A Theory of Evolution

Much of the literary thinking about prehistory tells us that we have fundamental natures, that modernity has caused us to lose touch with those fundamental natures, but that if we could return to live in accordance with these fundamental natures, we could be happy.  However, if you think about it, happiness may not be useful for the purposes of the struggle for supremacy dictated by evolution.  If we were happy with bananas, then we wouldn’t have gone looking for mastodons, and we wouldn’t have found the niche market of mastodon hunting that enabled our species to thrive.

So it could be that it’s important for the success of the species that we’re not happy. But it would be very important for us to evolve the desire for happiness, and the belief that it’s possible, or we’d also fail as a species.  What’s necessary is that we seek the conditions for happiness, as long as we never actually achieve them.  Better for the species if we’re always anxious about how we’re falling behind, believing we could be happy if only such-and-such.

Likewise: we feel sometimes like we’re in conflict with our essential nature, but it could be that our essential nature is conflicted — by which I mean that opposing instincts might be useful to the species.  For instance, the instinct to wander, versus the instinct to stay put; each confers an advantage on the species (exploration of new territory versus safety, and so on) so if the species had an instinct for one over the other then we’d lose out on the opposing advantages.  So it’s better for the species that we feel a yearning for the road when we’re at home and a yearning for home when we’re on the road — or that what happiness we feel is short-lived, at least.  That way the species gets the best of both worlds, even while the individual suffers.  In other words, believing that the grass is greener elsewhere could be an evolutionary advantage.

And here’s a theory of story-telling, too: a story, on an emotional level, illustrates the impossibility of resolving conflicting imperatives.  For example, the Wizard of Oz: in the explicit narrative, Dorothy wishes she could go to another world, where she didn’t have problems, then goes to the other world, only to discover there are bigger problems there, and returns to Kansas happy to be home.  According to some theories of story-telling, this means she has gone on an adventure to learn something important: there’s no place like home.  But on a visceral level, we feel (according to this theory) that both Kansas and Oz are wonderful, and that it’s a sad thing that she can’t have both.

Or take your classic ‘reluctantly violent hero’ story, like, say, Gladiator, or The Patriot, in which a ‘man who longs only for his family and farm’ is forced to chop up bad guys. The exterior logic of the story is that we’re satisfied that he can finally return to the farm once he’s killed enough people, and the storm is passed.  But the fun part of the movie is the violence, and so we don’t viscerally agree with the explicit assertion of the story — that farm equals good and war equals bad.  We like both worlds.

Applying this theory to Ignorance: the audience should feel a longing to do battle with mastodons just as they feel a longing to be drinking tea on a comfy sofa reading a book.

About Judd Trout

Judd Palmer is one of the Old Trouts.

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4 Responses to A Theory of Evolution

  1. Urvater says:

    Irrelevant, but surely truthful: Herman Melville, in his manifestation of Ishmael, in the book that Melville wrote, watched a (I think it was) “Feejee” islander at work. The native was carving or decorating something. I haven’t taken the time to find the exact passage. I think the native was holding the item, maybe a cocoanut or a piece of hardwood, between his feet, as he worked on it with primitive tools. Ishmael was impressed by the intense, relaxed concentration. He was also impressed by the fineness of the work. He commented to us (he might have switched back to Melville for this) that probably “Albert” Durer would have been in about the same mode when he did his drawings. Melville was really interested in the relationship between primitivism and the heights of modern intellect. About the ability of the human race to attain amazing heights even in primitive conditions, he notes: “What cannot habit achieve?” I myself am kind of aware, even as a totally corrupted modern — even post-modern! — that fine work does come out of a kind of deeply relaxed focus on what is coming out of the unknown — unknowable — within outselves. I would love to see the artist(s) of the Lascaux Caves at work on the stage, with music and lighting and intoxication and scent in the theatre, in a way that allowed the audience to see the images come out of darkness into the visible. (Carl Jung wrote that darkness comes to light only through passion.) Hm. This “intoxication”. It might be a good social statement to have the whole audience totally stoned before the play even starts. Maybe just pump a few pounds of grass smoke into the theatre during the play. I don’t think you need to tell anybody. I’m presently thinking that — being stoned — would be a necessity. Or, what if nobody in the audience was allowed to sleep or eat or see light for a week before the play starts? Or, better still! TELL everybody that grass or mescalin or some primitive dope is being pumped in, and, pump in some weird-smelling smoke. It would work just as well! I mean, especially if the puppets/actors were hirsute! (God, what a lovely word!)

  2. Urvater says:

    My brother once observed, when we were at university, that each individual has an individual stress level. Some have a high one, others, lower. Each person is driven to attain, to maintain, day in and day out, es individual stress level. So, yes, the conflicts are all through us. But the secure guide is that level we seek. If it’s a mix of violence and sleep, good. If it’s a mix of chess and conversation, good. High rolling businessperson, gambler. Professional soldier. Writer. Janitor. Puppeteer. Selling ties in a department store. It’s not resolving conflict, it’s hitting your necessary level of conflict, and managing somehow to stay there. So, maybe THIS is what drove human beings to evolve from bananas to mastodons. Sitting around eating bananas, one primitive says to another, “You know, somehow, this just isn’t enough.” The other says, “It’s fine by me.” The first says, “I want something that, you know, doesn’t just fall off the tree. I want some kind of struggle.” “Well,” says the other, “why don’t you go fight that mastodon over there?” And the first looks at the mastodon and thinks, hm. Looks like fun! Think I’ll try it!” And a few other similarly higher-stress-level individuals, thankfully, go with him for the fight. Lower-stressed people are all stressed out about it, but the higher stress people enjoy that part of it, too. Stir the pot. Plus, shit, there’s fewer and fewer bananas each year, and more and more mastodons. Plus, it’s getting colder, and you can’t wear a banana peel. Go figure.

  3. Urvater says:

    In Jamaica, I bought a “donkey’s tail” (very cheap cigar) from a horrendously ugly old lady who was selling them. For fun I asked her if I could buy HER one, too. She readily assented. I lit up. She worked the end of hers with her gums, unable to bite off the end. The cigar was a mashed up very sticky mess. She handed it to me, and asked me if I would bite the end off for her! This, I did. Gave it back to her. She drew in as I lighted the cigar for her. We both had a really good smoke. Now: why does that stick in my mind? That was fifty years ago! See what I mean? The powerful pull of the natural ugly.

  4. Urvater says:

    There’s two tensions in art. One: within the piece. Two: between the piece and the viewer. I guess One ensures Two, because the viewer has to be attracted. But we can be really attracted to strange and horrible things. So in line with what Judd Trout is contemplating: wouldn’t it be neat if the audience were glued to the edges of their seats, breath stopped, eyes popping, enduring the most gruelling hell anybody could be subjected to, wondering how they (and the creatures in the piece they are inexorably, helplessly drawn to) can even survive the experience? Wonderland is ghastly. BUT: comes the dénoument: shit! We’ve survived! It has all worked out! I never knew that THAT (a discovery that can only come from living 35,000 years ago) (whatever that might be — I know I’m sickly weak on this point) was what we’re missing! A new realization, a beauty, that hits them in the face. A previously unrecognized human essential. Maybe that it’s good to hug really stinky ugly creature people, because they are Life. They are US. The horrible beauty. Like, what if a horrendously UGLY personcreature is disembowelled, croaking, crawling, bleeding, into the audience, pleading (grunting) for help. Tries to pull itself up into the lap of the viewer. Test the viewer. The viewer finds e HAS to return the hug, find help, DO SOMETHING! Maybe the whole tribe has been devastated. Maybe the whole theatre stinks. Maybe it’s quiet as death. Just whimpers. The audience sits there as long as they can bear doing nothing. But there are pleas. Finally, somebody tentatively, frightened, gets up from the audience, and goes over to help, say, a hairy, injured cave child. Maybe a couple of other audience do likewise. But, suddenly, new creatures come in, and are terrified of the strangers. Some kind of horrendous engagement ensures. The audience still in their seats are caught in the middle. And there’s blood and violence and screams. The audience is NEEDED, desperately. Something like that. People come out shaken.