One way to view humanity's enormous success story is by focusing on its strengths. It's our imagination that sets us apart from other species. That way that we have of looking forwards toward some possible future, or back to some imagined past, that can help us plan for that future or make sense of the here-and-now. Without imagination, strategic thinking would be almost impossible.
But why did humanity develop this trait to such a degree? I would submit that being a smallish ape in the African savannah made life difficult for early hominids. Stronger and faster predators hunted them, probably more than the other way around. The only way to both survive and thrive in such an ecosystem was to form tight bonds with the members of one's tribe and to co-operate.
Maybe then our imagination was simply a trait we developed to overcome our bodily weakness. A mental compensation born out of fear, ongoing development of which has yielded the entire world and its immediate environment to us. In other words, their bodily disadvantage has given our ancestors an evolutionary incentive to develop this trait, which other top-of-the-foodchain predators such as reptiles or sharks may not have needed. They probably took more direct routes to establish mastery which entailed evolving physical characteristics such as better eyesight, speed, muscle strength, endurance etcetera.
Thus the impetus to be safe and in control has led our ancestors to develop better minds, rather than improved physiques. Whereas I recognize that bigger minds have had a positive net effect on the successful reproduction and expansion of our species' capacities, perhaps not all effects have been quite as positive. For one thing, we are still constantly looking for security. While we would like to think that security is never an end in itself, but rather a means to an end, I would argue differently.
Since our big minds evolved as a way to escape insecure situations, those situations are still what they resolve the best. And since we keep using our minds almost to the exclusion of our other faculties or strengths, we keep perceiving our reality as insecure. This is what has made our species such a successful one, as it has led to the tireless exploration of our environment and the unceasing development of new tools to better interface with that environment. Using our minds has its rewards.
But perceiving reality as inherently insecure while not wanting it to be so leads to stress. Every time that you want things to be different from how they appear to you, stress is a side effect. Your mind has made you fall in love with the idea that you can manipulate reality to do your bidding, while all the while you are still growing old, getting sick and inching closer to death.
There is a certain collective cognitive dissonance here. Our civilisation's maxim is to favour the smart, intelligent and cunning manipulation techniques that drive human progress. We revere people like Steve Jobs and other business tycoons, sports heroes, scientists, astronauts and other explorers. We train our young people to stay in a state of constant mental development.
So, we've built up a culture, ostensibly around progress, but ultimately around feeding our own insecurity. Not being satisfied with the way things are has become a mainstream way of life. Our happiness now depends on some outside event happening, which is one of the hallmarks of an unhealthy life path.
How does your security addiction manifest itself? Share your comments or stories below.