A little look at Anne Thropology

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There’s only two kinds of people in the world: people who say things like “There’s only two kinds of people in the world…” and intelligent people. I’ve barely written a sentence and already for some reason it feels like I’ve shot myself in the foot. Hmm…

     Let me start again. I’m sure, dear reader, that no matter how old you are, no matter where you’re from, and no matter what your favourite shampoo is, you must at some point in your life have had some person tell you that “There’s only two kinds of people in the world: x people and y people”. Most versions of this expression are in essence the same. There’s good people and bad people; alphas and betas; wolves and sheep; ones and zeros; winners and losers; leaders and followers; conquerors and cowards; people who know how to mend motorcycles and people who don’t wash their hands after they’ve been to the loo; people who eat lactose-free yogurt and people who are enraged by dusty curtains in hotel rooms; people who can stand on one leg for more than fifteen seconds without losing their balance and people who have nightmares of drowning in a swimming pool filled to the brim with strawberries and worn-out shoes.

     Now it may or may not surprise you to read that some of the above dichotomies are actually of my own devising. And while the ones I’ve come up with may seem a bit far-fetched or arbitrary compared to the ‘real’ ones, the important thing is that they are all equally as conducive to the functioning and improvement of society, which is not at all. In fact, the ones I’ve come up with haven’t had any impact on society. At best they’ve made one or two people chuckle, or wonder if I’m on some kind of medication. The ‘real’ dichotomies, however, have had a considerable impact on society, in that they’ve turned a worrying number of us into competitors. Rather than living with each other we feel like we have to live against each other, because life is one big competition in which, you guessed it, only the fittest survive. The particular belief system I’m alluding to goes by the name of Social Darwinism.

     To quote from Frans de Waal’s excellent book The Age of Empathy, Social Darwinism is a sort of ideology according to which life is “a struggle in which those who make it shouldn’t let themselves be dragged down by those who don’t.” The reason why I’m reluctant to call it a ‘proper’ ideology is because I tend to think it’s more of a rationalisation. The point of it seems to be that it justifies the often abominable behaviour of an elite minority towards an ‘inferior’ majority.

     According to Social Darwinism, if you’re part of the elite, you’re entitled by nature to behave like a manipulative, treacherous, self-serving arsehole, because you’re a wolf and all the others are sheep. In fact, one might even say that if you do behave like that, you’re only following your natural calling. So, dear wolf, next time you walk down high street and you see a beggar sitting on the cold, hard ground, don’t even think about giving him some of that spare change you’ve got in your trouser pocket! What you should do is take a shit in his hat whilst laughing hysterically in his face, spraying it with saliva until he breaks down in tears, at which point you hand him a tissue, but not before you’ve wiped your arse with it. It’s what nature wants you to do.

     In all seriousness, it both saddens and sickens me that a lot of people genuinely believe in the whole ‘wolf and sheep’ thing. Holding such dichotomous views of the world, I think, makes us little more intelligent than computers. It is exactly how computers work, isn’t it? A proposition is either true or false, either 1 or 0. No room for nuance. No room for this peculiar but fascinating little thing called humanity.

     To put on my philosopher’s hat for a moment, there are of course at least a handful of reasonable objections to Social Darwinism, one of which I’m going to cover in the following paragraph. Please be warned, this is going to be borderline educational.

     There is a logical fallacy called the naturalistic fallacy, which postulates that one cannot derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s morally right. In our case, this means that even if it were an undeniable fact that Social Darwinism perfectly encapsulates the natural workings of animal life, that still wouldn’t mean we should look to Social Darwinism to guide our moral actions. To give you another example, it’s also very natural for us to get ill from time to time. Yet very few of us have any qualms about taking medicine in order to rid ourselves of diseases (I chose to write ‘very few of us have’ instead of ‘we don’t’ because as it stands there is still a surprising number of people who continue to put their faith in homeopathy. If you’re one of these people and you’re offended by this, don’t worry! One of these days you’re bound to grow up).

     Now that Social Darwinism is taken care of once and for all, there’s one more thing I’d like to tell you about I just can’t stand. It’s people telling me “In the end life is all about x ” (the x is generally substituted with ‘love’, ‘friendship’, ‘pleasure’, ‘fun’, ‘chocolate’, ‘happiness’, ‘surprises’, ‘inflatable banana boats’, or ‘scouring pads’). Why is everybody so incredibly eager to give advice these days? I don’t understand. Can’t you just live your own life and keep quiet about it? Besides, with all due respect, I highly doubt that any person, no matter how high an intellect he or she may be, could possibly distil all the great lessons of anthropology, ethics and psychology into a single sentence. As far as I can tell, the only possible way to make this work would be to start a sentence and then just keep writing and writing and writing without ever putting any commas or full stops or any kind of punctuation for that matter but that’d be quite hard for people to read wouldn’t it yes it would but remember we’re trying to sum up all of humanity and human behaviour in a single sentence so we don’t really have a choice still at some point this whole thing becomes increasingly difficult to follow things stop making cutlery and you don’t know how to defibrillate the mango chutney from the genital voters until finally it looks like the sentence is about to end but then you find the sentence doesn’t quite end the way you thought would it.

     What a spectacular waste of time and energy that was. I suppose I better try to work towards some kind of conclusion.

     If your ‘philosophy of life’ in its entirety can be stated in fewer than twelve words then I pity your existence. And if all the people in your life can be perfectly separated into as few as two categories, then either you’re incredibly bigoted or you really need to meet some new people. Life is incredibly complex and I think that’s something we should finally learn to accept, if not embrace. It just seems so futile to me how we relentlessly try (and fail) to simplify that which cannot be simplified.

     If you ask me, in the end life is all about refusing to adhere to overly simplistic credos like “In the end life is all about x”. Again, I don’t know why but I feel like I come out of this quite badly. Hmm…


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