The charge of the Wildebeest

migrationcrossing2If anything is going to bring out the animal in me it’s the damn 259. Everyday I catch a bus to and from work. Sounds simple. It isn’t. When my bus arrives at the bus stop outside Kings Cross Station, there is a mass charge for the door, which reminds me of the Great Wildebeest Migration on the African plains. Those massive herds charging for that narrow river crossing. What happens? The weaker of the species are crushed by the brutes who will stop at nothing to reach the other side of the river. It’s called survival of the fittest.

People are like Wildebeest – as they migrate from the pavement to the bus door, the fight for survival is on. Stamping and snorting, they push and shove to ensure themselves a space on the bus. My question is: what would happen if they did not get a space and had to (heaven forbid!) wait for the next bus? Judging by the behaviour of the masses, life would come to an end. Now, as a civilized human being, I find this situation extremely difficult to negotiate. As the masses clamber for the bus door, I feel the need to charge through them biting and beating those who get in my way. This desire is aggravated by the biyatch behind me, whose pram is biting my ankles. I play a scenario in my head which goes something like this: turning around, ripping the woman’s head off and launching it at the crowds of people in front of me in the hope that it will wildebeest-deadknock a couple out in my bid for prime seating position on the bus. You will be glad to know that I have not turned into a psychotic mommy killer…yet. As I remember the poor shop attendant at Wal-Mart in America, who was stampeded to death on Black Friday by crazed sales shoppers, I restrain my animalism and merely stand my ground without barging my way through the crowd. I wait my turn. The life or death situation of getting on the bus, reminds me every day just how strong the human survival instinct is. And how scary it can be when provoked. The survival instinct overrides all others.

In recent article published in the New Scientist entitled Why do some people kill themselves?, studies conducted by suicide specialist Thomas Joiner show that:

people who kill themselves must meet two sets of conditions on top of feeling depressed and hopeless. First, they must have a serious desire to die. This usually comes about when people feel they are an intolerable burden on others, while also feeling isolated from people who might provide a sense of belonging.

Second, and most important, people who succeed in killing themselves must be capable of doing the deed. This may sound obvious, but until Joiner pointed it out, no one had tried to figure out why some people are able to go through with it when most are not. No matter how seriously you want to die, Joiner says, it is not an easy thing to do. The self-preservation instinct is too strong.

Interesting. Maybe this talk of survival of the fittest makes me sound all Freudian? Here’s my problem with Freud and his theory. It would appear, judging by my bus experience, that this survival instinct is fuelled by aggression. In terms of Freudian psychology, aggression represents the death instinct and sex (libido) the life instinct. These two instincts are in constant conflict – they are opposing drives. Freud believed that the aggression (death) instinct needs to be controlled. If it is not controlled, psychosis will result. Hence the model of the Id, Ego diagram-idegosuperegoand Superego. The Id is our pleasure drive, the Superego is our internal voice of authority and morality and the Ego, which is governed by the reality principle, mediates between the two opposing forces. Not only are the sex and aggression drives battling for domination within the Id, the Id is battling for domination against the Superego. Our brains are a regular WWF competition. So that’s Freud’s personality theory in a nutshell. My reductive explanation reflects the reductive nature of the theory. According to psychoanalytic theory, the craziness of humanity is a result of individual fixations in the psychosexual stages of development or as a result of a base aggressive instinct that is not adequately controlled – too much control results in passivity, too little control results in murder and other types of psychopathological behaviour. According to Freud we require the perfect balance of control. Yes…that’s me laughing out loud. Sadly not all of our Egos are that well functioning. Freud claims that we control aggression by repressing it (I don’t disagree) – repression is a coping mechanism. So as my Id (aggression) battles my Superego (civility), my Ego stops me from using pram-lady’s head as a bowling ball but allows me to relieve my aggression through a fantasy. It’s called Catharsis. So the solution to the world’s problems, according to Freud, is to have violent fantasies. Sounds a little risky. So what the hell is the guy saying? Repressed aggressive urges cause psychosis and acting on ones aggressive impulses is psychotic? It’s a catch twenty-two.

So amidst the mumbo-jumbo of contradictions and incoherencies that I have just spewed out, what am I saying? Freud made some good points…but not too many. We are wildebeest…but not actually. We have the animalistic instincts of sex and aggression…but not only. Survival of the fittest (our animalism) is moderated by our morals, our conscience and our ability to reason (our humanism)…unless you Ayn Randify your moral code. So is it immoral to survive and achieve? Is aggression wrong? No on both accounts. It’s all about balance. Noooo biggy. Aggression is a base human instinct which is required for life rather than death. Aggression does need to be controlled and needs a cathartic outlet, otherwise chaos ensues (let’s pretend it hasn’t already). Some people’s aggressive instinct may remain largely dormant until a catalyst awakens its true potential – like getting on a bus or shopping at a sale.