It’s sobering that I have an expertise in one of the primary tools of the enemy. That would be writing (I’m not trying to make a mystery of this). Why would I consider to be writing the tool of the enemy? And what enemy am I referring to? Am I just being overdramatic? Sadly, if anything I’m underestimating the damage done.
This has to do with being human
Humans evolved to be a storied people. It was a evolutionary advantage to have a malfunctioning sense of time and strong enough social mirroring to make us able to copy any human or non-human behavior. These things allow you to track, to get inside the head of prey, to predict the seed and understand the mushroom. They are traits fed by the sudden freeing of calories by fire. We are creatures whose passions are justifiably aflame.
A set of curious, slightly tool-using apes, close to bonobos, in a food rich area use sexuality to calm down social disputes. In order for this to be successful, they need to read the cues from partners, distinguishing a nope-don’t-touch-me to I’m-going-to-present-grumpy-but-I-appreciate-the-sexing. The first category (nope-don’t-touch-me) could lead to violence and, as a rule, animals tend to avoid / minimize violence for the simple reason that if you get hurt, you become vulnerable.
Given this, sexuality leads to reading more and more social cues, adapting as a group to challenges until fire hits. Fire unlocks calories that allow overused sections of our neural muscle to just go bananas. On the plus side, we can copy other animal’s behavior, even as we copy our own to get even closer to one another.
On the negative, we detach from the natural rhythms of life. Not too badly; just enough to finally unlink time to a physical thing and make it a mental process. Past, future, present, unlocked as concepts. What begins as a way to copy others becomes the nuances of language.
Experience reinforces language
This is the feedback loop; your group creates sounds that mimic the landscape. By understanding those sounds outside of the time they were created in you can use them to describe things before or after they happen. A bird sqwuak that comes when the weather turns sour becomes rain. New combinations create even newer ways to describe the landscape.
With that, the ability to profoundly mold the landscape emerges. However, even as they change the world, people maintain a relationship with it. Our core strength evolved from intimate group relations. While not sexual in nature, relationships with elements of the land are equally as nuanced, from first sensual discovery to “old married pair.”
This is bounded by what’s called Dunbar’s number, basically a limit to what our brain will process as intimate relationships. This caps out at an average of about 150. Some people will exhibit an ability to process significantly more; some less. Above 150, relationships get swept into broad categories. Cliches, really.
The Tree of humanity flowers
Different branches of us wandering around, experienced, shaping, talking. None of them homo civis. One branch’s features became more and more neotonous and they used their tools to form an alliance with wolves. That made the branch adaptable enough to move into niches that climate change was taking away from others.
As other branches started dying, homo sapiens picked them up, breeding with them and folding their genetic diversity within sapiens’ own. Could be useful later, right? And as they spread, as they came in contact with other landscapes, they used stories to intimately adapt themselves to the landscape. Cliches gave people that first entry point to then develop something more permanent.
That was the power of art and language in pre-literate times. A potent story could be told. But unless the landscape backed it up, it became fiction and ultimately faded as the generations passed. This allowed us to alter the landscape to maximize our potential within it, but not allow diseased modes of thought to easily enter.
Writing emerged as the afterthought of a problem
A fraction of mankind developed into homo civis after a climate-changed disaster traumatized them and severed their relationship with the land. The constant toil of civilization required the hierarchy to tally what they had. Monoculture agriculture, as opposed to polycultural gardening, is fragile, after all. One bad crop means serious starvation and the end of a society.
That much is obvious from the archaeological record. Many, many civilizations died of exhausted resources, often in a remarkably short time.
To do a proper tally, mathematics would become more than a hobby. There would also have to be a corresponding system of communication that would distguish “this one” from “those two”. This arose, consistently, in the minimalist art form known as writing.
Writing is interesting because it demands specific interpretation. This curve plus this line equals this sound. A breathy “tuh” and a sharp “ee” for “T”. And these sounds fit together to make words. “Tuh-ee-thuh”. Writing evolved whenever hierarchy needed a power up. And it was, indeed, a truly groundbreaking invention each and every time.
Soon, people began to play around with it. They had no idea how dangerous it was.
The problem is that eyes directly connect to our brain
Vision is, without a doubt, designed to be an incredibly important sense. The receptors hook straight into the pattern processors of the brain. And they are equally as good at recognizing tracks as they are untangling the mixed social cues of a medium-sized group. They search out and recognize intimate differences that they use to build a spear or bring rebellions.
With that in mind, we evolved to do this in real-time. To make use of these senses in a very immediate way. We trained ourselves to be storytellers, to make use of a wider landscape–an imaginary landscape–that could help us transform a ecoregion without permanently damaging it.
But writing hijacks that process. Through repetition and social enforcement, it tells you that these shapes in these ways are important. Worse yet, writing can be duplicated. Like the mountains or the rivers it gives the appearance of permanence.
Now you have two things to compare to your rich internal landscape. A scene of how the world should be or how the world is. Like most decisions made in the world, your reaction will be based on which system rewards you with a benefit. If it benefits you, you will cling to that belief, even if that means rejecting how the world is.
That’s the fundamental problem.
People can justify any atrocity
They can embrace any deviance, if they have a vision that matches it. In the past, there had to be a compromise between the needs of the people and the real world. Writing can take the part of the jealous mistress, while the real world picks at the edges, trying to remind the person why they had a relationship in the first place.
This has progressed, over time, into the mess we have now, with two complete, developed worlds in front of us. One of them is furious with the abuses heaped upon them over millennia and demands to be heard.
The other projects a mirror of what you think you desire. Modified by the push and pull of the needs of so many others. Others who have never met you and have no desire to.
The two cannot stand
You cannot hold a relationship with a fantasy and a reality at the same time, especially when the two conflict. This kind of cognitive dissonance is a feature in profoundly abusive relationships.
It is a setup to kill the world.
I can’t leave this post without posing at least some potential solutions, so here’s what comes up:
- Primarily consume or create writing that embraces and supports the local ecoregion in which you live.
- Minimize the amount you read and maximize your time outside, building a relationship with the land that is stronger than your one with reading.
- Maximize the diversity of what you read. Flood yourself with different viewpoints and challenging ones, especially if you find yourself drawn into one particular direction that doesn’t match the needs of your ecoregion.
All in all, humanity needs to re-forge a path back to its roots: a healthy and immediate connection to the land on which it lives, with the expectation that this will last till death do us part.
Having said that, I wish us luck. We’re going to need it.