How Our Primitive Human Desires Cause Social Problems

I wrote earlier this week (and also here) on how technology can negatively affect our lives. In truth, the cause of these problems isn’t technology, but our inability to utilize it effectively. This is due to technology advancing exponentially while the human organism has remained virtually the same for tens of thousands of years.

The same is true of human society. Civilization has covered the earth and organized itself into hundreds of nations, managed by complex systems of government and international bodies, while the human mental makeup remains best suited to tribal society.

Imagine human life during these primitive times. Man would spend his day hunting, stalking animals with primitive tools, hoping to catch his dinner, and at the end of the day would sling the carcass over his shoulder and drag it back to his cave. When he arrived, completely exhausted, his wife would dress and cook the meat while he collapsed in complete contentment. In this lifestyle there was no need for excitement or entertainment.

But once man began to practice agriculture, he attained leisure and became susceptible to boredom. This trend continues to this day. As the degree of physical exertion in human life has decreased, the amount of boredom, and the craving for excitement to alleviate boredom, has continuously increased.

This desire for excitement causes social problems because it has so many destructive outlets. Alcohol and drug abuse are the result of the craving for stimulation. The same is true of gambling addiction and mob violence.

But what about those who shun these vices? Many people condemn excitement in recreational forms. It is Sin, and should avoided at all costs. Those who succumb to their desires will surely pay for it.

But isn’t this condemnation another form of excitement? The Devil has many forms, some designed to deceive the young, and some designed to deceived the old and serious (Bertrand Russell). Fervent condemnation is even more destructive than alcohol or gambling when it leads to war. Would the Iraq war have been possible if not for the national condemnation of Muslims following the September 11th attacks?

The love of excitement causes many social problems but is far less destructive than two other primitive instincts: fear and hate. The primitive man, as a matter of survival, feared and hated everything he did not know. And rightly so. Within his herd all were friends, but other herds of people were enemies. If one strayed from the group and encountered another herd he would be killed, while other herds were avoided or fought depending on circumstances.

These primitive instincts guide our reaction to foreign nations and ideologies. When we are given cause, either by the attacks of radicals or the sensationalism of the media, we enthusiastically release our primitive hate. This leads to war, which in modern times greatly impoverishes all nations involved. The historical hatred between rival nations, Christians and Muslims, Capitalists and Communists, is not the clash of ideologies but the primitive fear of the unknown.

I think it can be accepted that the love of excitement, fear, and hate, are undesirable when they lead to pain, suffering, and economic loss. But with this knowledge, is there any way to improve society by controlling these instincts?

The key is enlightened self interest, an elevated form of selfishness that understands that what’s good for humanity is also good for the individual. Fortunately, this understanding can be developed by education.

Educated people are more likely to pursue constructive forms of excitement. The joy of making a dramatic discovery or understanding a difficult concept is far more exhilarating than the hollow stimulation of substances. Education also promotes the study of foreign cultures and ideas that can debase our fear and hatred of other peoples.

By education I don’t mean instruction at prestigious universities. If this were the case, it would be unattainable to many people. What I mean is the cultivation of intelligence, largely on an individual basis.

If you would do your share to improve society, seek to understand the world through open-mindedness and investigation. By understanding our instincts, we can mitigate the destruction they cause and create a more civilized civilization.

  • http://www.netfrontiermarketing.com Alex Goad

    Hi John,

    Great article.

    I especially enjoyed the bit about boredom. For a long time I have firmly believed that standard human education is thouroughly lacking in the finer aspects of life.

    How does one actualize the freedom and the free time so highly touted?

    How does one create meaning from mostly empty daily activities and conformism? When our education teaches us to seize these opportunities rather than be overwhelmed by them, we will have come a long way.

    • http://www.hotmail.com snave

      Liberals!

  • http://www.olinorwell.com Oli Norwell

    You’re absolutely right John, in everything you say.

    The difficulty I guess is getting civilization as a whole to understand this. The readers of this site will more than likely have no problems and agree with you, but then generally speaking we’re not the ones who are gamblers or addicted to substances.

    I believe an updated education system around the world, incorporating more than just the three R’s could help no end.

    Until that point I fear the wise are getting wiser, and the ignorant are getting left behind.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Alex,

    You pose some difficult questions. Although our society has produced an immense amount of physical wealth, it doesn’t foster an appreciation for the “finer aspects of life”.

    Oli,

    I totally agree with this statement: “I fear the wise are getting wiser, and the ignorant are getting left behind”. This the nature of civilization. Thoreau said something very similar in Walden.

    • R JOHN SANKARA RAO

      Happiness without ‘side effects’ comes only from God who is the Creator of this Universe. All Human beings need to have connected to Him and know His heart and follow it. Sometimes it may be painful but ends with joy,peace,happiness without any side effects.

      • http://N/A Irrelivant

        I’m going to laugh when you find out that your GOD is not real. HE is an Idea brought to us by the primitive minds of people trying to explain what they have no clue about. If you want to prove GOD is real, then go back in time so you can talk to the primitives on how their GOD worked. They might try to kill you, though. They have never seen anybody from the future. Oh, don’t forget to leave a message on your way back.

        • onewhoworks4thegreatIam

          All I can say is… how ignorant you are. I think your the one trying to explain what you have no clue about!

        • GotOwned

          haha, okay, there is strong evidence which supports evolution but I am a strong and devoted Christian man. Judging from your imbecile comment, people like you want to rant out to people who have faith. You feel left out and you have such a deep emptiness in your life and you try to base your own opinions as fast. Have a good life, your problem is not finding where the happiness is. Lucky for you! you don’t believe in God so suicide is still an option for you as it will not bring any consequences, you should try it some time you’ll be doing the world a favor. Ciao

  • http://www.notidiot.info/blog/ Doe

    Desire… people desire for money so they can buy stuff they wanted. They were deceived by media that buying stuffs could actually make themselves happy. YET – people doesn’t know that they’re just their own perceptions.

    What I want to say is, our wants can cause social problems by lack of ability to distinguish between two things – real and illusion (delusion). From this, we can now believe that education should solve the root of problem – inability to chose between illusion and reality.

    What type of education do people really needs? Will they understand what we are trying to say to them? Will they try to understand what we are trying to do? What if they believe education is just another bombastic words to make them follow what you wants? It sucks to think that they believe we want to control their head through educations (brainwashing).

    (Must stop commenting…)

  • http://www.findingyourmarbles.com Scott

    John,

    You said:
    “You pose some difficult questions. Although our society has produced an immense amount of physical wealth, it doesn’t foster an appreciation for the “finer aspects of life”.”

    I agree. The majority of the world seems to have forgotten how to live while they were earning a living.

    Except for Italy. They seem to have the balance down between joy of life, spirituality, work and family. Do you suppose that it’s an accident that the greatest revolution in modern education (the Montessori Method) came from Italy?

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    That’s interesting, Scott. I never realized the origin of the Montessori schools. Actually I know very little about them or the Montessori method. I went to public school myself and I haven’t reach the stage in my life where I need to think about educating children. From you’ve said about them before, they seem like a great alternative and something I’ll definitely research.

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  • http://www.buildyourlifetoorder.com Mark McManus

    This a well thought-out article John. The evolution of consciousness is a very slow process. We’ll get there but in the mean-time mankind certainly hurts itself with the traits of its evolutionary past. Great work!

  • http://www.brunchma.com/~acsumama/blog Stentor

    But once man began to practice agriculture, he attained leisure and became susceptible to boredom.

    Actually, anthropologists have quite clearly shown that the introduction of agriculture leads to less leisure time. The only advantage to agriculture is that it allows you to feed more people — so if an agricultural society has a population crash, they’ll often revert to hunting and gathering because it’s easier and gives you more leisure time.

  • Pygmy Loris

    I’m here via CoG and I second Stentor. We know that h/g had a more leisurely lifestyle; the change in the switch to agriculture concerns the allocation of leisure time throughout the day in larger chunks, but a smaller total.

    As for your male provisioning model, that’s not the way any hunter/gatherer group I’m aware of. In most hunter/gatherer groups, the females provide more than half the caloric intake b/c hunting is a largely hit or miss scenario.

    Also, in great apes, females provide all of the food for their dependent offspring. Males do give females meat, theoretically for sexual favors, but the vast majority of calories come from female provisioning.

  • Pygmy Loris

    Oh, that should say, “that’s not the way any hunter/gatherer group I’m aware of works”

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Loris,

    You may well be right about the hunter gatherers. I really don’t know all that much about the subject. The example was primarily speculative, with the purpose of emphasizing the physical difficulty of primitve life.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  • Pygmy Loris

    Don’t get me wrong, life was physically demanding back then, but still just a few decades ago. My grandparents were sharecroppers….man did they have stories!

    But all in all an interesting article.

    Anthropology is my specialty :)

  • Nick Yunis

    Excellent Article.

    Makes you realize why it is good to UNDERSTAND, things, people, cultures, etc.

    Oh, and great looking new site!

    -Nick

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Thanks, Nick! On both counts. :)

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    Nice article. I really love the way of discussion on this blog!

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  • http://www.2knowmyself.com farouk

    but i think there are some ways of making yourself happy that has no bad consequences , at least if done in the right time (not at work :) )

  • Alex

    It is possible to change human nature, to evolve to the point where the primitive brain is not needed anymore to lead a happy productive harmless life. It, Being responsible for producing instinctual passions (desire, fear, nurture and aggression) and our physical response to them has led humanity to survive for millennia, but is also the cause for all the murder, torture, rape, war, domestic violence, substance abuse etc… that one sees in the real world today. When human beings evolved to the point of reflection, we intellectually realized what these instincts were causing and, being the well meaning race we are, created a higher self to combat our “primitive self”. As I am sure most of us have learned, fighting only begets more fighting.

    If one really wants to change the world for the better like I see in most of my fellow human beings faces today, all one needs to do is change oneself.

    In my experience, studying and intellectually understanding my emotions has led me to realize that they only manifest in response to my beliefs. I believe what is right or wrong, good or bad, and am naturally offended when I am wronged. Through facing my beliefs in what is true head on and seeing them for what they are (not fact, but simply a fervent wish for something to be true) I am able to rid my psyche of these beliefs (or rather the particular belief I am concentrating on). By doing this however, my ‘ego’ as well as my ‘soul’ become increasingly insubstantial in my everyday life experience. And living each moment (not as an ego or soul, but as a simple sensate experience) as my human body, not as someone living through this human body as if it were a vehicle, I increasingly appraise each moment of being alive as perfect. Without my ego or soul to cause its mischief, I live in a state of happiness and harmlessness most of the time, with no sorrow or malice in existence.

  • Buthaina

    Hi John,
    I am a black women, Muslim and from Sudan. According to the average worldwide perception these 3 make me ignorant (or at least less knowledgable) and prone to extremist behaviour. But worst of all, people would think that I do not accept (or at least dissaprove of) ‘Western’ culture. I have felt this when travelling around.
    The truth is totally contradictive. I believe that learning about and experiencing other societies is in itself a “constructive form of excitement” that leads to a better perception of both yourself and others.
    I comment ‘If you would do your share to improve society, seek to understand the world through open-mindedness and investigation’. This will make a BIG difference to millions like me!
    Thank you for this post, it means a lot for people like me

    • Bryan

      I am a white guy from rhodesia.. I agree with you what you said..but… ..? Speak your mind and do not victimize. And believe me the whites in ex rhodesia can tell you alot

    • Bryan

      I will add that maybe my first message would offend you. I apologize if it did. It was not my intention. But generally black people from Africa victimize themselves. But are we not all victims. My qualification in my first message was authentic. White people have also lived strong racism. It is not about being black or whatever. Find yourself in the wrong time in the wrong place with alot of angry people..believe me… The colour of your skin does not matter

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  • http://jason.zwolak.org/blog Jason

    Yes! I like the idea of sending those drives to work for constructive activities. I’d like to add a couple constructive activities:

    Dance,
    Sports,
    Music,
    Art,
    Literature,
    Politics,
    Medical practice,
    and the list goes on!

    I imagine there’s something for everyone to spend that excitement desire on… and they’ll probably be much more fulfilled and happy for it.

    Thanks for your article!

    Jason

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  • http://wisdomangermanagement.com/ Craig

    Thanks for the provocative article John, and for the great discussion everyone. I have one thought to share.

    I think one of the problems we face is that our political and economic systems aren’t set up to dispense a more uplifted education en masse. They are designed to grow materially, but the more human, or “spiritual” aspects of life, get left out of the picture. That leaves it to individuals to do the best we can to uplift ourselves, and share whatever we can with others.

  • http://teambuildingteambuilding.wordpress.com Guy Farmer

    Well said. I’ve always found that the more self-aware we are the more comfortable we feel about ourselves and the better we treat others. The happier and more balanced we feel the less likely we are to make other people’s lives miserable. I like the use of the word enlightenment as well because it suggests that people can rise above basic self-interest or selfishness and move toward embracing others and building empathy.

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  • http://www.angelgroup.org AngelGroup

    If people would turn off the TV and refuse to be fed by the propaganda machine, then we would have a fighting chance. Also, there are so few leaders. Instead we have criminals in positions of power…shameful.

    In watching survivors of domestic violence be re-victimized through the family court system in Hawaii, I’m shocked at the focus on the cash cow mentality rather than justice or “best interest” of the child. Children are sold to the highest bidder by the judges and judiciary. there is no accountability. Every avenue that promises transparency (at least from what I’ve seen in HI) is a farce.

    The most powerful thing I think we can realize is that if we stand together, we are unbeatable. If we allow them to convince us that we’re powerless, then that’s what we’ll become. This is applicable from moving your money out of a “bankster” bank (bofa, citibank, etc) and into a local bank…or refusing to let them regulate your vitamin C, or punish you for being a whistleblower.

    Just say “NO” to apathy. Get out there and do something. Change your world!

  • Nickie

    very interesting!

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  • Aaron Shepley

    i always had a nagging question about the civilization of humanity still having a primitive mindset and that humanity still has the mind set of “win- lose ” when in actuality we all have an equal opertunity in whatever we do without stepping on another to get what we desire

  • Aaron Shepley

    i always had a nagging question about the civilization of humanity still having a primitive mindset and that humanity still has the mind set of “win- lose ” when in actuality we all have an equal opertunity in whatever we do without stepping on another to get what we desire

  • http://screw9-5.blogspot.com/ Screw9to5man

    yeah boredom can be a big problem for me.  I’m always looking for some stimulation, even when I’m about to go to sleep, I have a million thoughts going through my head, just because having an empty mind is too uncomfortable for me and too boring. Of course, this sometimes leads to an inability to get to sleep, and tiredness in the morning.  I’m always looking for stimulation whether it’s through music, alcohol, or whatever. 

  • Jamesfortnight

    Really cool that I came upon this. You’ve put into words a lot of unformulated thoughts and emotions I’ve had for some time. I’ve often thought about how my life would be so much less complicated if I was fulfilling primal needs in a primitive environment, without all the distractions of today. I’m a nature loving person who loved carving sticks and stones and being a wild thing in the woods when I was a child. Later I found myself unequipped to deal with the complexities of modern society and essentially failed. So many things today are useless, and distract us from what our bodies and minds really need, and it’s causing widespread personality disorders imo, or at least similar problems.

    Anyway I agree with you 100%. I think personal education about “good for self/good for whole” is natural evolutionary step. If humans continue to evolve the way they have been, the only step up is in such a way. Thank you for the great article, 

  • Leon Briggs

    Enlightened Self Interest!!! I came up with this same theory a few months ago! I’m so glad Ive just seen somebody else write about it too!   Well I believe there to be 4 types of people.  
    (1) Those who act blindly for the good of a global consciousness or purely for others forgetting their own individual needs(2) Those who act for others for their own self-interests (craving the feeling of being helpful and relied upon)
    (3)Those who act selfishly without consideration or with disregard for the impact it has on others(4) Those who act selfishly for the good of a global consciousness

    Number 4 is the interesting one here.  This is the most effective personality type.  If you look to satisfy your own individual needs you are striving towards happiness for yourself, BUT at the same time you have an ultimate goal of improving the lives of everyone else around you, so you only pursue the most enlightening of subjects that will advance yourself and humanity toward a more positive life for everyone.  

    Think if we were all number fours how much peace and advancement there would be in our civilisations across the world.   We may gain true satisfaction and life purpose.    I would like to start a movement.  Who would like to join me?  I think I might use my band to create the following.  My band is called Retraplayer.  

  • Derp

    It sounds like you think mankind should act more like a
    super-organism. Indeed, life would be much less stressful if we maintained
    cooperation. However, cooperation is almost a direct function of the Nash
    equilibrium. Cooperation requires mutual coercion (traffic lights, banks, door
    locks, passwords, any and all fees, etc…), which is inversely related to
    optimization. I think we strive for optimization at the personal/primal level.
    Humans have coordinated and built cooperation in the most elaborate processes
    in the discovered universe, but we can’t manage it on a social basis (likely
    attributed to the prisoner’s dilemma).

     

    I do think that we can use our primal brains to improve life
    in a modern world. In fact, through the ages we have developed one of our most
    distinct and important tools, Theory of Mind. By increasing Theory of Mind and
    willingness to cooperate for communal good, we might stand a chance.

     

    On the other hand, creating detailed linguistics and
    political concepts has had a tremendous impact on the size and structure of our
    brain. Maybe we are just born to be Drama Queens!

  • Jiaantolentino

    What  a load of crap, you have no basis or support, this is all based on your ridiculous hypothesis. Another stupid plot tied in with “large words” to make you sound intelligent, in order to get people to subscribe to a nonsensical column. Nice try..

    • Federico-Pajaro

      Yeah, stick it to the man! I hate bogus internet articles too.

      • Eric-Nguyen

        Dude they’re using modded controllers its not worth it to argue with this faggot. (bundle of sticks)

        • Bryan

          You know you sound like kerry or obama… Enjoy the propaganda fool. I do not know you nor your age.. But you remain a fool.. Even in your own country you will be a fool. The post questions human behavior. If you do not understand ask your parents to teach you how to respect democracy… For sure you are not qualified to post such a degenerative post. Which however just evidences your foolishness. Click to another site and do not disturb others with your bored idiotic posts

      • Bryan

        Guys… Go to other sites.. Do not pollute internet with boredom and ignorance.

    • Psychologist

      Why do you feel the need to condescend the article? Isn’t it his opinion? yours is just juvenile. But if you’re a kid thats ok… there’s time to grow up.. cheer up kiddo

    • Bryan

      I personally think that you are a load of crap. The question and discussion was intelligently put. Internet is a great tool for common understanding. No need to post your reply. If you do not like .. Go on…. Nobody needs to hear your language nevertheless your crap.. Go on click some where elese

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  • http://www.facebook.com/flic954 Callous Conflict

    whoa! this ISSSS a GREEEAT article, i was just thinking about most of this while i was analyzing a couple human indifference’s people unconsciously have and i stumbled on this…THANKS! thought i was the only one …i wish people werent so We Todded lol. RESPECT. PEACE. -Callous Conflict

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  • Bryan

    Well said.. It is a new era for human beings to able to control and develope this new standard.. Not too easy to do but easy to judge… Pioneers are the cradle and birth blace of human civilization but hav
    e also been jailed for this. Great speach, I am with you….

  • Bryan

    It is also amazing how much antagonism this speach created. Why criticize it ? It is not a declaration of war but just a simple observation… Judge it if you want but do not offend it.. A request for understanding is a pillar of cultural development. You can never win a war with some one who ponders existence. It is not his nature. Learn from it. Learn to question…

  • Bryan

    I have another answer to many of these comments. I will thus reply you. Your comments are so well below the original post. This post was made because the author is questioning our lives. He is not proposing war but understanding to overcome it. How to live a better life… My question is.. Why you are against it ? Does it offend you that the english is intellectual ? Welcome it.. Learn… And probably you will reply me the same.. And this explains everything…

  • Bryan

    Great post…

  • Bryan

    Going back to your post I think that I cannot judge or decipher human culture but for sure boundaries or borders made by leaders are made and protected enhanced with propaganda to ensure their own interests. Seldom this has benefited the simple lives of the residents. For example, Germany is still confused and not proud of what happened. Usa follows them in this new era. I have an observation that people blame their leaders, but is it not them that put them there and follow them… Maybe the simple reason lies in everyday day of each single individual. When it comes to friends and family. The anger in their heart grows so eventually need to find a cause.. Which will be their next victim to make them feel better, in such a way to excuse themselves from their own masquerade..
    People will play their part in the show.. Internet just shows you.
    People having forums of who is better.. “Russia usa or china” but they know nothing… Yet, forgetting that people like them try to make a family and do their best in life to be a better person. But yet your post offends these people because you want to take down the mask.. But this is not possible with the world as it is today.
    People do not want to question or learn in general.. Better to feel them selves great. Why do you think a buch of guys running after a ball have so much importance ? That is the level today.
    Great post

  • leo

    Well there me truth to this article but if all you do is work like the primitive man just to eat and survive life can get very depressing. I know i do. Everyone has vices and has to learn to deal with them in a healthy way. Ever hear the expression “all work and no play make John a dull boy”.