
In recent history, Adolph Hitler (who would have been incapable of raising himself above Level One) stands out as one who was given power by people who either shared his views or who were intimidated to such an extent that their power to resist was destroyed.
Currently, Donald Trump appears to have used his enormous wealth and the power it has bought him, to surround himself with strategists who have been able to find and appeal to the lowest common denominator in American society, the bigoted redneck.
They have also developed and utilised strategies which are effective in frightening rational thought from the minds of many and boring to death the apathetic millions who feel that they have no real say in the democratic process in America.
Hitler wasn’t the first and Trump won’t be the last of this type of “leader”, and there will always be dedicated supporters for megalomaniacs. It’s a part of human nature and the chance of there being a meaningful change in this situation is infinitesimal.
So what does this say about the future of the human race?
A few possible scenarios spring to mind:
- The current feelings of disgust actively expressed by millions, who can see the effects of political corruption on the welfare of other people, will form a groundswell that will grow to tsunami proportions and rid us of the self-serving bastards who govern the planet.
- The lunatics who are steering the ship will chart a course which results in global warfare and the end of the world.
- History will repeat itself and we will go through more cycles of grossly immoral behaviour, universal condemnation of that behaviour, half-hearted attempts to change that behaviour, eventual acceptance of the impossible nature of that task and, finally, tolerance of the behaviour.
I have to confess that I’m not optimistic. It seems to me that, historically, for every Jesus Christ there have been ten Pol Pots.
In my lifetime (almost seventy years), in Australia we have had one visionary political leader with the courage to try to break the cycle and bring a semblance of equality and social justice to our country.
He was destroyed by the very system which he sought to change.
Lovick’s Hut – A Cattle Men’s Hut – High Country Victoria