Like Mice in a cage

By Jan Creaser

Intellectual thought is the crowning glory of evolution. The level of self-awareness we, the human species, have achieved fascinates me beyond belief. No longer do we scrounge in the dirt, bite the heads off little animals and defecate wherever we want. We think rationally about numerous topics never before contemplated. We ponder important issues such as, "when does a fetus become a person?," "is there a God?" and "how big is the universe?" And not only are we painfully conscious of our individual existence, we’re also in touch with how others think and feel. We relate to people, empathize with their pain and remain aware of their unique identities.

The evolution of the cerebral cortex has thrown off instinct and replaced it with rationale. Sometimes we may react instinctively, but we’re often quick to intellectualize our feelings or actions to discover the root from which they stem. Instead of swinging wildly from one state to the next, we modify our emotions internally by changing thought patterns rather than waiting for an external event to prompt change. Wow, we’ve come so far.

Too bad the amazing cortex sometimes can’t compensate for the stupidity of rationalized emotion. For all our ability to intellectualize and philosophize about the state of our existence and our rights, we still manage to commit heinous acts against fellow humans. Recently, a man got beat up for a slice of pizza. They demanded his pizza slice, he refused, they roughed him up, knocked him down and when he finally got up, dazed and confused, his pizza was gone. Oddly enough, they didn’t even try to get his wallet. Crazy? Yeah.

Meanwhile, around the world genocide reigns, religious factions fight for control of whatever holy land is in question, women are treated as non-existent citizens and violent crime is rising. What’s wrong? Is the world too small for a growing population? Are we being forced to regress to homicidal instinct in order to preserve who and what we can? Perhaps the gene pool’s been stretched just a little too far-sort of like the way mice start to kill each other when you put too many in one cage.

And all the while, many of the fights around the world are fought on a seemingly intellectual basis. It’s not about survival of the fittest, it’s about the survival of "who’s right." Around the world "the cause" has been intellectualized, propped up by emotion and fed to the people in lethal doses. After all, if the president says it’s okay to kill your neighbor, it must be okay. He wouldn’t be president if he weren’t a smart man. Yeah. I guess.

Philosophers argue daily about right and wrong. Many believe there are certain moral standards that supersede societal belief systems; that there are fundamental rights for all human beings. These theories must lie in our ability to empathize with others, to comprehend others’ pain, and to know that the pain we feel is surely felt by others. Still, despite centuries of intellectual contemplation, I guess we’re still just animals at heart.

Yeah, I can hear the religious Right screaming now. The Ku Klux Klan in Alabama knows I’m wrong-white is human, the rest are animals. In Yugoslavia killing the people who have lived next door to you is okay because somewhere in the past their ancestors wronged you, even though you mourn when your child/wife/father is murdered.

Think about it. Think about where we’ve come from, where we’re going, and why we abhor destruction and death, yet continue to propagate it every day. Perhaps the very reason it continues is because we’re flawed. Perhaps we’re not the perfect creation fallen from grace, but an imperfect biological being still trying to get as far away as possible from the primordial ooze. Maybe this interim stage between instinct and intellect is the adolescence of the human species, something we must learn from, grow into and eventually grow away from. I hope that’s the case, otherwise, why do I spend my days here thinking?

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