As my Twitter feed started my day with the news that Japan has decided to have a “Minister of Loneliness”, it has tempted me to muse over one of the greatest but completely ignored absurdities that we humans live with today, i.e., cities.
As a biology enthusiast, I know my ape and my apehood.
I know that I come from a species of animals that, for almost 99% of its natural history has lived by forming a family as a base unit that gets enlarged into a clan (that is just an extension of the family as it is a genetically related small social group).
My evolutionary history of almost a million year has been all about being part of a clan that barely exceeded two to three hundred closely apes and being highly territorial.
Most of my ancestors baring an insignificantly few recent ones bonded thickly and cooperated only with those with closely-related DNA and fought to defend a patch of land that provided the means of survival, so they all must have been naturally xenophobic and averse to travel into alien territory.
The net outcome of being a species that existed by forming various highly territorial and in turn xenophobic clans is that I am an ape that has evolved to stick to a familiar place and with familiar people.
As far as I understand the pace at which evolution works, I know that I am still that same ape and hence what I see around me seems completely inexplicable. And when I read negative words like Agoraphobia (fear of leaving safe places), Hodophobia (fear of travelling) or Xenophobia (a fear or hatred of foreign people and cultures) as if they are some sort of illnesses forged for qualities that I think is the very description of my species, I stand mystified.
An average Homo sapiens is a clannish or racist primate that naturally hates strangers and is comfortable only with those with he/she shares family bond, but lo and behold!
It has formed massive cities where millions of strangers mingle, almost all of them living in a state that most of their ancestors never experienced in any place other than probably their worst nightmares.
A city may have its charm, but there is a part of being within each of us, it is an absolute nightmare.
As a highly adaptive species, we are managing to live that nightmare by reinventing our ancient protocols, but with barely two hundred years of life in the city, we are still far far away from evolving natural biology suitable to city lifestyle.
A city is all about strangers.
An ape that never met a stranger without barring canines and posturing aggressively for a million years is suddenly expected to just smile at strangers but live and work in close proximity with complete strangers.
While one outcome of this crazy development is shimmering city-lights where we have developed all possible means of gratification ranging from food to sex at a mass scale, another surely is constant anxiety and abject loneliness that most of us live with.
And as the latter feeds on the former, we are now stuck inside a snowball that is getting larger by each day.
A city is an extended phenotypic expression of a chink in our brain design, i.e., gratification.
As evolution saw no need to prepare for industrial revolution, it has not evolved any protection against the gratification drive going in an overdrive. Evolution probably knows that abject gratification is not sustainable for any life-form and hence it has not designed any preventive mechanism knowing fully well that such an overdrive will eventually run the species to the ground.
Unfortunately for the cursed ape that we are now, we have unleashed our own drive of gratification upon us. This has led us to be urban because city is not the need of the social ape that we humans are, it is the need of gratification zombies that we have become.
But, as the ancient ape still lives on, held hostage by the gratification zombie within each of us, the future ahead for us is bleak.
A modern human life in the city is diametrically opposite to what the ape has evolved for, and as it spreads across the planet in the name of development leading to more and more people leaving their home-bases and migrating towards cities in search of instant gratification, a Minister of Loneliness is just a token drop of water that we are throwing at the inferno that is rising across the planet.
At this point we are fooled into thinking that our gratification is consuming the planet, but the truth is, it is consuming us.
Our city-based lifestyle is not just environmentally unsuitable, it is psychologically unsustainable for the social ape that we are. And what we will get hit by first is the psychological unsustainability.
Our exit from planet will be unique as unlike the mass-extinction that get offered to other life-forms, we are in for a extinction by loneliness.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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