I was listening to these two guys arguing over some political issue on the radio the other night. Lately it has been a big issue, with people from both sides seemingly digging into their positions. Just like those two guys were. Recently it has been in the news quite a bit, and prominently written about on many online news sources and blogs. I’m sure you’ve seen more than enough of it recently. Which is why it was interesting that I listened to these two guys going at it for as long as I did. They weren’t really bringing anything new to the discussion; they both seemed to be repeating the same arguments that had been repeated from both sides already. I don’t know if the news has been slow lately, or there aren’t enough national disasters, but this issue, (and I think you know the one I’m talking about!) seems to be in the news way longer than it should.
It got me thinking about the way people argue their point. When you really dig below the surface of most arguments, they aren’t really arguments at all. An argument, of course coming from the mathematical or logical term, where a set of facts is presented, and an argument is how you illustrate that one set of facts logically leads to another set of facts. All cats speak Spanish, here is a cat, therefore, this cat speaks Spanish. All people are smart, you are a person, therefore, you are smart.
But if you listen to most arguments, they are really just a collection of synonyms and examples of their beliefs, and not why their method is better for a certain application. And not only that, they are contests to see who can most forcefully present their set of beliefs and collection of synonyms. Who ever forcefully and relentlessly puts forth their opinions the strongest is usually the winner. Even in political debates, where you expect a high level of logical skills, they just present their opinions over and over again.
There have been many extended studies of primates, and you’d be surprised how similar they behave to humans. There was one famous book called “Chimpanzee politics” written by Frans de Waal, where he studied a group of chimps for two years. They exhibited intricate and detailed political maneuvering, social rules and etiquette, different strategies that they used to interact with each other based on the individuals social status and standing. It was really extraordinary how we are much more similar to our primate cousins than we think Sure we dress up in suits and use eloquent words, but are the intentions below our actions any different?
Some say they aren’t. Some will point out that there is only a two percent difference in our DNA. Others will point to the book “The Naked Ape,” by Morris. Some will use complex social theories to describe how we really are no different than monkeys, and that the whole of our culture, religion, art, music is nothing more than a complicated expression of our natural desires. Others even go so far as to say that we are completely bound by our primitive urges, that we cannot escape the need to beat our chests and proclaim ourselves better than the next guy.
I don’t think so. I think that despite the huge proclivity for humans to behave, in many ways, identical to apes and monkeys, we don’t have to. Sure we come pre-programmed with desire for food, safety, sex that manifests itself in the form of housing developments, insurance companies, and a plethora of sex related marketing tools, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Mother nature only wants us to live long enough to produce more people. And she, in her infinite wisdom, put in us the drives and desires necessary to be able to do that without ever having an original though or plan of action. We can go through life being a complete slave to our drives and desires and still do pretty good.
But the great part about being human is that we have choice. We can choose to obey our desires as if they are our gods, and that will be that. Or we can merely acknowledge and accept them as only a motivating factor to drive us towards the life that we want. We can choose the outcome we desire, and organize our lives around them, so that we are not slaves to our desires, but we can turn them around and allow our desires to power us and motivate us to achieve any result that we want. Of course, it’s not easy. Just look around you and you will see many examples of this. Fast food for out bodies and minds are in absolute abundance in our society. Resisting can be difficult, but not impossible. Any true reward can be a long time coming, but when it comes, it makes it all worthwhile.
The big difference between us and our monkey cousins, it that we can choose, and despite the ease with which we can forget that, we know this to be true. We know that the fully human life we deserve is only a choice away. A thought away.
The biggest promise of humanity is the simple ability to choose our thoughts. This has been known, written about, and passed down orally since the ancient times. But it’s not easy. Especially today with a bazillion things to snatch your attention from where you want it to be. Like everything, with practice it becomes easier. Those that know this secret, and practice it are the engineers of the society we live in. The rulers, the captains of industry and the politicians that presume to tell the rest of us how to live our lives. You don’t have to listen. Choose your own thoughts. Choose your own destiny. Start today. Now.