Apr 21, 2021 • 11M

The Gnōmic: Human Nature Is A Lipsticked Pig

It looks great from a distance, but glance beneath the tarted-up facade and you see the ugly, obscene and gross immorality of human nature

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Larry G. Maguire
The Sunday Letters Podcast is the weekly audio newsletter from organisational psychologist Larry Maguire on the meaning & purpose of daily work and our paradoxical relationship with it. We explore how we may break free from tiresome means-to-an-end labour and take command of their own working lives. Topics include solo working, careers, entrepreneurship, small business economics, society and culture. Content follows the written newsletter, which goes out to subscribers every Sunday.
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A Thought

I’m in conflict. I’m always in conflict; it’s the nature of my reality. It’s the nature of your reality too. To wear the blue or the red jumper, have chicken, beef, or a bag of lettuce for dinner, addressing your own mortality, or trying to solve The Collatz Conjecture - we live in a state of questioning. Life is an unsolvable puzzle, a paradox. Like an infinite Russian Doll scenario, it seems there’s no answer to be found. For if there were, what would be the point to life?

I buy into the premise held by Eastern philosophy that says for every dark there is a light, up there is a down, yang there is a yin, and so on. Duality seems to be a fundamental property of what we call reality. Right now, however, in the affairs of human beings, there seems to be a decidedly lengthy period of darkness. We could argue that it’s several thousand years old, and only in the recent one hundred years or so it has become more pronounced.

Technological advancement has brought about many improvements to our lives, but is it really all that wonderful? We’ve got iPhones and the internet, MRI machines and the Mars Rover mission. You can turn the heating on from your mobile phone and video chat with loved ones on the other side of the world. It looks and feels great on the surface, but we get the sense that there’s something funny going on. We’re amused and entertained to such an extent that we can’t see we may have been duped. Look a bit closer, and society takes on the attributes of a lipsticked pig.

Technology is bringing an end to work as we know it and is wielding increasing command over our emotional states via digital devices. Technology has allowed the efficient commoditisation of the most obscene of human fears and desires and has allowed bad bastards to kill more people in one fell swoop than ever before. Some even argue that the current pandemic has been biologically engineered for the purpose of population control and deliberate cooling of global markets.

I don’t know about that. However, if I was a bad bastard hanging out with my bad bastard mates and we wanted to find a way to take over the hearts and minds of people, or indeed distract them from our genuine purpose, a pandemic might be a good way to achieve it. Alright now, hold your horses there, Tonto. We’re not heading down that road!

Regardless of your views on the pandemic, the situation for human beings globally seems pretty grim to me, and evidence of our collective insanity seems ever more pronounced. Media corporations report selectively and manipulate the news to further their corporate agenda. The third world pays for our first world comforts via shitty wages and poor working conditions, not to mention being last on the Covid vaccine delivery round. Russia, the US, Iran, Isreal, and various other agents wage a proxy war in Syria for first dibs on primary real estate. Profit-hungry corporates take advantage of cheap labour in the poorest countries and take unnecessary risks that pollute the environment. And the most vulnerable in our society are continually ignored by successive governments for the sake of other more worthy projects and initiatives.

These are large international problems. However, add to that local issues such as homelessness, urban poverty, under-resourced mental health services and so on, and it’s tough to pretend the scenario is otherwise. Of course, human beings do many good things for one another, but I wonder are those things merely vain attempts to redeem our otherwise destructive nature. It seems to me that we are a primitive and dysfunctional species. Am I overly negative, or am I exaggerating the state of human play? Here’s what Leo E. Strine, Jr., Chancellor of the Court of Chancery, Delaware, United States, had to say on the matter of corporate greed ten years ago. There’s plenty of evidence for it.

The truth is that money talks, and shit walks. The dominant factor at play in our western industrialised society is the pursuit of profit or the avoidance of loss, not the welfare of our fellow human beings. And here I am, sitting in my living room at odds with the whole thing. I should do something. What can I do? I ask myself. Do anything; the answer comes back. Should I retire or recycle my Macbook? After all, according to reports, a 7-year-old kid had to climb down a hole in Africa to recover the cobalt that makes it work. Maybe the only way to truly extricate myself from the mire of the capitalist system is to pack up the family and move to a remote part of northern Canada. But then I wouldn’t be able to rant on the internet to you.

Fiddling While Rome Burns

I’m not angry; I’m just at odds with it all. I’m split. I can’t stand these political and corporate toe-rags that lie and cheat their way to profitability at the expense of others. I mean, why can’t politicians just make money available for proper youth mental health services, for example? Money magically appeared to deal with the Covid crisis, so why can’t our government build the homes and treatment centres people need? I don’t know for sure, but I’d say there would be very few people earning 80k per and over that would argue with a tax increase to pay for basic services like these.

There’s no escaping the truth of the matter; people like you and me, with all the comforts of our western industrialised living, have a detrimental impact on the planet and other less well-off human beings. I’m trying desperately to find a way to prove myself wrong, but I can’t ignore the evidence staring me in the face.

In an almost unrelenting flourishing of neo-liberal hyper-positivity, certain well-meaning groups suggest that we “focus on the positive.” Ok, that might do us the world of good if the situation was less urgent, but doing a merry dance while Rome was burning didn’t work for Nero and is unlikely to work in this case either. Pretending that you’re not bleeding from the neck when you’re bleeding from the neck points to acute psychopathology and will likely bring about death. So that won’t do at all.

The human race is largely pathological, in my view, and despite being bathed in middle-class comfort, we find we are completely disconnected from ourselves and others. All of this materiality, the pursuit of which we have made the rest of the world suffer, serves not to help us. We are anxious, depressed, neurotic and dysfunctional in so many aspects of our privileged lives, and I’m not so sure it’s really getting any better. So we can think positive thoughts all we like, they serve not to help us ultimately.

A Social Imperative

Generally, I’m not particularly eager to categorise myself, but recently I’m drawn towards social democracy. If I am anything, from a social perspective, I am a humanist socialist, as laid out by Erich Fromm in 1965. According to Fromm, the humanist socialist ideal is “the belief in the unity of the human race and humanity’s potential to perfect itself by his own efforts.” Strict Capitalist ideals, which play out in the corporate legal imperative to deliver value to shareholders, flies in the face of that principle. And it is that with which I find myself at odds these days.

And to the point of today’s thought - the weight of it all can leave us demoralised and somewhat helpless. But we have to do something; otherwise, they walk all over us. Who walks all over us? The people we put in charge of things. They are the one’s we afford responsibility to oversee and administer our affairs, and when they don’t follow through, we must hold them accountable, even if they’d rather not listen to us. After all, they have their own agenda and don’t need the distraction. Most of them don’t follow the social imperative; they follow an elitist capitalist one. Ordinary people get in the way of that.

I’m not talking about rioting and wanton destruction on the streets, although sometimes that’s necessary. What I’m talking about is political and social activism. So that’s something I’m examining now. To be passive, to merely shake my head from the comfort of my couch while browsing Twitter, will no longer suffice.

I should finish by adding, we tend to give pigs a bit of a raw deal, don’t we? Take away our painted-up exterior and maybe they are more civilised than we believe ourselves to be.

A Quote

“Society is an abstraction. Abstraction is not a reality. What is reality is relationship between man and man. The relationship between man and man has created that which we call society. Man is violent, self-centred, seeking pleasure, frightened, insecure; in himself he is corrupt and in his relationship, whether intimate or not, has created this so-called society. We always try to change society, not change man who creates the society in which we live.”
― Jiddu Krishnamurti

A Book

I had a vague knowledge of Abraham Maslow before I began my studies in psychology, and like many people, the hierarchy of needs was my introduction. The problem with this hierarchy is that it’s pop-psychology. In other words, it is a sound-bite, a cheap and wholly insufficient means of understanding human behaviour and indeed Maslow’s theories. Many social scientists discount Maslow on this basis, but the truth is that he had important things to say about the human condition, and we could understand these if we bothered to go to the source. Here’s one of those sources.

An Album

Roger Waters, Amused to death. Released in ‘92, I think it’s still relevant today and arguably more so.

From The Archive

I watched The Truman Show for the second time in a couple of days this evening. It was released in 1998 – imagine that! It's such a great movie with an excellent script and actor in the leading role. Carey understood the metaphor. He knew what the movie needed to portray; I would argue because he perhaps had already lived it. Or maybe he was currently living it. Either way, he played the part well. I believed him. The story attempted to show the thinness of contemporary life, the deception of the firework display, and the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. It is a reality that is ultimately unsubstantial, and in our recognition of such, is it apt to fight or be passive? Let us explore this.

The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness

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