Man-Made Alienation by Alex Golding
‘Forgetting pain is convenient.
Remembering it, agonizing. But
Recovering the truth is worth the
Suffering’. Cheshire Cat.
‘I want to forget! Who would
choose to be alone, imprisoned by
their own broken memories’. Alice Liddell
Alienation hits us from the inside out although one may notice it from the outside in. Being alienated is surely a feat known only to man. Our chimpanzee brothers appear not to stroll around the jungle cut off from their deeper sense of selves. A baboon seems not to feel a disconnect with the work it does: gathering food and building shelters. Neither does a fruit fly seem isolated from its fellow fruit fly. These ideas follow Karl Marx in his claim that us humans can be alienated from our true selves, our work and other people. We have become instruments in the vast network of economic enterprise, severed from our roots and the nature that once held us.
A fruit fly
Since the last time I looked, baboons were not in the habit of contemplating their own nature in contrast to that which lies around. A chimpanzee does not ask if it belongs where it does. So, who are we humans? And, how are we so distinct from our animal foremothers and fathers?
For the triumphant rationalists out there, genetically speaking, we are not that different from a fruit fly; we are told apart by the interactions of our proteins. That is where you will find the real story of contrast. The genome and its number is not the key. Genetically man and animal lay side-by-side, nestling into their similarities. A familiar home. Welcome.
My guess is that our human selves arise out of our embodiment and the interplay with the environment. A fine-tuned bootstrap effect: one gently nudging and encouraging the other. Animals cannot help but be embodied since they lack the developed frontal cortex, the extra layer of thought that initiated the emergence of language. Despite Jane Goodall’s attempts, no chimpanzee has ever learnt to embed a thought within a thought, or a phrase within a phrase. Recursion runs the other way. So why is it that we humans, with our fine frontal cortex, become so detached from who we are?
The very existence of civilisation could be the root of our discord. Our industrial society denies certain essential truths about who we are, leaving us empty and wanting for more. It listens. It knows. It provides the answer in distractions to fill our lonely cavities. It glances back as we turn to stone and tells us that we are truly selfish. That is our nature. What a story. What a book deal. What a commodity to sell.
The physician Gabor Mate calls the alienation of which I speak, the egoic mind. It is this bolshie personage that creates a barrier between us, our deeper selves and others. It tells a story. It weaves a narration of want and wanting. What was I yesterday? What am I today? And, what will I be tomorrow? The timeline of our existence is borne from our memories. It slices with our language and intellect to construct the finer details of our lives. And, it is here we surpass our living, breathing primate beings. This is the crowning glory of human kind, our autobiographical selves, yet behind the light lives the shadow of the human ego. It squeezes through the cracks. Our lack of connection allows it to burst forth, untamed. It speaks the words of our conditioning as our habits are placed on endless repeat.
When we live without the observer, the part that notices, our habits swell with pride, gaining ground. They glue us to our categorical selves: what gender are we? What status do we have? What money do we earn? We forget to listen. We forget that everything is in constant flux: moving, evolving. If we could just be still for a moment and find the pulse. Our bodies recreating anew, recreating anew, recreating anew. This is where the baboon lives, I suspect. The baboon does not narrate nor tries to forget. There is no inner narrator that can pull him or her apart. The baboon knows not of this pain because he or she has not lost the connection to their essential self. The baboon has not learnt to suppress.
When our stories overwhelm, we become entrenched in the forgetting and the avoidance of pain. This is the point of lost connection. We then begin our quest to find it in the unlikeliest of places: addiction, chronic illness and our inability to relate. ‘I still can’t find it’, we say timidly. The words barely leaving our mouths. We look for other stories to distract ourselves from our empty lives. We cannot be here; here is too painful, but there is OK. Over there is where the pain ends. The hope of better. These two contradictions, that which seemingly cannot work with the hope that it can, are held in mind. ‘If I just distract from my own story, all will be well’. As Kierkegaard reminds us, humans are marked by their capacity to have faith in the impossible. The founding truth behind all religion, and the apparent crux that makes us truly superior.
Chimpanzees, baboons and fruit flies stand aside…
… I introduce the human. God’s highest creation.