the manimal



The Manimal

I have spoken of the mind as a multiplicity of processes, and that these multiplicities are not on the the foundation of the human mind, but also the foundation of human language. This section will highlight the facts that very many of the processes constantly and unconsciously working in our perceptual background are integral to a social-animal nature.

When writing a philosophy book, it is customary to begin with the individual, to appeal (as one individual to another) to another person's soul or reason. Our individuality, our uniqueness, our personal responsibility, our "atomicity" are deeply ingrained in our intellectual culture. (Though our culture, as we shall see, is the counterbalance to our individuality, and is part of our herd behavior.)

But we are also part of a blooming species.
I will call this species, the manimal.

This is a new word, whose purpose is to shake our understanding of ourselves (as it is) and place more focus on the animal / unconscious / biological / instinctual parts of ourselves.

Being a manimal is something we all have in common.

We need to think more of ourselves as a species, something we seem resistant to doing.
My belief is that these animal parts are fundamental to our actual nature, even as we remain mostly unaware of them.

There is nothing all that new here. Just a refocusing on aspects of our nature that we tend to overlook and which are essential if we are to understand the social world, and our understanding of the social world.

Humans are a kind of animal

Humans (whom humans also call "we") are animals.

"Of course. Humans are rational animals. Aristotle knew that."

Yes — but no.

Most thinkers are quick to drop the "animal" essence of"our" nature
to concentrate on the "reason" part: a well-loved, often sublime, if limited and misleading part of human nature.

But our animality, our existence as a group animal, permeates the worlds in which we live, while we, 'rational' as we may be, remain relatively unaware of it.

Our animality is a constant presence.

Humans are animals of understanding.

There is an intellectual, and not just a biological, aspect to being an animal.

Humans are manimals:

  • an animal that lives in social groups
  • an animal that responds instinctively to the world and equally instinctively to a large variety of group dynamics.
  • an animal that has all sorts of ideas about itself and its role in the world. Most of these ideas are wrong, or at least extremely limited, inconsistent and scatterdash.
  • an animal that is nowhere near as intelligent as it thinks it is. It is clever at solving puzzles (like sudokus) yet weak at seeing its own nature.
  • an animal facing a number of serious problems it is not clear it is capable of handling
  • an animal that likes to think of itself as rational, yet in most aspects of its life, and many deepy important aspects of its life (governanace, religion, morality, the future) is not. (Our "reason" doesn't explain much of our behavior anyway.)

We shy away from our animality, as we shy away from our "bodily functions."

To call someone "an animal" is an insult.

Humans have a strong cross-cultural tendency to think of themselves as special, as children or creations of a god. What if we did not think of ourselves as special creation in the universe? Could we even do that? Our specialness is part of the survival instinct of our tribes.

Humans are not dropped onto the earth here like an iPhone who then have to figure out all our apps and OS. (Though we do have to make sense of our nature.) We evolved here, and we share many apps with our fellow animals and manimals.

Disavowal of evolution of is also a denial of who we truly are and of the complex mysteries of existence.

Who we think we are

Humans have numerous ways of looking at themselves.

Most of them, at least in Western culture, involve seeing themselves as atomic and isolated creatures: we are first of all a soul, a person, an individual or a self. This is a creature is defined by its intellect: its understanding, its reason and its will.

Our biological definition echoes this: homo sapiens: the wise/intelligent man

Humans prefer views of themselves in which human beings are important.

Though occasionally aware that this may not be true, whenever we are threatened or think about ourselves in a "deep and serious" way, or human lives are in danger, we take ourselves and the existence of each and every one of us as having a supreme and self-evident importance.

We often think of ourselves as children of a super-powerful "god." And we depict this god as something like a human, just much much more powerful. We think of ourselves as an important part of the uniberse.

And we are important
(to ourselves
(to a fault.))

0ur traditional understandings... and our traditional religions,
are unaware that human beings evolved as an animal,
let alone as a social animal.

Remarkably, we barely notice that.

Why do we need to think we are anything?

We carry around something like an image of ourselves. a picture or a narrative of ourselves, an ideal, an object of constant comparison. Perhaps it is more of a judgment or a description—or a story. Some we are proud of, some embarrassed over.

We have a number of these pictures, that vary with our age, mood and (most importantly) our context (or situation).

(How we do that is mostly unclear to us. Nor do we have words to cover this aspect of our existence.)

We can compare thes images. With those others have of us.
The images we have of others are important ones—often determining our actions.

We realize we could perhaps live without such an image. without an ego if you will
but it would be difficult.
And this is just one more image of ourselves.

We use this image as one way to manipulate and manage ourselves. Some of these images are personal, some are general. It is an interesting fact that historically speaking, our general images are nearly always wrong. We still are not all that comfortable thinking of ourselves as an animal. It is formed through cultural tradition and wishful thinking. Often the image involves being a special and noble creation of the god(s).

It is equally interesting that the fact that the image is wrong does not diminish its efficacy.

So why do we need a self-image. We may not need one, but most of us have one. We are given one, or several. And the scales of judgments are given to us as well. It positions us within our society(s).

We are primates

Everything we know about biology, zoology and palaeontology tells us we are a kind of primate. We use a distorted vocabulary here.

Let us note in passing that "Prime-ate" itself is an ideologically charged term, (like the term "primitive societies.")
Humans are just "common-ates",no more important than anyone other being — except of course to ourselves.
(And who else matters?)

When push comes to shove.
When we decide between water for farmers or water for rivers to keep an endangered species alive,
we choose water for people.
Just like any other animal.

There us a case to be made that human beings are also animals in the pejorative sense.

As a healthy antidote to our traditional image of ourselves as an exceptional being, a special friend of god, and instead of looking for human traits in primates, we need to notice the ape traits in ourselves.

so then, what are 'primates'? From the biological view, the defining features of primates apply more to the individual primate than to the social systems they invariably inhabit. You can see the details in Wikipedia. What you cannot see is how we display similar traits in our daily contemporary lives, and the importance of these behaviors in our own social existence.

And in what ways are we NOT primates?

Manimals are tribal

Like other primates, we live in bands.

And we have all sorts of hooks built into us related to band behavior.

We are tribal by nature. It is instinctual. It consists of a deep, complex, and unknown series of behavioral propensities of which we are mostly unaware.

Awareness of our group behaviors is hidden from us in part because of our beliefs.

We believe we are atomic individuals who make up our own minds independently of others. We have no sense that if we lived in a different time/culture we would be completely different individuals.

Our awareness is not of our cultural dependence, but of the social loyalty groups within that culture, such as a nation, a cause, or a religion.

What we have is an ego (a self) determined by other members of a group. (Our world will be easier to comprehend if we introduce this notion.)

We can call this the alterego (not to be confused with older uses of that term). When I speak of the alterego, I am referring to the part of ourselves that is determined and influenced by others, usually without our conscious awareness.

Our group behavior comes into play anytime we deal with groups such as families, friends, bands, nations, crowds, communities, teams, armies, organizations, on-line communities, etc.

And as I shall talk more about later, our sense of others is vastly modified through our media.

Manimals have strong herd instincts

We humans grudgingly admit we have herd instincts.

Here we think of a herd of cows (or a school of fish). We think of this as a minor flaw that we need to keep in line. If it only were that simple.

We seldom form a physical herd. We do not follow the crowd in our bodies, but in our thoughts.

We cannot usually lose ourselves in a crowd. We are usually aware of the individuality of the persons next to us. We are still engaged in the individuality of that possible relationship. We do not see the sociality of our experience.

We cannot be as a school of fish. Except perhaps in coalitional behaviors, like certain sports, or in a musical group.

But it goes way beyond that. We are deeply and essentially a social animal.

We do this through our culture.

Manimals have a pecking order

As group-oriented animals, with an alterego, here used in a novel sense of having lur sense of self determined to a large part by other people, human beings have a keen sense of pecking-order, or status.

Partly because we live in ideological egalitarian societies, we seldom speak of this.
Most recent psychology ignores this.

Since most of us are not at the top of a pecking-order
we may find it psychologically easier
NOT to be too conscious of this. After all, we are frIeNds with our favorite television characters.

Besides, we are members of many groups.
Our order may change depending on the group. but in each group, we soon become aware of our status.

We join groups where we a higher in the pecking order.
We do not remain in groups where we are low in the pecking order.

Pecking-order is part of our ingrained awareness of, and response to, the other humans around us, which I call groupings.

Our pecking-order is in play when we find ourselves using words like:

  • respect
  • power
  • strength
  • authority
  • status
  • the power of a deep resonating voice
  • ruler, king, lord, president
  • celebrity

We speak to those in higher-power differently than we speak to our peers, or our subordinates.

Our ego (and our concern with our status) testify to how deeply we are attuned to the judgments of other people.

We can say and think we are above animality, just ignore things but no: even our feeling of superiority is an animality thing of status.

Manimals understand coalitional behavior

We have spoken a variety of aspects of the manimal that can be called social. The list is not only incomplete, but probably essentially incomplete, as these processes are tied in with one other. If there is are a small number of processes that work together. Consider here Marivn Minsky's use of block building both a metaphor, metaphor of a prototype.

Tied in with our status and our otherwareness, is a keen sense of coalitional behavior: of manimals working together as a group.

We appreciate, or watch with interest, coalitional behavior in sports, dance, parades...

Our coalitional (group awareness) includes: a sense of justice, a sense of fairness.

Singing demonstrates coalitional skill.
The parts of music are after all the parts of different people.
The power of music is the power of The Many.

Manimals live in the small

We small our world.

We cannot but live our life in a small subset of people and friends.

We have many techniques for doing this. We:

  • We have a limited number of friends.
  • We go through a town full of people and do not talk to anyone. This is considered perfectly normal.
  • We commit to one person
  • We understand the world in regions, neighborhoods, and locations.
  • We navigate through town in a set number of stores and paths.
  • We only visit a certain number of web-sites (out of the millions that are out there)
  • We use texting to keep our world small — and preoccupied.

Ultimately this is because the manimal brain has only so much room for people, and has a tendency to stay with known and familiar.

The trouble with keeping the world small is that it is not small.

(If the world is so small, why don't you fucking walk home?)

The world and all its components are very big. We do not see this because we can only see small.

We keep our world small. I go through a town full of people and I do not talk to anyone. I find this perfectly normal.

We shop at the same stores.

Committing to one woman is one more way of keeping the world small.

We keep world small by hiding our self from others. (The trouble with keeping the world small is that it is not small.)

Human satisfactions with life are largely based on small group interactions. We have no idea what large group interactions can be, such as saving the world or living in peace.

Most of us declare loyalty to a small bands, of family and buddies, dogs and grandkids.

In spite of the vastness of the world smallness is where we live. We have our routines and a few intense relationship to a small number of people.

Some things have privileged mental access

Our perception is skewed (and manipulated) by the fact that our minds gives privileged access to certain kinds of events.

If we hear that a gifted writer with a lifetime of study abused his wife, we will remember that at the expense of everything else he has accomplished. Martin Heidegger's involvement with the Nazis at the University of Freiburg in 1933-34 is a case in point.

If I were to tell you all about the intricate and novel philosophy of Hume, but then casually mention that he was so fat that hostesses would put away their best fragile chairs when he came to visit, you would remember that — whether it was true or not.

Among items we remember are

  • a person's face
  • their sex
  • their age and attractiveness
  • their ancestry
  • their job
  • their life stories
  • any scandals
  • their marriage and their children

These are status. safety and (social) animal kinds of things.

These things stick easily while other facts about a person easily drift away. ("Didn't he write a poem of something?")

Manimals sees the world as animals

One of our fundamental perception of the world is in terms of animals. As mobile agents with a mind (and not always a caring mind) of their own.

The manimal cannot comprehend how many of us there are

We don't know what a billion is.
We have no perceivable concept of how many of us there now are.

We are used to thinking in small bands and perhaps
in larger groupings that speak the same language and act the same way.

Yet our sense of our self is big.
I certainly don't feel like one of six billion,
or even one in ten.

We are born to be rock stars on the stage of life.
We perform and do not hear the masses.

Do The Numbers:
Think of the graduating class of your high school.
Think what it would be like if there were a thousand of them.
You know that some were smarter than you, some where better looking, more athletic, more artistic and nicer.
Think now of that person who is one in a thousand.
(He or she is probably not you.)
And remember that you never win a lottery where the odds are one in a hundred, let alone one in a thousand.
Now, with a population of over six billion, there could be over six million people that are one in a thousand.
That is the population of Norway, or the state of Washington.
All so much better than you.

This raises a number of questions:

Where are these people?
If there are so many talented people, why is not the world in better shape?
Is an exceptional person not all that exceptional or powerful? (Think: exceptional chipmunk.)
Short of dominating each other, enforcing a religion and perhaps a common language, we have no way of acting as a group.
Although we have built extended mechanisms like the nation-state to extend that to cover the present reality.

We understand that we cannot expand forever.
We understand that there may already be too many of us.
But we cannot stop populating.

What makes perfect animalistic sense in the local picture makes no sense at all in the global picture as we also understand the world is round and finite.

Manimals are timid

Do you need proof?
Go out in the woods at night, alone.
Sit down.
Soon you will be filled with fears, most of which are baseless.

We did not evolve as a courageous animals,
like the lion, the elephant or even the porcupine.
We evolved as frightened tree-dwellers,
with not a lot of natural defenses like claws, powerful muscles or a thick hide.

Our technology is our defense,
and now we have atomic-weapons.

But we are still frightened, cautious animals
who scare very easily.

So we're manimals. so what?

"OK. You have established your cute little patter. What has to change for this pattern to effect the world?"

So we are animals. These are just the background against which all human life takes place. It is hardly worth much consideration. The truths of science, whether done by manimals or intelligent aliens, remains the same. The social and emotional background of manimals is just a distraction.

There is some truth in this. The manifold ever-present processes of the manimal may not be be important for science, but they are for scientific success, and by extension for the process of science.

If we want to survive as a rational manimal, we need to survive our selves.

All these processes give us something I am tempted to call unconscious pleasure. It is they, and not truths, that are the driving forces behind our acts.

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