Let’s establish something at the outset. Humans are social apes.
Sure, okay, we’re also rational or at least reasoning creatures, and we’ve changed our environment and mode of life so much, and made so many adaptations that you can say “are we still?”
Yes, we still are. The place where rising ape meets falling angel is a pretty decent description of being human. We aspire to more. This is good. Our minds — souls? — can conceive a fantastic vision of eternity (except mine. I’m really bad at imagining what heaven would be like. I’ll just have to trust Himself to figure it out.) and abstraction.
But the creature doing this is a jumped up ape. There are limits on who we are, what we can do.
And there are things we need that make no sense, because we don’t want to need them, we don’t know we need them, we want to be just fine without them, thank you so much. And yet their not being fulfilled makes us neurotic and vulnerable, and can even cause various physical illnesses. (There are triggers in our immune system, including auto-immune that get activated when very ancient parts of our brain detect, say, that we’re very, very alone (and their detection might or might not perceive internet friends. It’s complicated. There are studies that say they identify characters in series we watch as members of our band and causes us to instinctively overestimate our number of close friends. Of course social studies in general have a huge problem with reproducibility and therefore with credibility.)
If your back brain, the part that was very useful when your ancestors were barely down from the trees, identifies you as a “castoff” it might trigger desperate measure to find a band, or make you vulnerable to illness, or a bunch of other things we’re not very clear on (because we’re just getting past a materialistic area where your state of mind and your physical state were wholly separate. In people’s minds.)
This is something that’s particularly hard for introverts to process. It’s like me, and my apparent need for sun. I started walking — outside — two hours a day, and it about banished the chronic depression. It makes absolutely NO sense. My office gets tons of light. But moving outside under the full sun is different, somehow, for the backbrain.
And humans need bands. We need social contact. Even those of us who hate large groups need daily contact with a “band.”
Part of the reason I prefer living in cities is that I am an introvert. (No, seriously. Well, that and because I grew up in a village. In a village everyone is passionately interested in everyone else, and also their memories and expectations write the script of what you should and could be doing. There is a reason my mom won’t let me tell anyone I write fiction for a living. In the village that is “impossible” particularly for the daughter of a rather stodgy middle class family.
I’d be interpreted as “giving myself airs” Or being jumped up. I’m not bound by their expectations, you say. You’d be amazed how much they matter when you all live in each other’s pockets and have for generations on end.) Apparently — note caveat above about social studies — we need to SEE and interact with some number of humans a day for our ancient ape brain to realize we’re not outcasts. Apparently “interact” can be ordering a coffee and paying, or smiling at someone who accidentally makes eye contact when you walk by. (Because the back brain is stupid.) This explains why I’m always saner living in cities and also what I call “making sure there’s still a world.”
Normally the routine was, finish x number of pages, go for a walk, smile and nod at people, feel way better. In a smaller place I might be expected to — aaaack — talk, or interact. In a big city I can order a coffee and go for a slow stroll, no problems.
Anyway, these “needs” of the back brain are not rational and they’re not something you control. They’re also not something you can change just because you want to. Because physical structures don’t work that way, even if they’re designed to think or feel with. They’re still physical. You might as well plan to grow a third arm. (when the guys aren’t helping me with something, say, opening the door when my hands are full, and they ask me why I’m just standing there, my answer is “I’m trying to grow a third arm.” They usually GET it.)
So… what prompted this: yesterday I was doing something else and stumbled on a Peterson video. So I watched part of it, realized it was stuff I read. And then I read the comments. NEVER EVER EVER READ THE COMMENTS.
It had thousands of hate comments. And I mean HATE, calling him names and acting like he personally shot their dog.
What did he say: if you’re forty and don’t have a family, don’t have a social network, don’t have a spouse and children, you’re a lost soul.
Person after person interpreted this as his saying “you have to get married and have children.”
That’s not what he was saying. Of course, people can be monks, nuns, utterly devoted to their extended family or to some charity or group or even some interest or social group.
BUT — as I understand his reasoning — we’re social apes. We might be pursuing our ideals, but we still need to be inserted in a group that values us (for values of “value” to be determined by what you need) to be happy.
The video was on how “career” (which as he pointed out in most cases is “just a job”) won’t FILL your life or make you happy as you age. So, obviously his point was “but you need other locci of happiness.” This was actually announced in the title, which was something like “the lie of a career.” The whole point was that saying “I’m going to marry my career” doesn’t make our ape selves happy or stable, no matter how much we want that career, how hard we work, or how obsessive we are. We still need a “band” of stable social connections.
However, person after person interpreted it not only as “you must get married and have children” but also as its being PARTICULARLY aimed at women and therefore “patriarchal.”
Most of the commenters were women telling us how they were forty or fifty or whatever “career” women and how happy they were. To total strangers. Loudly. Insistently. Admitting no protest.
It was actually sad, like watching Anne Boleyn who by the time of her marriage had to know how unstable her position was picking the motto “The Most Happy.”
Also commenter after commenter told us that even if you had children, it’s not like you could raise them yourself. I mean, to live a “decent lifestyle” in our day and age both parents have to work.
While I agree that our burden of taxation makes it hard to live a middle class life on one salary while raising kids, it’s not impossible.
To allude to Peterson, it depends on what you believe and what you’re willing to sacrifice. We find thrift store shopping fascinating (it’s a fun activity for a few hours a week. Possibly the ONLY shopping I can enjoy) and we don’t mind driving 20 year old somewhat unsightly cars. Now if you demand the top of the line to be “decent” that’s different, I guess.
But their running down of marriage and children, and how both were the worst thing ever, made me think of the fox of fable screaming that the grapes were green.
I read the comments in horrified fascination. I don’t know what these people were hearing but maybe it was their own internal voice shouting.
Sure, lots of women don’t want to get married and have children, but we ARE creatures of instincts and long evolution. By definition most women (and most men, but that’s more complicated) want to get married and have children.
When society makes that goal something to be despised, the instinct doesn’t go away. It gets repressed and twisted into screaming at people that you never wanted a family. It probably also gets twisted into imagining all men are monsters and horrible, because again, that helps you believe you ain’t missing not’ing.
Now, from my understanding, Peterson wasn’t saying you MUST marry AND have children. To lots of us, Odds, even achieving the first is amazing and something we never expected. For a lot of us particularly in the pre-history (aka before internet) finding our kind took a long time, and finding one of our kind we wanted to live with for life was almost impossible, and you might be old enough you can’t have kids. Or you might have one of those genetic diseases — bodies as weird as our minds — that you really don’t want to pass on. (Some tempering here for the young: every family has genetic diseases. My kids aren’t particularly defective for having inherited a milder form of my autoimmune. So don’t convince yourself your genetic quirks are unique or the “worst thing ever.”
He was saying don’t base your entire life on your “career” or plan to “marry your career.” Most people don’t get careers, they get jobs. (Some allowance must be made for the crazy among us who are compelled to write, paint, make stuffed animals or whatever it is you do. Even then it’s not necessarily a career, just a purpose.) And leave space for social bonds, be they husband/wife/kids or extended family, or a group of friends. (Yes, as you age you find groups of friends are fickle and dissolve often.) OTOH these days so do families, because we apes are living much longer and with more choices than we had before. This is a good thing.
But these people’s — mostly women, curiously — reaction to the video made me facepalm and wonder: when our society purposely distorts the most ancient instincts of mankind, not the destructive ones (like murder) but the ones that allowed us to survive long enough to be humans (like band-bonding and having a family) what is it causing in society? How much of the crazy we see around us is the poor monkey-brain desperately throwing rocks (or poo) in an attempt to get what it needs? And how much of man-hatred is “the grapes are sour”?
I don’t have answers. I just know that when the falling angel starts denying he was ever an ape, or lives in an ape’s body it can’t be good. And it will cause trouble.