I was once in the enviable position of watching animals all day and being paid for the privilege. And, like most visitors to the zoo, I was obsessively fascinated by primates. Their almost-human appearance is enthralling, grotesque, delightful. They present an irresistible mirror in which to contemplate our own behaviours.
There’s the opposable thumb thing, the relative baldness and the advanced engineering skills. All interesting evolutionarily, but not worthy of much internal examination (‘should I, shouldn’t I, grip a fork?’ *yawn*). More intriguing are those human choices which remove us further and further from the gentle lolling content of a gorilla group.
Literal naked abandon seems an ideal way to strip ourselves of the trappings, psychological and physical that we imagine cause our stress and anger. But I suspect real contentedness requires more than hairy legs, cold showers and lentils in a naturalist playground. The complexity we feel acutely and collectively is not about living on or off the grid, so much as knowing what grid we belong to.
If we believe Survivor, *ahem* a jungle-boy lifestyle guarantees a hot tan, bikini body and plenty of opportunities to become spiritually, motivationally, sensationally and gravitationally connected to our natural world. Like our primitive forebears, the contestants learn to make fire, food and shelter, albeit under the watchful gaze of a camera crew or three. They’re self-sufficient and have no time to worry. It’s liberation and happiness, and all without popping a single Zoloft.
Oh, how I’d love to run away and live in harmony with nature. I could be so satisfied if only I was more like that dude on TV who keeps cool by pissing on his hat. Yummy. But I don’t think I’d be enlightened even if I could live on a little island of weird. For one, I don’t want to wear a piss-soaked hat or kill my own dinner. In fact, I kinda like my ‘trappings’. Heat, light, books, nutella, cars and even… my laptop. Sure, it’s not how the monkeys live, but it works. I can be much more than a cave-chick in so many ways. And I can do it without stinking up the place. Sorry Survivor dudes.
The danger I perceive for us modern ‘evolved’ monkeys is how far we have come from feeling that we are part of the same species. The easy relationship of belonging cannot be manufactured on a TV island. Nor is it simple to create in one’s own life. Acceptance of our own kind, and a willingness to be a part of a community is a real choice when we could each comfortably survive on our own.
Us humans are experts in creating isolation: along ideological grounds, physical, cultural or generational differences; perceived threats to our power and well-being. He’s not my type. She’s not my kind. They aren’t my sort of people. It’s in our minds, it’s on TV.
I’m not a belly-scratching, sky watching, fuzzily content ‘human being’. I am a sub species, with parameters like this: female, late 20s, well-educated, creative, likes: sushi, books from the ‘literature’ section, the English countryside, does not like: alcoholics, mushrooms, death-metal music or leggings. This is just a start. Needless to say it’s a pretty specific criterion set.
Not a danger in itself – choice is a gorgeous, enriching part of life; decision making is the most powerful tool we have to create change. And I would not wish for a world in which we were all subscribers to the same text. The danger as I see it, is making the decision to exclude those who don’t fit. Our judgements are too quickly made and those we meet are assumed friend or foe based on the species we assign them to. They might not be our exact sub species, but we have the same baldness issue, the same cars, computers and complexity.
It’s a true challenge to seek common ground rather than pick our differences. Since we’re not the ones living behind bars it’s only our actions that can create a common place to be just human together. That would be monkey magic.