In our attempt to be tame, we are out of control. Each solution is a new problem. One that keeps us endlessly ill, in our desperation for immortality. Our overcrowded survival, disconnected from ecological balance, herds us into shrinking territory. There is no time or space to roam. In our genius and forethought, we fail to recognize our biological reality. We are tribal but tribe-less. Over-fed, but hungry. The animal under the clothing, a primitive genetic coding, is rattling in its cage. An organic intelligence, deeply puzzled by the era it awakens in.
I encourage every curious mind to read Desmond's insightful works The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo. The journey through these pages dissolves the veneer that modernity has moulded around our minds since babyhood. That journey inspired my summary above, on the current nature of modern man's predicament. Suddenly what you are has been candidly spoken to you for the first time, and it wasn't your mother or father to share such obvious insights. At once, what I've always suspected, from underneath the layers of deeply-rooted cultural teachings was being admitted. "Oh, every other living, mating, reproducing and dying organism you see around you? Yes, you're one of those." Though ego-shattering, it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard. I was emotionally-ignited by the unrestrained and eloquent manner in which these honesties were explored and communicated.
Since I was a child, I remember the answers to my queries about reality always seeming to carry with them a startling number of contradictions. Ones we could encounter daily and were taught to go on about ignoring. Seemingly confident as they were, I had to suspend my critical faculties (which were perfectly acceptable to use for technical means) to properly play the evolved human game of mental-gymnastics. Peering in at our species "from the outside view," yes, I can see the function of this mental mechanism. Knowledge of mortality is a rather big pill to swallow. Today, I suspect it is at the core of man's inability to recognize his place in nature. It is remarkable to witness how un-curious a mass of Homosapien civilization remains, no matter the incredible technologies delivered to them by the same rigorous truth-seeking methods that have started to reveal the "secrets" of our biology. Inheritors of modernity needn't bother to spend their anxiety-inducing, over-worked existence learning the miraculous intricacies of the device they use to operate their daily lives, nor the methods of rigor that produced it. The questions aren't bothered to be asked. For either lack of interest or the need to retain a traditional community frame-work that relies on humanity being the product of an eternal father-figure (an illuminating visual provided by Desmond). The self-preserving strategy seems to have been of great cooperative-survival benefit. Perhaps our capacity for cognitive dissonance is of wonderful use to us. While inquiry reconstructs the pieces behind the scenes, our widely-accepted displays of self-coddling happily cling.
As a late twentieth-century-born human, living in the dawn of opportunity for great discovery- I have always found the primitive stories unfulfilling. There is a grounding relief found in a deeper understanding of the predicament the most accomplished species on the planet finds itself in. A truly humble endeavor that encourages us to continue to dig into the mysteries of existence, while accepting the vast connected branches of life that surround us on the carbon-based tree. That true place of belonging, rooted in the findings of genetic sequencing, embryology, biochemistry, biogeography, and astrobiology is remarkable. The void between what we have been able to probe and what currently remains out of reach, need not be filled with the presumptions that our ancestors have passed down to us. There are many unknowns and that is exciting.
It's difficult to articulate the privilege I feel- to know I have shared an overlapping scope of existence with the man that wrote these books; a human, so intellectually curious, insightful and brave. In observing and conveying the 300,000 ft view of humanity, an intelligent product of Planet Earth, he's captured a glimpse of our species that many will never have the privilege of seeing. For me, it's been the opportunity to peer into our most accurate mirror and accept whatever is looking back at me. Remembering growing up, I have this visual of myself, walking through childhood into adolescence, deeply confused by every turn of biological development that came along with another set of nonsensical instruction manuals. Observing instincts, behaviors and tragedies that could not sensibly align with the perfections described to me. They all failed to mention I was an organism- of the female hominid kind, rather than a perfect, immortal being. Through puberty into a delayed adulthood, I carried on- my curiosity dwindling to a faint glimmer. It wasn't until stumbling onto science books and lectures between my mid twenties and turning thirty, that I could begin to explore the mysteries of existence and the moment of the human species that I occupy. My sense of daily gratitude, wonder and excitement for life have been gifted back to me and it continues to impact the course of my life for the better.
The world opens up again. And it's a stunningly beautiful privilege to see it.
"The zoo world, like a gigantic parent, protects its inmates: food, drink, shelter, hygiene, and medical care are provided; the basic problems of survival are reduced to a minimum. There is time to spare. How this time is used in the non-human zoo varies, of course, from species to species. Some animals quietly relax and doze in the sun; others find prolonged inactivity increasingly difficult to accept. If you are an inmate of a human zoo, you inevitably belong to this second category. Having an essentially exploratory, inventive brain, you will not be able to relax for very long. You will be driven on and on to more and more elaborate activities. You will investigate, organize and create and, in the end, you will have plunged yourself deeper still into an even more captive zoo world. With each new complexity, you find yourself one step farther away from your natural tribal state, the state in which your ancestors existed for a million years.
The story of modern man is the story of his struggle to deal with the consequences of this difficult advance."
- Desmond Morris, The Human Zoo P.9
"I knew that many people resented being called animals, as though this was in some way disgusting–an insult to human dignity. Since I had always loved animals I found this rather depressing. It meant that such people had a low opinion of the other members of the animal kingdom. For me, it was just the reverse. Before I wrote The Naked Ape, I had preferred to study other, more beautiful and more fascinating species. Now, at last, I was prepared to elevate the human species to the level of one of my beloved animal forms. Of course, I guessed that I might shock some of the starry-eyed escapists–people who were still gullible enough to believe the old fairy tales designed to keep superstitious medieval peasants in their place–and I also suspected that the deliberate frankness of some of my statements might prove distasteful to the more sheltered puritans. But I was in no mood to compromise or to soften my message. I wanted to tell the truth as I saw it, bluntly and straightforwardly, with all the usual 'waffling', side-stepping and philosophical smoke-screening swept away. The ape was naked, not merely because he had lost his thick coat of fur during the course of evolution, but also because I intended to strip him bare on the pages of my book and show him as he really is–a remarkable, ingenious, brilliant animal. No less and no more."
- Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape, New Addition Preface
"We have, in our relentless social progress, gloriously unleashed our powerful inventive, exploratory urges. They are a basic part of our biological inheritance. There is nothing artificial or unnatural about them. They provide us with our great strength as well as our great weaknesses. What I am trying to show is the increasing price we have to pay for indulging them and the ingenious ways in which we contrive to meet that price, no matter how steep it becomes. The stakes are rising higher all the time, the game becoming more risky, the casualties more startling, the pace more breathless. But despite the hazards it is the most exciting game the world has ever seen. It is foolish to suggest that anyone should blow a whistle and try to stop it. Nevertheless, there are different ways of playing it, and if we can understand better the true nature of the players it should be possible to make the game even more rewarding, without at the same time becoming more dangerous and, ultimately, disastrous for the whole species."
- Desmond Morris, The Human Zoo, p.10
"We are still tribal animals. We are still dragging with us that genetic inheritance that we have. Even a space ape must urinate. We are still animals. And because we are such extraordinary animals, such incredible animals, we tend to forget that. And we have to remember that we have these tribal instincts; these deep emotions to form pairs, to love our children, to be aggressive toward our enemies; and all these basic emotions are simmering away underneath the surface of all this inventiveness; and it’s constantly going to cause problems unless we respect them. And it’s going to be a fascinating struggle and the one thing that makes me really cross is that, at the age of 86, I’m not going to see it."
- Desmond Morris, Interview for Web of Stories
- Spend time in the natural world. As close as you can get to it. With just your senses.
- Put devices away when around loved ones. Even those you see every day. Apologize when you forget to.
- Allow yourself to feel discomforts. Observe them: cold/hot outdoor temperatures, laborious work/exercise, unfamiliar social encounters.
- Read books.
- Pay attention to what you are consuming regularly. Feed yourself like a living organism that requires nutrients to function successfully.
- Pay close attention to what your body is telling you about its current state, within the context of being a biological machine.
- Notice when you're self-soothing with eating/drinking and phone/social media use. Ask yourself why.
- Notice when you're scrolling and stop yourself. Hide your device from yourself. Go outside or do something physical and productive.
- Remind yourself of what you are grateful to have. Often.
- Be curious about others.
- Question what you think you know/believe.
- Look for new things to learn and try.
- Aspire to fill the gaps in your understanding of the natural world. Do it often for a healthy dose of gratitude and fulfillment.
- Notice and face your short-comings/bad habits head-on and take action to improve. Enjoy the power this gives back to you.
- Walk daily.
- Avoid window-less spaces.
- Do something physical. Especially when you feel tired after having not used your body much throughout the day.
- Test your ability to pay attention to others and what they are saying/doing.
- Watch other animals in their daily lives.