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The War of Instinct and Reason: State of Affairs

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

October 27th, 2020

I want to write down my thoughts. I need to write down my thoughts. I want to discuss our human instinct and its effect on the state of affairs in the United States. I have experienced a wide range of emotions over the past few months, but one rises above the rest, disappointment. I am disappointed in where we are as a country. I am disappointed in the structure of our society. I am disappointed in the division we have fostered. I am disappointed in our leaders. I am disappointed in our citizens. I am disappointed in you. I am disappointed in me. Overall, I am disappointed in the human instincts that have led us to create the world we live in. However, this is not a post with the sole intent of bashing humanity. In fact, it is quite the opposite. This post is about fully recognizing the predicament we have placed ourselves in, and figuring out how to get ourselves out. It's about recognizing that our current mentality is inherently destructive, but it's also about recognizing we have a roadmap for change. I am disappointed, but I am optimistic.

Our current situation is our fault. Humanity is responsible. Humanity’s current state is not sustainable because of our failure to rise above our most primal instincts in the pursuit of the greater good. Our current inability to control our basic instincts has led to failures at the grandest scale, and it all started with our primal instincts. All of our instincts are dominated by our innate coding to self-preserve and reproduce, a result of the evolutionary process. However, our instincts come in great conflict with our expanded intellectual capacity. We now have the means for rational thought and self expression. We have the intellectual ability to alter our environment to serve our needs. We used reason to construct our own society, one that has eradicated most of the limitations that were ubiquitous throughout our evolution. Yet, despite all this progress, our evolutionary coding remains. The foundation of this coding is built on competition, fear, and tribalism. These attributes once helped our ancestors survive, but now they could lead us to misery if remain unchecked. We must use reason to overcome our instinct if we wish to survive as a modern society.

The United States is facing a critical period in its history. Historians will look back on these moments with either disgust or admiration, depending on how we decide to proceed as a society. We are facing extreme pressure. Life is not easy. We are all struggling to cope with our situation. We aren’t sure how we got here, but I have a theory. I think a large number of our society’s problems are caused by our inability to use reason over instinct, particularly at the scale necessary for effective change. Our intellectual ability is not currently coupled with the foresight or adaptive capacity necessary for humanity to flourish. Many of us live in the moment, not taking time to learn from the past or prepare for the future. Our instincts take hold and we act against our best interests. Industrialization is continuing to cause climate change in the name of progress. Tribalism and fear are leading to radicalization in the name of duty and country. Radicalization and xenophobia are leading to human rights violations in the name of safety and prosperity. These ideologies are strong, especially when reinforced by each other. The combination of competition, fear, and tribalism has led to some utter atrocities. Unfortunately, our population’s current lack of access to widespread quality education is fuel to the fire. This leads to an ill informed and uninspired populace, one that communally accepts and promotes anti-intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism leads to the destruction of reason, which will quickly be replaced by the easier pursuits of ignorance, hatred, and violence.

In the US, anti-intellectualism is growing like a parasite, thriving at the expense of the host that sustains it. We have left our instincts unchecked and inadvertently created a powder keg. Xenophobia, tribalization, and radicalization are choking our society, slowly disabling our ability to appeal to reason. A large portion of our population is being indoctrinated by techniques meant to appeal to our most basic instincts. Competition, fear, and tribalism are highly persuasive mechanisms. We must go to war with these instincts and ensure that reason prevails. But take a look around at our state of affairs, which do you think is winning, instinct or reason? I believe it is instinct.

We must learn to control our instincts and appeal to reason. We must find a way to overcome our seemingly inevitable failures. Luckily, our ancestors did grant us a tool that contains limitless power, education. The solution to overcoming the most negative aspects of human instinct is through widespread quality education. Quality education gives our people access to the knowledge and wisdom of past successes and failures. This wouldn’t be the first time anti-intellectual sentiment took hold, or the first time reason prevailed. The first period of anti-intellectualism was the cause of the Dark Ages, which brought about untold suffering. This suffering was finally ended by a large social push for the pursuit of reason (the renaissance). Humanity's greatest weapon against itself is the pursuit and application of knowledge. It is the antithesis of anti-intellectualism. It is the basis of reason.

Only one question remains, what can be done to win the war? The solution to our predicament is a three step process: a continuous pursuit of reason, a collective understanding of it’s value, and an appreciation of it’s application. Fortunately for us, a large portion of our society is already doing just that. We need to normalize scientific understanding, and teach those who currently lack it. We need to increase education not judgement. We need to acknowledge the shortfalls of our current society and actively pursue a solution. We must stamp out any indication of anti-intellectualism and remove any channels of it’s propagation. This is the biggest of them all. We must not let anti-intellectualism take hold in this country. We need to vote for politicians that value the pursuit of reason. Overall, we must use every action channel available to influence the public discourse in favor of science and reason. We have gotten ourselves into this mess, and we can get ourselves out. I believe that reason will prevail once again, but I hope it comes soon enough to stave off the tide of anti-intellectualism. We are the only people who can make a difference. I believe in myself. I believe in you. I believe in our citizens. I believe in our future leaders. I believe in our country. Over the last few weeks I have watched as my peers and fellow citizens used their action channels to incite change. For the first time in a while I am beginning to feel hope. I am optimistic that reason will prevail over instinct, but I suppose only time will tell.

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