Friday, February 15, 2013

Fear of Smelly, Green Aliens

“It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive manifestations of their aggressiveness.” – Sigmund Freud.

Sigmund Freud was a rather miserable old git. Or so it seems from his writings. For example, he is famous for saying, “Much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness.” Nevertheless, there is always something to be said for hyperbole. It makes us sit up and take notice. It upsets us and makes us want to proclaim the antithesis. And it generally contains enough truth for it to make that annoying ringing sound.

This comment by Freud (above) makes quite a lot of sense, not only from a psychological but also from an evolutionary perspective. Living in a group has obvious advantages: the group as a whole can achieve more than the sum of its parts. No individual could possibly hope to hunt a buffalo using only a spear, but several together can. Hence cooperation evolves, and alongside that, the emotions that are needed to bind the group together. Those emotions include love/friendship for those within the group and fear/hatred of those outside the group. Life’s pretty tough, and competition between rival groups can be fierce. This all makes pretty good sense in a tribal hunter/gatherer context.

Unfortunately, here we are today, still dragging those chains around. Nothing like a clearly identifiable enemy to bind the “tribe” together! Unfortunately, it is usually hate and fear that bind people together. After the fall of the Great Satan (the USSR), the human race floundered around for a while. What do we do, thought the West, now that we have no one to despise, no one to fight? Meanwhile the Eastern Bloc was too busy fighting itself to be concerned with such issues. China and North Korea provided occasional diversions. But it was not until al-Qaeda (whatever, whoever, if-ever that is) reared its beastly head that the West finally had an enemy against which it could (more or less) unite. And the arrogant, wasteful West provided a perfect enemy against which the lunatic fundamentalists of Islam could rally the troops.

What’s to be done? After all, these things start in the schoolyard, when children ostracise the smelly one, or the one whose mother cuts his hair. Children divide into tribes at a very early age. It is a way of establishing identity and belonging. Powerful forces.

What we need, to unite humanity, is an encounter with some smelly green aliens (whose mothers cut their hair): a common enemy to unite us all – sort of, for a while. So, smelly, green, dumb-haircut aliens, don’t say you weren’t warned!


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