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.