July 5, 2005

Drama Queens

I read somewhere (long ago) that domestic cats kept indoors all the time will hallucinate their natural environment. Their little cat brains just aren’t wired for couches, dining room tables, doorways, and drapes. When you see them running around chasing nothing in particular they are - supposedly - imagining mice. When you see them running in terror for no particular reason they are - supposedly - hallucinating their own predators. If mice don’t exist in their world, it’s up to cats to create them. Maybe this isn't quite right (I haven't really looked into it) but it makes sense to me. And it explains why my cats often act as though they see ghosts.

Sometimes I wonder if humans behave the same way.

I've long suspected that activistas (meaning those who protest everything for the sake of protesting) are simply bored. Civilization and a comfortable middle class life in a First World economy remove epic and dramatic struggle from our daily lives. We don’t have to hunt. We don’t have to hide from predators. We don’t have regular violent clashes with neighboring tribes. We have to work, but we’re comfy. Our basic survival needs are all easily met. There are more adult diversions, toys, and entertainment than we can possibly spend our lives consuming and enjoying. No foreign armies can conquer us. There are no oppressive overlords with their boots on our necks. Titanic life-or-death struggles have been abolished for the overwhelming majority of us.

But we’re wired for struggle and drama. (Just read history. It comes across loud and clear.) A few years ago - just before 9/11, in fact - a friend of mine in the high-tech industry said “I wish we lived in more interesting times.” I knew what he meant. I worked in a cubicle variously as a software tester and a technical writer. It was a pleasant stress-free job and it paid very well. But God was life ever boring. I think a lot of Americans feel that way, at least sometimes, which is why disaster movies like Independence Day, Deep Impact, and War of the Worlds make so much money. We don’t want our cities to be destroyed by asteroids and aliens, but watching it happen sure is perversely entertaining.

What else might explain people on the political lunatic fringes? I’m not talking about Dennis Kucinich and Tom DeLay here, I mean the fringe of the fringe, the real crazies. People on the far-right who spent the 1990s holed up in the mountains of Idaho and Montana preparing for an apocalyptic showdown with the federal government and the United Nations. People on the far left who think they live in a brutal police state and that they’re bravely defying a fascist regime when they take to the streets.

Human beings are wired for struggle. If we aren’t handed a struggle by real-world events, some of us may just have to invent one. I don’t know how many people are actually motivated by this sort of thing. Those who are most likely aren’t aware of it consciously. But it does seem to explain the woman in this AP photo (hat tip: Harry’s Place) who defies the police at least in part because, as the sticker says on her shoulder, “Capitalism is Boring.”


A commenter named Richard over at Harry’s Place (he goes by Lymanlover on his blog) cited one of the anarchist slogans from 1968 France:

In a society that has abolished every kind of adventure the only adventure that remains is to abolish the society.
I can’t say this is a productive way to spend one’s time, but the honesty is refreshing.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 5, 2005 1:12 PM

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