There is a famous story that we study in graduate school. It involves a mature male in a position of power named Yeroen. He was the leader of his tribe. After a brutal fight, Yeroen lost his position of leadership to a younger male named Luit. Afterwards, Luit delighted in humiliating his former leader. He would shame him in public, and most painfully to Yeroen, he would do so in front of the females of their group; females that Yeroen had been dating, and with whom he had enjoyed sex. This made Yeroen angry, and soon he was plotting his revenge.
Yeroen enlisted the alliance of a young male of the tribe named Nikkie. They formed an alliance. According to the terms of this alliance, they would join their forces, and connections in the group, and topple Luit as leader. They agreed that Nikki would become the next leader, and Yeroen would become his second, and his advisor. And, most importantly, Yeroen, having returned to a respected status, would again have the choice of which females of the group to date, and have sex with. With this agreement in place, they gathered their resources, and attacked Luit.
They won. Luit lost the position of tribe leader, bruised, and humiliated. Nikki, and Yeroen occupied their positions of power. However conflict soon erupted. Nikki became resentful of Yeroen’s renewed access to the females in the group. He had promised Yeroen that he would have the first pick of them, in exchange for the position of leadership that Nikki held. But now Nikki grew jealous, and posessive. He confronted Yeroen, and broke their agreement.
Yeroen responded by attacking Nikki. Since his return to a position of influencial status, he had formed alliances with the most influential females in the tribe, in exchange for privileges. Now they joined him in his attack, and Nikki was also soundly defeated. Once again, Yeroen took his place as leader of the tribe. Having grown in wisdom, and political saavy.
This story is completely true. But, I think that doesn’t surprise you. It is a story that I have witnessed, with many variations, through my life, and I am sure that you have too. It is a story made up of common themes: political intrigue, sexual, and power hunger, violence, and betrayal. A story which elements are present in the daily news. A story that gets played out in congress, in the pages of our magazines, and in our workplaces. Played by our leaders, our celebrities, our bosses, our friends, and sometimes ourselves. What may surprise you, however, is that Yeroen, Luit, Nikki, and all the other participants in this story are apes. They are chimpanzees.
It is not surprising that monkeys act as humans, it is more surprising how humans continue to act like monkeys.
Surprising because Nature has built a human brain that has evolved from a basic survival machine to an amazing mechanism capable of integrating instinct with reason. Capable of checking animal urges with noble longings for love, justice, and spirituality. An amazing machine, guided by an operating system programmed to guide us to survive, succeed, attain fulfillment, and joy. An operating system designed to lead us to what is good and authentically human: Natural(with a capital N.) Yet, we don’t give up living like monkeys; living according to the demands of our monkey selves (natural with a small n).
However, even when Nature has given us this wonderful equipment, and operating system, the people in our lives, our culture, our circumstances, and ourselves, have the ability to affect our human Nature’s original code. Faulty beliefs, traumas, and irrationality get written into our minds by adversity, and ignorance. And, they become viruses that harm the working balance of the human mind. Viruses that create separation between our instincts, our intellects, and our souls.
This separation can imprison us in the most basic levels of our minds (nature with a small n). Imprison us under the dictatorship of our most basic instincts: the dictatorship of the monkey self; the part of our mind that lives under the same urges that guide the behavior of Yeroen. And, it keeps us prisoners there by separating us from another part of our minds. Another part of our mind that reasons, dreams, and can see the possible; human evolution’s latest gift to our race.
This part of our mind mediates our urge to dominate with compassion, our urge to possess with charity, our urge to aggression with restraint. This part of the mind, mediates the passion of the animal into art, poetry, and music. Mediates the urge to conquer into scientific pursuit. Mediates the pursuit of self gratification into altruism, for the sake of the race, and its own survival. The mind that has both of these parts working together is truly a magnificent thing. And, the human being that possesses one in good working order is the happiest among us; for s/he is the culmination of the goal of human evolution.