How to Be Free
Author: Joe Blow

Chapter 8
What Is the History of the Human Neurosis

Iím not a biologist or palaeontologist. This is just a loose theoretical framework which Iíve put together from pieces of other theories and my own imagination.

The process of evolution has expressed itself in a multitude of living creatures, each taking advantage of the potential of its own niche in the ecosystem. The natural system of which any animal or plant is a part places limitations on its behaviour. For instance a population which breeds too much might find itself exceeding the carrying capacity of its immediate environment and having to migrate or die off.

But within these limits, the vitality of the species resides in the fact that each individual tries to maximise its mating opportunities. This is how species become stronger. Since those who are healthiest can win the competition to mate, the stronger genes are propagated more often than the weaker ones.

This process is very effective, but it carries with it a serious weakness. It limits the capacity for co-operation and thus achievement through group effort. These forms do occur in non-human animals quite extensively, for instance in the case of a pride of lions co-operating to hunt an antelope, but the full potential for co-operative achievement is always compromised by competition for mating. Hive insects have a co-operative society which seems to have minimal internal competition, but they also appear to be an evolutionary dead-end, although, unlike the dinosaurs, an environmentally sustainable one.

Humans breached this impasse.

In any animal species in which the infant bonds with the mother for any length of time after birth, the nature of the new-born infant is to be unconditionally loving. Love is simply open spontaneous communication and learning is absorption of information by observation. The infant, being a blank slate in terms of discriminatory thinking, will bond with the mother without discriminating in any way. This is what makes that bonding possible, and explains why some animals will bond with a human and act as if they were the mother. But, in most species, the period of this bond is short because the need to fight for survival in a harsh environment takes over. The individualís behaviour is determined by an interplay of instincts, which are a part of the physical operating structure of the animal and common to all members of that species, and learned behaviour, either directly competitive or co-operative when needed to meet short term ends such as pack hunting to provide a collective meal.

A capacity for imagination and intelligence are inherent in complex brains. Just as life is an experimental process in which more complex living systems can form over time and survive or not depending on fitness for interacting with, making use of and living within the limits of the environment, so thinking works the same way within the individual brain and the society of which it is a part. Imagination and insight are functions of open spontaneous unstructured information sharing within the brain. This is the opposite of stereotypical thinking, i.e. thinking which follows strict pathways. The brain function of most animals is dominated by stereotypical thinking because, most of the time, this is what works most effectively in meeting the challenges of the struggle for survival and the mating imperative. While there might be times when a little lateral thinking would be beneficial, stopping to think would generally be a liability to survival, so that potential in the brains of those species did not develop.

The longer the nurturing period the more of a chance the species has of developing a co-operative social culture and with it higher intelligence. The motherís instinct to nurture may be driven by the imperative to protect and foster her own genes, but it shelters the infantís original unconditionally loving nature, with its capacity for freely imaginative thought, and allows it to flourish rather than be subsumed by the survival imperative. Intelligence and imagination were potentials just waiting for the right environment in which to develop.

Our ape-like ancestors lived in the fertile Rift Valley of Africa, where there was plenty of food and relatively few predators, thus allowing the females to nurture their offspring for a longer time. (The nurturing period of humans is longer than that of any other animal.) This liberated our intellect and allowed us to form a co-operative, non-competitive society. Freed from the battle for survival, we began to look at the world around us and wonder how it worked and what it meant.

Some other species developed close co-operative social bonds and, with them, at least the rudiments of intelligence. One can see these qualities in the behaviour of some of the ape species and also sea mammals such as whales and dolphins. One major advantage that we humans have however is hands with opposable thumbs. The apes are not as intelligent as us, but even if they were, they would not have been able to develop technology with their clumsy hands and thus they couldnít make full use of that intelligence. And whales and dolphins are stuck in the sea and have no hands with which to manipulate their environment.

So if our origins were idyllic, what went wrong?

There was a problem. While predators were less prevalent they were not nonexistent. The group was vulnerable to animals such as leopards which might find us easy pickings.

The women had to concentrate on rearing the young, so the job of protecting the group from leopards fell to the men.

We are learning machines and thus we adapt to our environment and the nature of the tasks we undertake. Within the tribal home openness and love and spontaneity were the order of the day. But once we went out to kill the leopards which threatened us we had to adapt to a different kind of environment - a hostile one - and a different kind of task - one which required discipline and hostile behaviour from ourselves. If we were to effectively protect the tribe from leopards we had to become like leopards.

Now if this behaviour had been limited to the hunt, everything might have been fine. But it is hard to entirely successfully divide oneself into two separate mindsets, one for home and one for work. The men would have been bound to bring some of the aggressiveness and competitiveness they learned on the hunt back into the previously harmonious tribal home.

All of us were new to this. Our understanding was limited, and what mattered was maintaining the stability of the group. The women were worried that this aggressive behaviour would compromise the harmony of the tribal home and thus have a detrimental influence on the infants. And so they criticised the behaviour of the men. In this harmonious society, criticism of one individual by another had rarely been necessary.

At first this would not have been a big problem, we were still very healthy and thus very flexible. What made it a big problem is that there was no solution. Gradually, over time, it would increase. The more the men felt criticised at home the more time they would want to spend on the hunt. And they went from hunting only predators, to hunting animals for food. Previously we had been vegetarians.

There was one powerful approach to this problem, but it was not, in itself, a solution, and that was sex.

Sex is clearly necessary for reproduction. It fulfils that function in all mammals. But, in more social mammals, it fulfils a second function, that of social bonding. We can see this particularly in the behaviour of very social mammals such as the bonobos and dolphins.

One way to bond with another individual or ease the tension of any form of emotional conflict, is through the mutual exchange of pleasurable sensation. While reproduction requires sexual contact between the male and the female, the use of erotic pleasure for social ends need not be restricted to male/female activity. And thus we find that, among bonobos, dolphins and other species, sexual activity occurs also between members of the same sex.

The bonobos, our nearest genetic relatives, spend a lot of time rubbing genitals. Adult males generally wonít rub genitals with their mothers, but otherwise these genital exchanges are not restricted by age or gender or kinship. Bonobos do not form permanent relationships. And bonobo society is matriarchal. Male bonobos are bigger and stronger, but the females are more closely bonded with each other and thus the centre of power.

This gives us some clue as to what the life of the earliest humans might have been like - matriarchal, no pair bonding to compromise the communal whole and sexual behaviour bisexual and largely indiscriminate, acting as a kind of social glue through shared pleasure.

It is important to point out here that this was pre-neurosis, pre-armouring, and therefore sexuality would not have taken any of the armoured forms that it did later. Armoured sex can be a conduit for anger and, in the extreme, can morph into rape.

The natural response of the women of the tribe to the increasingly rowdy behaviour of the men would have been to try to socialise them through sex. This was already something which was used to foster the bonding of the group, so when there was a threat to that bonding it would be natural to increase that behaviour and focus it on those members who were threatening the stability of the whole.

No doubt the men were also using sex to bond amongst themselves. But sex between the men and the women would have taken on a profound significance at this time.

We have to remember that the basic nature of the men was to be unconditionally loving. This was their nature at birth and was fostered by the nurturing process and the harmony of their society. To the extent that they had had to learn to suppress that nature and copy the behaviour of the leopards, they were no longer whole. They had laid a conflicting program over their original one and this would have compromised their sense of emotional security. While hunting provided an outlet for the frustration of living a divided existence, at base they longed for their new persona to be reconciled with their original nature.

Thus sex came to fulfil a third role. First it was about reproduction. Then it was about social bonding. In the third stage of its evolution it became about emotional healing through a physical union with an individual who represents the disowned part of our own nature. This is how the sexuality of most males became fixated on women and the sexuality of most women became fixated on males. Bisexuality was our first nature, this was our second nature, and soon I will consider the development of exclusive same sex fixations.

But sex, while very helpful in slowing down the process of menís developing neurosis, couldnít halt it.

It was around this time that we developed our conscience. The conscience is the code of the society internalised as a part of the individualís ego. So, at first, we would allow our behaviour to be guided by the criticisms of others. But, not wanting to be the subject of social approbation, at some stage we would start to second guess, we would internalise the rules and tell ourselves off for going against them before anyone else had the opportunity. The pain we felt when our behaviour conflicted with the rules of the conscience is what we call guilt.

The conscience, while it tended to cause us pain and thus make us more self-centred, did keep a lid on extreme expressions of hostility. Later in history there would be exceptions to this in which some individuals and societies developed consciences which saw some kinds of hostility as being in service of what they saw as the good. It was under these circumstances that most of the greatest human atrocities have been committed - witch burnings, The Spanish Inquisition, The Holocaust, ďethnic cleansingĒ, genocide against tribal cultures and war. Here the concept that some group of people were evil, made it seem to the individualís conscience that any form of hostility heaped upon them was in the service of the good.

Because the rules of this society were principally those of the females who kept the home together, the men began to become more and more prone to feelings of guilt about their competitive hunting lifestyle. They werenít actually doing anything wrong (they were taking care of aspects of the needs of the group) but it felt wrong. And the more wrong they felt, the more insecure they became, and the more insecure they became the angrier they became and thus the more destructive they became, and then they really were doing things which they could see were doing harm to the group. And so on and so on. Stopping the process would have required either explaining to themselves and the women what was happening, which they didnít yet have the insight to do, or saying they were wrong which they knew was not the case. If they didnít defy the implication that they were in the wrong they would have collapsed into a state of inoperable self-contempt or depression. The more insecure and condemned they felt the more angry and egotistical and defiant they became, and armouring was the form that this took in the shape of their personalities. The initial substance with which we built our armour was repressed anger. This is why, when the armour is compromised, a release of anger or even violence is the result.

Over time, the whole of the group became insecure and armoured. Hostility within the group and the strain of desperately trying to use sex to socialise the men put a strain on the women and compromised the nurturing of the children. We all ended up getting hurt. And, in our pain, we turned within and began to build a wall that we thought would keep us safe.

As we males became more and more egotistical and more fragile in our sense of ourselves, drastic changes in social behaviour had to take place in order to hold the group together.

This was the origin of monogamy. The only way to keep men from fighting over the sexual favours of women was to institute strict controls on sexual behaviour.

Of course this meant that both men and women had to adopt sexual repression. We could no longer simply do what we wanted when it came to our sexual behaviour. But the desires were not gone. We still wanted to have sex with different people, but we had to push those desires down and contain them. In this way, repressed sexual desires became a part of the substance of our armouring in the same way that repressed aggressive feelings had become before this.

This is when fear of sex became a significant part of our psychology and our society. When we were not armoured, sex had been an unthreatening and pleasant part of our lives, and something which was beneficial to our society.

But the armoured personality and the armoured society are built on sexual repression. Erotic feelings are essentially anarchic and could bring the whole thing down. And, unrestrained sexual behaviour in an armoured society leads to social conflict. We keep it all together by not sleeping with each otherís partners and not confronting people with sexual arousing material which might make it hard for them to maintain their self-discipline.

Because our tertiary sexual drive is to reunite with the disowned part of our own nature, we came to select sexual partners whose appearance reminded us of our original state. This is how we developed our concept of female beauty. What we tend to think of as classical beauty is childlike features such as wide eyes, full lips, a slim build, and, in our originally hairy days, this included a shortage of hair. And so this is how we lost our hair. This is called selection for neotony and it explains why we look more like a chimpanzee foetus than we do like a full-grown chimp.

So eventually we became relatively hairless.

Primitive tribal societies often run around mostly or completely nude, but, as we became more armoured and found ourselves carrying around a powder keg of repressed sexuality, the wearing of clothes became a priority for us. They made us feel less personally vulnerable, but also they covered up the flesh of others which was a potential stimulus for our anarchic erotic feelings. If you are hungry, and you are on a diet, it is easier if all that yummy food is covered up. It helps you maintain your discipline.

Now we can see the significance of our myth about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were naked and lived an idyllic existence. Then a predator (a snake in the story) inspired them to seek knowledge of good and evil (in this case the destructive behaviour of predators, which seemed evil to them in their idyllic state), and, as a result, they developed a sense of shame about their nudity. And they were expelled from the Garden, which is what ultimately happened to us. We became alienated from the natural world and condemned to a life in the wilderness of our own neurosis.

Over time we would develop cities which were external expressions of our own armoured state in which we would shelter from the natural world of which we no longer felt a part. This had the advantage of allowing us to work together in larger networks on the problem of understanding the world and ourselves. On the downside it allowed forms of social alienation such as loneliness, crime and homelessness to flourish. The invention of the internet makes urban living no longer necessary for networking, but we have too large a population for most of us to live any other way. Psychologically this isnít a problem as the emotionally healthy individual can thrive in a somewhat artificial environment. The only problem is reorganising our lives in such a way that our cities are ecologically sustainable.


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