Saturday, December 23, 2006


In totally random order, here are a bunch of pieces of the human experience and how they fit with the idea of a need for Security and Significance.

Rules in general. We’re mad for rules, whether they make sense or not. We’re so afraid of the slippery slope that leads to anarchy that we’ll permit grave miscarriage of justice in the name of The Law – we say things like “Yes, it seems unfair, but he broke the law.” The Bible says law was made for man, not man for the law, but as often as not the law is our master rather than our servant. Especially in the USA, Rule of Law is a big deal. Why do we have traffic lights? To avoid accidents. But at 3am when we’re the only car on the road, we STILL obey the light because we know our society is so nuts for rules that – absurd tho it may be – a cop may actually ticket us.
We try to control fate by passing silly laws (eg, drowning warning label on 5-gallon buckets), thinking we can legislate security.
We attach part of our tranquility to rules about *grammar*, for heaven’s sake. As if how someone else pronounces “often” is actually important to our own lives.

Religion. You can fill in the blanks here as you like.

War. Talk about a sense of purpose! A Cause! Honor and heroism! It’s true that war goes against our Security/Survival instinct, but usually it’s only a fraction of the population who are actually in danger of losing their lives, and guess who those people are? A large percentage of them are people for whom Significance carries even more importance than for the average person.
And if we feel we’re *forced* into war, that’s the best of all, because it puts war on the side of Survival/Security as well as Significance. Guess if leaders ever try to drum up support for war by making it feel inevitable, or necessary for national security…

The 3rd Reich. By setting up a common enemy, Hitler simplified life for the population – besides allowing people to externalize their unhappiness, he gave them Certainty.
But that aside, think of the sense of Significance – the Nazis had awesome uniforms, their marching kicked ass, and the Group Membership aspects of being a stormtrooper must have been incredible. Imagine being part of a group of fighting men, 5,000 boots hitting the street at exactly the same instant, admired and feared by everyone – it would be hard to overestimate the draw that would be to people. Especially if you didn’t know anything about the camps, and felt aggrieved anyway about real and imagined wrongs committed against your country by the rest of Europe after WWI.

Sports. We play because sports are fun, and they’re good for us. But we bring more passion to it because it provides us with community/group membership, meaning, purpose.

Fandom. People attach completely irrational amts of emotion to events and teams that they have no actual interaction with in real life, and whose won/loss record wouldn’t affect them in any meaningful way if they chose to ignore it. They decorate their homes and bodies with team paraphernalia, they exult or mourn according to the fortunes of players they don’t know, they sometimes get in actual fistfights with opposing fans. What could they possibly be getting out of this? Hint: meaning, purpose, significance.

Blame. We do accident investigations in part because we want to know if we can do something to prevent a particular type of accident in the future. But even when that’s not relevant, we *still* want to know what happened, because we want a reason. When a crime is committed (or if someone is badly hurt, or a lot of property destroyed), we want to see someone pay. In fact, there’s often a temptation to just punish somebody, anybody. If someone accidentally shoots his friend, why charge him with manslaughter? What good does it do? Mostly, it just makes us feel like Justice Is Done, and Actions Have Predictable Consequences.

Formulas. When we watch a movie that doesn’t follow the standard Hollywood formula, it sometimes makes us feel uncomfortable, dissatisfied. Same with books. We like familiar forms, the customs, the archetypes we’ve grown up with.

Clubs. Elks club, Rotarians, Shriners, etc. Group membership/identity and a sense of purpose, of belonging.

Uniforms, ceremonies. We hold little ceremonies all the time. Why? Because it gives us a feeling that something meaningful took place, it grants significance to our actions. You might think it’s just to give credit where it’s due (to graduates, let’s say), but if it really were just that, we’d have private celebrations with the one graduate we know personally. Instead, we stand for hours and clap for people we don’t know, and don’t care about (we probably wouldn’t loan them 5 bucks if they approached us on the street).
We’re goofy for fancy uniforms, for parades, for honoring people and events.

Destiny. We’re so afraid of randomness, of chaos, that we invented words – “destiny”, “fate” – to suggest that the events of our lives are predetermined. If a tree falls on our family, we’d rather believe the gods have it in for us than that something sucky just happened to us at random.

Literalism. People want to take the Bible at its most literal, because that's easy and simple and doesn't require us to try to establish a spiritual connection with God to develop an inner harmony and peace and love for life. if we've got the Big Rule Book, we don't have to search our consciences or pray for guidance or meditate or bring a peaceful spirit to our choices or evaluate individual situations on their merits, etc. It's a lot easier to say "Adulterer? Stone her. World in six days? okay." etc.

Party loyalty. We continue to support Clinton or Bush, and even defend their mistakes, because part of our identity is tied up in being a Liberal or Conservative, because changing our mind costs us some of our certainty, and because we like things to be Good or Bad, not a confusing mix of both.

Justice. When we think of justice, we think of when it’s applied. We call our legal system “The Justice System.” Whether intentionally or not, we don’t consider the fact that much (most?) of the time, justice does not prevail. I’m willing to bet only a minority of murders are actually solved. People abuse, cheat, harm each other all the time with impunity. Seldom if ever are people rewarded/punished in exact accordance with their behaviour. But since we need to feel that things are in order and under control, we don’t believe the above – or at least, we don’t think about it very much.

Drama. I don't care for Keanu Reeves’ acting. But rather than just accept it for what it is, or worst case, don’t see his movies, I turn it into a big deal: I say "I HATE Keanu Reeves; he sucks, he ruined the move Point Break with his terrible acting. Anyone who likes him must not know movies that well." And what did I get out of that? I created an us-vs-them (with me on the good side, of course) and now i have a cause, a banner, a rallying cry.

More later* when I'm not falling asleep...

*I'm sure you're happy to hear


At Sat Dec 23, 10:57:00 AM PST, Blogger SoozeSchmooze said...

So detached and completely objective you are in these postings Bryan...guess you are just giving us the facts here...I believe a lot of people rise above this mentality...our time of existence on this planet/plane is so short when compared to ALL time seems it would be wise to not waste one's time being content where we are...but seek to move above and beyond our comfort zone..

At Mon Dec 25, 05:58:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

Don't know if these numbers are correct but they sound authoritative:

"1970’s - The percentage of murders that went unsolved in New York is 37.6%.
1980’s - The percentage of murders that went unsolved in New York is 31.2%.
1990’s - The percentage of murders that went unsolved in New York is 35.2%.
2000’s - The percentage of murders that went unsolved in New York is 40.2%.*"

If that holds up nationally, a minority of the murders go unsolved. One of the other points made in this discussion was that as number of murders go up, the rate at which they're solved also goes up.

At Mon Dec 25, 05:59:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

Sorry, in the interest of full disclosure, that last comment and this one is from DanAgonistes not Unca as I'm using his machine.

At Tue Dec 26, 02:30:00 PM PST, Blogger blogball said...

Destiny. We’re so afraid of randomness, of chaos, that we invented words – “destiny”, “fate” – to suggest that the events of our lives are predetermined. If a tree falls on our family, we’d rather believe the gods have it in for us than that something sucky just happened to us at random.

This reminded me of a scene right at the of the movie Forest Gump when Forest is Is contemplating
life and speaking to his wife at her graveside.

(I looked up the exact line)

"Jenny, I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time".

At Wed Dec 27, 09:33:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

Thx for comments.
I'm not smart ma-an. I just throw this stuff up there...
Unca/Dan, thx for the correction on the murder-solving rates. For me, it doesn't weaken the point substantially, but I'm glad that now I can talk X% less rot than before...


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