|Do we need to be so screwed-up?|
|Magazine - Book Reviews|
|Monday, 27 February 2012 20:30|
Suki Pryce explains the ideas dealt with in depth in her book A New Evolutionary Perspective on Happiness, O-Books, £14.99.
What a mess we’re in! Modern life is full of problems – in individuals and in society too. Increasingly we see pervasive discontent and unhappiness, addictions of many kinds, mental health problems, damaged and disturbed children, perverted sexuality, antisocial behaviour and crime, cruelty, violence and war. Most people today believe that this state of affairs is inevitable because human nature is intrinsically warlike, aggressive and competitive, for this is what our culture teaches us to believe.
Our roots: partnership societies
Surely it makes sense to ask: does life have to be this way? Was life always like this for humans beings? We’ve been around in some form for at least 100,000 years and more likely around two million: surely we didn’t evolve to live such difficult and dysfunctional lives? If we research a bit more thoroughly, we find that there is a different way of looking at human nature and that, in fact, there has always been evidence – particularly from anthropology – to show that humans are capable of being naturally happy, egalitarian, peaceful and co-operative. Moreover, there is now ever-increasing information from other fields such as archaeology, child development, neuroscience and animal behaviour to indicate that human beings developed into a prosocial species at least 100,000 years ago, and stayed that way until the start of farming about 10,000 years ago. This means that we humans have spent at least 90% of our time on earth in a much happier state than most of us exist in now; and that our species is innately capable of being far more ‘sane’ and unscrewed up than modern society considers possible.
A key factor in creating and sustaining dominator society appears to be the harmful forms of childrearing which are the norm in these cultures and which are radically less nurturing than the “continuum” type upbringings practised by hunter-gatherers. These damaging childhoods qualitatively change what human beings are like – screw them up. Even more unnerving to contemplate is the fact that this screwing-up process is probably actually required by dominator culture for its own perpetuation (because damaging childhoods produce the type of citizens who are susceptible or suited to hierarchical, unjust societies.) This means that dominator culture is – has to be – intrinsically opposed to all attempts to fundamentally improve our childrearing methods or revert to partnership ways (yes, The Big Society is only wanted when it suits politicians…).
What are we to do?
We can’t go back to being pristine hunter-gatherers in an unspoilt, sparsely populated world. But if we start to realise that it’s our birthright to be unscrewed-up, happy, cheerful and free, that’s a first step in steering our lives towards a more partnership-style future.