Saturday, June 23, 2007

Man - the Modern Animal

I read a lot of laments about our modern tendency to medicate our psychological and emotional problems, from children to the elderly. A lot of what I read is complaint and protest about the situation. I, of course, have an opinion.

We are the most bizarre form of life on the planet. I believe that we are the only creature that attempts to deny its status as an organism, an animal.

Humans are apes, which are mammals, which are animals. Most animals survive based on their genetically programmed instincts. Most mammals have a mix of instinct and learned behavior. Most apes still have a big pile of instinct, but also learn a lot of things from their families. Then some freak mutant race comes along with a big, complicated, and most importantly, fairly EMPTY brain. A brain that needs to be filled by learned behavior if this ape is to survive.

If you take a random mammal out of the wild and stick it in a cage, providing it with all its physical needs, that mammal will most likely become psychologically damaged over time. They go crazy, because they get zero stimulation. Everything they've been programmed to do is something they cannot do, so they go mad from boredom. They also get fat, because their bodies do not get put to use the way they are supposed to be. Their claws may get too long, overgrowing from lack of use, and curl around, growing into the pads of their feet. Not using their bodily or mental resources causes damage to those resources.

I believe it is the same for us. We developed big brains to figure out what fruits are safe, how to hunt without claws and fast feet, and how to avoid becoming prey. We have taken these enormous brains and put them to some pretty extreme and unnatural uses. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but using our brains for reading, quantum physics, and writing Harry/Snape slash instead of hunting mammoths, finding the best mangoes in the rainforest, and figuring out how to crack open a coconut just might have some side effects. We use our bodies in unnatural ways as well--we're not hunting, running, climbing, working to open up difficult fruits, fleeing predators, and so on. We're sitting for hours on end, or standing for hours on end without rest, or doing the same task over and over, resulting in repetitive stress injuries.

If our bodies sustain damage from our modern, unnatural lifestyle, why not our minds as well? I am not suggesting a return to the stone age. I do, however, want to acknowledge that our epidemic of mental health problems, especially in highly developed countries, is not the result of coddling or weakness, but because we are using our minds in unprecedented (in evolutionary terms) ways. Our schoolchildren are learning to read younger than ever before, doing harder math than thirty years ago, learning to operate computers, and expected to pick up on complex sciences and other subjects. Their brains, which evolved to hunt and gather in forests and grasslands, are being put to some comparitively bizarre uses. Is it any wonder that they experience depression, anxiety, and other ailments at young ages? Is it any wonder that we as adults experience it?

Another way that we have pulled away from our animal roots, and this one I'd like to see change back to the old ways, is our child-rearing. Most mammals have pretty intense care for their young programmed into them. Imagine a cat with her kittens, a mama opossum covered in babies, and meerkats looking out for one another. If anyone has doubts about animals having feelings, the purring of a mother cat as she grooms, nurses, and dotes on her kittens should sweep those doubts away. Kittens get a pretty big investment from their moms; mama teaches them the ways of the world--and when they're ready, she lets them go at exactly the right time.

We have lost that loving touch, I think. I often see American babies treated as fashion accessories, as objects. Too few parents actually HOLD their infants anymore. They're carried around in those basketlike car seats, plunked into prams, or just left somewhere. I can't tell you how many of those car seat basket things I've nearly tripped over in stores because the parent just sets it down in the middle of the floor, and is two rooms or aisles away shopping, without a care in the world. We dress babies up in cute outfits, photograph them in bizarre costumes (Thank you, Anne Geddes), and generally focus on the "stuff" of babies (wallpapering the nursery, a million stuffed animals, etc.) instead of maybe just investing some ATTENTION into them. A lot of American children are attention starved but overprotected. They desperately just need love and affection, but the parents substitute toys and overprotection, not really understanding the difference. The kids don't know WHAT they're missing, consciously, and they don't understand anything of independence, so they grow up neurotic, dependent, and miserable. It's hard enough that we're testing the limits of our intellect with our complex world; we are also growing up in an emotionally sterile one as well.

I really think that medication will help the former issues, but for the latter, there are a whole lot of people out there that need to learn how to love and be loved, and I don't have the answers for that. All I can say is, if you have children, look to a mother cat, mother Egyptian mouthbrooder (a fish), or even the mother alligator to see that nature intended for altricial offspring to be raised with love and affection, and for them to learn independence as well. For those already damaged, I guess you can acknowledge your situation, ask for some help (medication, counseling), and learn to form loving bonds with the people around you. You can take drugs for the problem, but healing will only really come when you share love with someone else.

1 comment:

carrie said...

I wish my brother (who, with his wife, is expecting his first child in 2 months) would read and understand this.

Then again, the fact that he wouldn't explains so much about him.