A Species In Denial—Resignation
Trying to confront the human condition within
Significantly, in addition to struggling with the unacknowledged and unexplained question of why the world around them was divisive when they expected it to be integrative, young adolescents faced another difficulty—that of understanding their own non-ideal, divisive state.
Before looking at this difficulty, it is necessary first to explain how young adolescents became upset—hurt, corrupted and divisively behaved—in the first place.
While humans were living in denial of the human condition and all the truths that brought the human condition into focus (especially the truth that our species once lived in a cooperative, loving, all-sensitive state), they were unable to see how devastating it would be for infants encountering their immensely corrupted, alienated world from a perspective free of that denial. It was pointed out earlier (in the description of the horrific effect the silence of the resigned adult world had on unresigned new generations) that humans Page 201 of
Print Edition have almost no instinctive expectation of encountering a corrupted, alienated world, in fact, quite the contrary. As briefly explained in the previous essay, and fully explained in Beyond, the corrupted state of humans only began to emerge some 2 million years ago, and only became well established roughly a million years ago, which means that the great majority of our species’ past—from approximately 8 million years ago to a million years ago—was spent living in a predominantly cooperative, loving state. This means our species’ instinctive heritage, and thus instinctive expectation, is essentially one of encountering a cooperative, loving world, a world that is behaviourally completely at odds with the world humans are now born into.
The main assault on an infant’s expectation of a cooperative, gentle, all-sensitive and loving world comes from the inability to treat them in an exceptionally unconditionally loving way. As is explained in Beyond in the chapter ‘How We Acquired Our Conscience’, and as was summarised early in the preceding essay, the prime mover or main influence in the development of our species’ past cooperative, utterly integrated state was the nurturing of infants. It was the unconditional love given to infants, by their mothers in particular but also by their fathers and their society, that gave rise to adults who were trained to behave unconditionally selflessly. This training in selflessness eventually became instinctive and our species became cooperatively behaved and integrated. Tragically, since the necessary battle with the human condition began to develop some 2 million years ago, it has not been possible for any child to be given the amount of unconditional love or nurturing it instinctively expects.
So, not only have infants had the shock of encountering an almost completely corrupted, alienated world, they have also had the shock of not receiving anything remotely approaching the amount of unconditional love their instincts expected. If we add to this equation the extreme sensitivity of the innocent, uncorrupted human, we can start to appreciate just how devastating an experience it is for infants and young children encountering humans’ immensely corrupted, alienated, preoccupied and comparatively loveless world.
Certainly, since the human condition first emerged there must have been some natural selection for individuals who could somehow cope with this shock, so that infants coming into the world today have some instinctive readiness for the horror of the world they are to encounter. However, despite this instinctive ‘toughening’, the shock must still be immense and the resulting emotional and psychological Page 202 of
Print Edition devastation comparably immense. This emotional and psychological ‘damage’ has taken many forms, including block-out or denial of the perceived ‘wrongs’, anger and resentment towards the ‘ill-treatment’, withdrawal, depression, even schizophrenia and autism, whereby children mentally dissociate from the pain. And this has been the lot of all infants and young children since the struggle with the human condition emerged in the human species. We are an immensely heroic species to have endured such angst. This horrific situation that awaited infants was another reason that parents, had they not been living in denial of the horror of their world, would likely have had difficulty mustering up the courage to have children. Indeed, the rapidly escalating rate of adolescent suicide and the burgeoning increase in childless adults are symptoms of a society experiencing an extreme problem with parenting.
The truth is, whatever corruption, ‘heartache’, suffering, hurt and resulting soul-damage that befell us in later life, it was insignificant compared to the soul-damage we all incurred to varying degrees in our first few extremely vulnerable and, as it is acknowledged, ‘impressionable’ and ‘formative’ years. In fact, this major adjustment to the corrupt, alienated world produced what we have referred to as character or personality, each person’s unique version of the soul-corrupted, human-condition-distorted and afflicted state. The die of our character is cast during our infancy and early childhood.
The extraordinarily honest South African writer Olive Schreiner beautifully articulated the vulnerability and impressionability of infants and young children in The Story of an African Farm: ‘The souls of little children are marvellously delicate and tender things, and keep forever the shadow that first falls on them…The first six years of our life make us; all that is added later is veneer’ (1883, p.193 of 300). A similar quote, derived from a Jesuit saying, is read out at the beginning of each of the Seven Up documentaries: ‘Give me a child until he’s seven and I’ll give you the man’. William Wordsworth mirrored this sentiment with, ‘The child is the father of the man’, while the Roman poet Virgil said, ‘As the twig is bent so the tree inclines.’ In recent years a community advertisement on Australian television reminded parents that ‘a happy childhood lasts a lifetime’.
It was during infancy and early childhood—the period when humans first encountered the corrupt world and somehow adjusted to the shocks their instinctive expectations received—that most of the corruptions that have existed in the world were passed on to subsequent Page 203 of
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With this appreciation of the hurt and damage the psyche or soul suffered in early childhood, it is now possible to look at the effect this damage had on young adolescents approaching resignation.
As was mentioned earlier, young adolescents not only discovered the human condition without (the inconsistency of the corrupt external world with the cooperative, loving ideal world), they also discovered it within (their own lack of ideality, their selfishness, their upset anger and alienation arising from their hurt and damaged early childhood). It was the depression that resulted from trying to make sense of this corruption within themselves that finally forced young adolescents to resign.
When they were about 15 years old, humans came to fully experience and realise just how confronting cooperative ideality was of their own upset, corrupted, non-ideal state. Trying to understand a corrupt external world was difficult and depressing enough, trying to reconcile cooperative ideality with their own selfish divisiveness, with the upset anger, egocentricity and alienation within themselves, brought on overwhelming self-criticism and consequent depression and was thus the final straw in trying to resist resignation. Unable to explain their corrupted state—namely the human condition—humans could not disprove the utterly condemning implication that they were bad, evil, worthless beings.
In fact, were the depression induced by this implicit criticism to increase any further it would have resulted in suicide. It was at this crisis point that young adolescents recognised they had no responsible choice other than to concede defeat and take up the tactic of denying, evading and blocking out the cooperative ideal state and truths—and the whole depressing issue of the human condition which that state and those truths were giving rise to—despite how extremely penalised, fraudulent and mind, soul and truth-destroying a tactic it was.
To have resigned and be living in denial of the cooperative ideals of life is to have repressed and thus forgotten just how confronting and condemning innocence and its idealistic world was.
To help resurrect in the resigned adult reader’s mind an awareness of just how exposing and condemning ideality was for young adolescents who were in the midst of resignation, we can look at some of the reactions humans of all ages have had to the world of ideality that innocence represents. These reactions reveal just how Page 204 of
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Bullying in the playground is one such reaction as it is often a case of children with a more hurt background attacking more nurtured, innocent children because of the unbearable criticism the more innocent children represented of their less innocent state. Wearing sunglasses, while practical, has also been a way of attacking and holding at bay the innocence of the wholesome, natural sunlit world. Remember Plato’s analogy of humans living in a cave away from the sunlight?
Surrounding themselves with people, objects and environments that did not confront humans with their own corrupted condition also helped in keeping the depressing issue of the human condition at bay. Even the recent popularity of palm trees in landscaping is to a large degree because they are spiky and punk-looking, objects as alienated as humans currently are.
So important has blocking out, evading and denying the subject of the human condition been for humans’ sanity, so delicate has their situation been, so insecure have humans been that if they were confronted by innocence they would attack and even try to destroy it. An example of this extreme reaction is explained in detail in Beyond, in the chapter titled ‘The Story of Homo’, which explains that hunting animals was an activity largely concerned with the satisfaction gained from attacking the criticising innocence of animals. Certainly most of the food in hunter-gatherer societies was supplied by women’s gathering, which prompts the question of why did men need to go hunting? The answer is to get even with innocence for its unjust criticism of their lack thereof. I remember seeing a cartoon depicting two cement truck drivers gleefully dumping their load of concrete on a tiny road-side daisy. This is merely an adult version of children burning ants and tormenting pets.
The extent of the satisfaction corrupted humans could derive from retaliating against the unjust condemnation that innocence represented is revealed in this comment by W.D.M. Bell, an African big-game hunter of the early 1900s: ‘There is nothing more satisfactory than the complete flop of a running elephant shot in the brain’ (African Safari, P. Jay Fetner, 1987, p.113 of 678). Another sport hunter made his feelings of satisfaction from being able to ‘get even’ with unjustly condemning innocence perfectly clear when he said: ‘Next thing I knew, a large male chimpanzee had hoisted himself up out of the underbrush and was hanging Page 205 of
Print Edition out sideways from the tree trunk, which he was clutching with his left hand and left foot. Looking down my barrel at ten yards was man’s closest relative, an ape, which, when mature, has the intelligence of a three-year-old child. Wouldn’t I feel like a murderer if I shot him? I had some misgivings as my globular front sight rested on the ape’s chest and my finger on the trigger. But then, gradually, insidiously, my thinking took a different turn. I thought of the gorge-lifting sentimentality—most of it commercially inspired—that has come to surround chimpanzees. I thought of the long list of ridiculous anthropomorphic books about the “personalities” of these apes. I thought of that chimp who fingerpainted on TV and sold his “works” for so much money he wound up having to pay income tax. I thought of one ape who was recommended for a knighthood, the ape who was left his master’s yacht, the ape who was elected to parliament in some banana republic; and various other apes who were made astronauts and honorary colonels. Gathering like storm clouds in my mind, these thoughts roused me to such a pitch of indignation that there appeared to be only one honorable course of action. I blasted that ape with downright enthusiasm and have felt clean inside ever since’ (ibid. p.117—118). In Peter Beard’s astonishing book, The End of the Game (1963), he reproduced a page from the journal of the famous African white hunter, J.A. Hunter, where Hunter records having dispatched ‘996 Rhinos’ from ‘August 29th 1944 to October 31st 1946’ (p.137 of 280).
The main preoccupation of humans has been with finding ways to cope with the criticism the world of idealism and purity made of their corrupted, impure, non-ideal state. Evasion, denial and retaliation against innocence saved humans from the suicidal depression that could result from attempting to confront the issue of the human condition. Humans have lived within a tiny comfort zone outside of which there has been mental terror, fearful depression. The horrible reality is that each new generation of humans had to learn this awful truth. They had to accept they needed to resign themselves to a life of denying the whole issue of the human condition, despite the high price involved of dying in soul and mind.
It can be seen from what has been described so far in this essay that, while the innocence of children, like all forms of true beauty, has been one of life’s greatest inspirations and joys, it has also exposed and thus criticised and condemned the no-longer-innocent adult world that could not explain why it had become corrupted. This criticism that children’s innocence presented to adults was yet another contributing factor to the schism that has existed between Page 206 of
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In the final stanzas of his poem Children, H.W. Longfellow (1807—1882) acknowledges the comparative innocence of children and the inspiration that they offer the corrupted world of adults: ‘For what are all our contrivings / And the wisdom of our books / When compared with your caresses / And the gladness of your looks? // Ye are better than all the ballads / That ever were sung or said / For ye are living poems / And all the rest are dead.’
The comic actor W.C. Fields (c.1879—1946) illustrated the confronting effect of children’s innocence, when asked whether he liked children he responded, ‘Ah yes.... boiled or fried’. On another occasion he reported, ‘I never met a kid I liked’.
Living amongst young children is akin to living with the truth. In adults’ resigned state, children’s innocence dangerously exposed the mechanism they were depending on to cope with their non-innocent, corrupted state, which was their denial of the truth that there is an ideal, innocent state. Referring to children as ‘kids’ was really a derogatory, retaliatory ‘put down’, a way of holding their confronting innocence at bay.
These examples show how confronting the innocent ideal state has been to the corrupted state and it was precisely this confrontation—between their own corrupted state and the innocent ideal state that they could still access—that young adolescents found unbearably depressing.