In the beginning, God made all of the creatures of earth. And then He made man.
Man was special, different, unique and gifted with that divine spark that comes from the knowledge of good and evil. He was master of every beast of burden, lord over the fish of the seas, king of the world. He was separate from the animal kingdom, above it. The things that drove and motivated mankind were inspired by a higher power and thus different from those that move the creatures of the field and forest.
It’s little wonder we are so confused about ourselves.
Religion is certainly a nice thought and chocked full of lovely stories, and if you derive a sense of purpose and fulfillment from these stories then far be it from me to try and force my beliefs on you. Carry on.
But if you have long since lost faith in this pleasant fiction, then how else can you explain your motivations, feelings, your sense of identity?
Here is a thought experiment. Pick up a pen, and then let go of it. Try it a hundred times if you like.
Each and every time, the pen will fall to the ground. This is an immutable law of physics, by which the pen’s behavior is bound.
Now, why do many of us suppose that these immutable laws, governing all of creation, stop where the human brain begins?
Your mind is infinitely more complex than a pen to be sure, but that does not mean that there isn’t a set of laws governing the way it works, even if it is an infinitely more complicated process than gravity. We are governed by the laws of biology, of mammals, of humans. It can be easy to forget this, to obscure it with fantasy, or to outright deny the truth of it.
Because of course, this leaves open quite a few harrowing questions about free will. Without descending too deeply into philosophy beyond our scope, the best way to explain might be to say that we are a series of complex chemical reactions, the details of which are more mysterious and deeply buried than the bottom of the world’s great oceanic trenches. The human mind will probably only be explored long after every bit of sea floor is open for viewing on the latest iteration of Google earth.
So then, what can we hope to accomplish once armed with such a cynical and cold worldview?
For one thing, we can start to understand what we are in a very real way, with no hopeful lying involved. We can become conscious of our place in the world, our motivations, our blind hatreds, our burning passions, our embarrassments, our successes and our failures. All of these human things are quite suddenly put into a powerful context which cuts through a hundred percent of the bullshit and displays the human experience at its most primal and real— something that we can then create, mold, shape through concrete action rather than dull with the opiate of fantasy.
When we look at ourselves as having a divine spark, some magical and ephemeral soul that is elevated, we might easily grow confused about our purpose. We begin to feel that we owe some higher being, that we deserve true love, that life goes on forever if only we ascribe to certain moral codes which other animals have created in order to further their own power over the masses. I would argue that while some will glean great happiness from having faith in such things, it will inevitably cause a lot of confusion in others who will spin their wheels striving after the real world equivalent of these ideas, which they ultimately may not find. Such a thing can crush a spirit quite quickly, and leave someone feeling frustrated or bitter. After all, if you are told your whole life that true love exists and then you don’t find it as existing in the actual world, it is only a matter of time before you either start blaming yourself, or the world that doesn’t love you like you’ve been taught you so rightly deserve.
At its heart, the human animal philosophy is not hardcore atheism or absolute cynicism. In fact, it doesn’t necessarily preach anything other than simple defamiliarization.
The ability to defamiliarize yourself from the world, from yourself and others, is a powerful one that can singlehandedly alter your outlook on life if practiced assiduously enough.
Let’s look at an example of what this means.
A young man finds himself in a nightclub trying to meet women. He attempts talking to them but can’t understand why he continuously gets the cold shoulder. Believing he is entitled to true love, as society has taught him, he gets frustrated, takes it personally, gets very down on himself, and gets desperate. This negative aura then causes him to have even less success, and to subsequently become more depressed and alone. He is now an unhappy person, an animal without a mate, a bonding creature without a bond. When he asks people what he is doing wrong, he gets the same dull and useless answer: “Just be yourself”.
Imagine this same young man in the nightclub took the time to step back and look at the situation with defamiliarization in mind. What he would then see is a room full of animals in the midst of a very primitive mating ritual, where the biggest and most dominate male animals are going to use a mostly physical language to attract the most feminine and fertile women. It is what it is, and getting mad because you have been taught to expect more makes very little sense.
Thinking like this, the young man might learn to not take things so personally. To realize what issues about himself were not working in this particular situation. Perhaps he isn’t very physically suited for attracting women in this kind of situation. He decides that his humor and quick wit would be more likely to work, and thus he needs to find a more low key location to meet women, one without the bright lights and thumping house music. He joins a club, and works on being as charming and funny as he can. He refuses to be a victim, and instead finds a way to get the things he wants, all thanks to stepping back and looking at the situation more objectively.
By cutting through the niceties we have been taught to believe about the world and humanity, we can get a clearer picture of almost everything. We are all inculcated in ways that we may not even realize, and it will take a lot of time and effort to totally defamiliarize yourself with the world completely enough to get a better picture of what is really happening around you. It is often a cold and sad life, if looked at objectively, but better to know it for what it is that to let your mind run amok with pretty delusions. Once you have your feet firmly planted in reality, you can indulge yourself in whatever pleasant thoughts you want and enjoy a bit of blindness now and again as a nice part of the human experience.
But you will know – and once you know, life can be however and whatever you want it to be.
Strive to know.