The Next Evolutionary Step: Compassion

The Next Evolutionary Step
I was lurking in the Woolworths car park, cruising slowly and waiting to nab a car space. I had a mission to buy milk and honey, they were at the top of my shopping list. I was musing on the Land of Milk and Honey and wondering what it was like there. Suddenly bang, a truck/ute scooted out of a car park and hit my car. My first reaction was unprintable but predictable. I realised immediately that it was not actually my fault and that I’d have to collect the other driver’s insurance and licence details, suddenly a furious face appeared at my window, gosh he was quick, and started yelling at me, his reaction was also unprintable.

I was blocking his ute’s exit so he was not going anywhere till I said so. Still he was cursing me out and I said, “When you stop yelling at me we can swap our details.” I was ready to take a four by two plank to this guy but I breathed in and followed a decision I made many years ago, if someone is yelling at me I turn my back, at least mentally (those of you who have seen the Mighty Boosh will recognise the tactic used by Naboo the Enigma). Anyway Mr Ute in his fitted shirt was ready for a stroke so I stayed in my car till his colour moved through the spectrum from puce to pink. Suffice to say he gave me his details and I eventually got my car fixed at his insurance company’s expense.

At the moment I’m looking at the effects of the neurotransmitter dopamine and its influence on addiction, aggression, reward and impulse behaviour. It’s implicated that societies, populated by people with high dopamine levels are materialistic, aggressive, focused and drive big 4 wheel drives. I’m in a chemical hell hole and they’re breeding.

The dopaminergic mind hypothesis seeks to explain the differences between modern humans and their hominid relatives by focusing on changes in the neurotransmitter dopamine. It theorizes that increased levels of dopamine were part of a general physiological adaptation due to an increased consumption of meat around two million years ago in Homo habilis, and later enhanced by changes in diet and other environmental and social factors beginning approximately 80,000 years ago.

Under this theory, the “high-dopamine” personality is characterized by high intelligence, a sense of personal destiny, a religious/cosmic preoccupation, an obsession with achieving goals and conquests, an emotional detachment that in many cases leads to ruthlessness, and a risk-taking mentality. High levels of dopamine are proposed to underlie increased psychological disorders in industrialized societies. According to this hypothesis, a “dopaminergic society” is extremely goal-oriented, fast-paced and even manic. Given that dopamine is known to increase activity levels, speed up our internal clocks and create a preference for novel over unchanging environments, it’s hardly surprising that stress related illnesses are on the increase.

In the same way that high-dopamine individuals lack empathy and exhibit a more masculine behavioural style, dopaminergic societies are “typified by more conquest, competition, and more aggression than nurturance and communality. Although behavioural evidence and some indirect anatomical evidence (e.g., enlargement of the dopamine-rich striatum in humans) a dopaminergic expansion in humans, there is still no direct evidence that dopamine levels are markedly higher in humans relative to other apes. However, recent discoveries about the sea-side settlements of early man may provide evidence of dietary changes consistent with this hypothesis.

All I can say in response to this information is that I am looking at the competitive often unconsciously unpleasant behaviour of people under stress. I am attempting to understand this society. Dopamine while increasing general drive also is implicated In behavioural disorders like ADHD and lack of inhibitory control or impulse control. Addiction is rife in our society, maybe this is the price we pay for our focus on material success. Individuas are the sacrificed to the God Mammon, the high priests are the bottom line men and women who put profits and personal success above community and the communication of our true selves.

It is easier to control my behaviour towards others if I have some understanding of their motives or at least some ability to abstract and attempt to understand from a perspective removed from the behaviour. Then at least I have a chance to behave in a vaguely civilised manner. Ute man was a test, I wanted to slap him but how stupid would that have been. Even as his puce face hovered near my car’s window I realised that his anger had nothing to do with me and he had no control. I had no control over what I thought, note the four by two fantasy, but was able to maintain a semblance of humour and distance. I thought he was behaving idiotically there by for the grace of the gods go I.

The more information we have as to why we behave in certain ways, the more insight and possibilities of self control we will have. Change your perspective and you will start to change the world.

These changes in our very chemistry are from one perspective evolutionary, the survival of the fittest idiom applies. I believe the next evolutionary step has to take us into a more cooperative frame of reference. It’ll mean developing social and emotional intelligence, instead of win or lose. It will mean compassion will be a higher value than competition. It will mean facing our greatest enemy our own fear and living on this planet rather than living off this resource rich rock. Maybe love and compassion are the next evolutionary steps

Compassion, the key to evolution

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