A friend questions my views:
Your Idea of De-institutionalizing Human Life makes Sense, but isn’t it Simplistic?
I understand why the idea of renouncing the institutions that make our lives functional can seem like far too simplistic a solution to the problems that beset modern man. To most, it probably seems like no solution at all.
But, perspective is everything, when trying to solve problems. As modern humans, we are highly civilized. We grew up in an environment totally defined by institutions. How could we possibly imagine a world without them? Our institutions have so isolated us from the natural world that we feel threatened by the very idea of institutions not being in control. We see our institutionalized world as superior, so much so that we believe we are fundamentally different from the humans who once inhabited the natural world, and the animals that, unlike us, have never abandoned that world.
The complex realm of institutions that comprise civilization has us living in a world very much like a terrarium: It’s an almost closed system, in which everything is controlled by man, even the parks and nature preserves with which we pay homage to what has been lost. It’s taken thousands of years for us to get where we are. The day the first social contract necessitated the first institution, we began to separate from Nature. Now, we find ourselves at the point where Nature seems totally foreign to us.
And I mean that in the global sense, for it is not just the wilderness that we find foreign, but our own natural instincts—the core of our emotional makeup which evolution gave us, and to which institutional life represents a total aberration. Biologically, we remain wholly defined as natural beings—animals, really—whose wellbeing and happiness are still tied to the kind of lifestyle that our primitive ancestors once led. This is not a small point I’m making. I’m saying that the institutional life we lead is anathema to the essence of our nature as human beings. But we’re so steeped in institutional life that we don’t know this—could never perceive it, from our position within the “matrix,” as it were. We are like fishes making do in a bottle of water! It’s not that it isn’t water. It’s just that it’s artificial and inadequate—entirely inappropriate to a fish’s needs.
Another significant point about our institutional world, is that every bit of it is manmade. It would not exist in Nature. When I say “unnatural,” a picture of skyscrapers or space stations might come to mind. That’s part of it, but it is artificial at the core, too. Institutions, themselves are human inventions. They are abstract constructs that exist only in the mind or on paper, or in the actions and behaviors taken—or avoided—by modern humans whose lives are defined by rules and laws. The word “institutions” takes in government, but it also includes things like marriage and formal education, both of which define what society intends people, and the relationships between man and woman, to be.
The fact that we’ve become so accustomed to this artificial life does not for one moment mean less insult to our bodies or our souls. We suffer from our manmade lives. Our manmade troubles have us running to bookstores for the latest self-help books, which purport to teach us how to live in the moment. And that’s the ultimate joke, because living in the moment is exactly what our primitive ancestors did, without having to think about it. Or perhaps I should say, they didn’t even know they were doing that. They simply knew that they were happy. Life, for them, was a joyful thing lived in intimacy with others and the earth that sustained them. It was life as it was meant to be, where reality, itself was the source of joy. Whether they were sitting on a rock enjoying the sun, or fighting for their lives against invaders, it was the same joy. In other words, to not embrace every moment fully, whatever its nature, is to function eternally under a cloud of anxiety.
Was all that simplistic? Therein lies the most massive insult to our natural make-up. For Nature and its processes are not simple things. They only seem simple, because everything in Nature appears to happen automatically. Human behavior is a quintessential example of that. Our massive human brains—the drivers of all human behavior—are the product of millions of years of evolution. They evolved for a specific purpose—to enable each of us to freely participate in creating the order required for our species to flourish. But we moderns are oblivious to the myriad functions going on in our brains. Instead, we take comfort in the flawed idea that the order institutions create, through which we serve personal needs, is how Nature, or God, if you will, intended life to be.
So, we live as subjects of this artificial order, for which there is no consensus. For example, look no further than our dysfunctional Congress. The fact that Congress is dysfunctional makes it evident that there is no consensus in that body, the very body that, in our artificial world, is responsible for order. They are totally divided. We think that if some issue wins by one vote that we’ve solved a problem. But no problem in the natural world is ever solved by voting. Problems are solved by the natural flow of events. If one half of a natural family strongly felt one way, and the other half the other, then they would go their separate ways, as they should. Compare that to modern humans, bound by laws in our dysfunctional situations, private and public. There is no way Congress can break up. All these people who despise each other because they can’t agree on anything, have got to stay together. It’s mindless.
None of our national discourse—none of it—involves intimacy, the most essential ingredient in a sustainable way of life. If you are not emotionally acquainted with the people on whom you are depending to survive, then you have no clue what you are doing. Cooperating with others for mutual survival is a natural and hugely complex process that cannot exist without intimacy. But our national discourse has nothing to do with sustaining life. So why should it be concerned with intimacy? It’s all about material needs—instituting laws to create a level field for the pursuit of wealth and privilege. Any institutionalized system is all about material needs. In our materialistic world there’s no way to fulfill our spiritual needs through intimacy, because intimacy doesn’t exist. That is why we create Gods and religions, hopes and dreams: Unable to satisfy our spiritual needs, naturally, by taking care of one another, we are reduced to trying to satisfy them in our imaginations.
My friend feels that I am being simplistic, and I understand that. But, in my view, living with institutions is what’s simplistic. These laws, even though there are thousands of them, are nothing, compared to the billions of neurons in a single human brain. Brains know what they are doing. Laws don’t. Laws institute dysfunctional families, for instance. The brain will never create a dysfunctional family. Whatever errors Nature commits will not destroy life. But dysfunctional families destroy life, because they are incapable of sustaining the life of our species. That is what acceptance and rejection are all about: Our massive brains know when to accept or reject, in order to protect life. They perceive, and they know, and they inspire us to accept or reject, accordingly. So a natural human being will love, according to natural inclinations, while our simplified laws mandate blanket decision making. They make it so we are supposed to love everyone! That is mindless, because, if you are going to have a functional family, you have to have a group whose members spiritually fit. Our instincts know what fits and what doesn’t. Our brains would never have anyone around who didn’t fit. When a person doesn’t fit, it could mean that he or she is not socially acceptable to anyone. Or, if the person is socially acceptable, he just doesn’t fit, here; he needs to find a family where he does fit.
The idea that in the natural world we would reject people may seem strange to the institutionalized mind. But think about it. If people didn’t have the sense to accept or reject an individual, based on that person’s ability to please others, then the trait of social acceptability wouldn’t exist. This social connection is just as true of dogs, who would have no desire to please their masters, if dogs had not been accepted or rejected, based on that trait for generations.
An excerpt from “The Test for Happiness,” in Part Four of Take Us Home, Girls—The Future of this Planet Lies in the Hands of Women
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