Our Maladaptive Adaptivity To Misery

Forgiveness is certainly a virtue that is worth developing, but there is a point beyond which we cannot—and should not—be expected to forgive.  

Criminals, regardless of their life circumstances and motivations, are still committing crimes and must face incarceration in order to protect the law abiding.  Totalitarians, even if they delude us into believing their oppression somehow benefits society, are still robbing us of our most basic and cherished American freedoms.  Censors might believe that they are creating a better and safer world by silencing citizens whom they deem unworthy of freedom of speech, but the reality is that the supposedly virtuous vanguard of those suppressing our voices cause dangerous ignorance and induce widespread paranoia with their misguided and misanthropic values.

It should not be a surprise, therefore, that the criminals, totalitarians, and censors now running our nation are subject to our keenest distrust and disgust.  Whether our elected leaders are enriching themselves with insider stock trading and payoffs in the form of campaign contributions, attempting to control our every thought and action with a maze of regulations, rules, and efforts to shame those who steadfastly refuse to comply, or working assiduously to ensure we hear only what they want us to hear, the damage to both our Constitutional rights and the legitimacy of their rule continues to mount with every outrage.

So why do we continue to put up with these disgraces? The answer is, oddly enough, baked into our genetic material.

Human beings are a sublimely adaptable species, which explains our triumphal rise to the apex of all the flora and fauna on our planet.  However, our adaptability can be a problem because we have a habit of contorting ourselves to survive the misery of the worst periods of our shared history.

We will fight when we have no other option, but our typical response is flight.  Perhaps in some cases we still need to physically run away, but our species today has many unhealthful methods of retreat to use instead.  We can drown ourselves in alcohol, numb ourselves with drugs, or simply lose ourselves in our televisions or cell phones.  Self-isolation is another lonely comfort adopted by many who simply shun human companionship in a vain effort to flee the dysfunction and danger so many must endure on a daily basis.  If all else fails we can simply seethe in silent rage, our faith in America and our fellow Americans corroding with each passing day,

Our incredible human adaptability has, unfortunately, betrayed us when approaching the problems currently facing our nation.  

We should not, for example, be stocking up on guns and ammunition to protect ourselves from criminals; we should be insisting that our laws be enforced and criminals removed from our streets.  Rather than demand that our leaders adopt sane fiscal and energy policies in order to tame the price inflation eating away at our household budgets, we instead meekly struggle to make ends meet as food, heat, housing, and fuel continue to race beyond the reach of affordability.  Appalled that our democracy has been hijacked by extremists who are intent on criminalizing dissenting thoughts and opinions rather than encouraging free inquiry and open debate, we grow mute, hunker down, and self-censor in order to tolerate the intolerable.

And, even more disturbingly, we adjust our beliefs regarding human dignity and the sanctity of life rather than push back against the culture of death now enveloping our nation.  We learn to not find state-sanctioned and doctor-assisted suicide disgusting.  We remain mute when doctors insist on pumping powerful prescription drugs into children to in order quash their childish exuberance and make them more compliant—and depressed.  We celebrate abortion on demand in much the same way that the ancient Aztecs celebrated human sacrifice, believing that we are protecting ourselves from future inconvenience or harm by blithely killing our unborn.

We have become incredibly comfortable with that which should horrify us—that darned evolutionary adaptability again!—and the outcome has been lives that are sadder, angrier, lonelier, more meaningless, and less satisfying, which is a stark contrast with the brave and adventurous spirits that were once synonymous with being an American.

Planet Earth has always been brutish and unforgiving, and we have long counted on human compassion and kindness to file down the sharp fangs of the fates that seek to consume us.  Over the many millennium we have sought to scratch out our existences in the face of cold winters, wild animals, recurrent famine, and so many other risks that leap out of the darkness, humans have fashioned a variety of communities to support and protect us while finding comfort in countless rituals meant to make some sense of a world that often seemed lonely and uncaring—for good reason.

Moreover, regardless of our race, ethnicity, or culture, we have also over time established a norm of caring for the old, the sick, and the helpless within our communities and mourning the deaths of all.  Except in extreme circumstances such as war or extraordinary disaster when mere survival has taken precedence, our species has not typically engaged in cruel cost-benefit analyses that demand those who cannot keep up be left behind.  Along the bumpy road from our earliest tree-dwelling ancestors to our gym-dwelling modern humanity, we learned to love, care, and protect—and we always hope for the same in return.  Although cruelty and neglect still stalk the globe, we generally have done our best to elevate the priorities of comforting the afflicted and punishing those who harm others.

This is why so many aspects of our world and nation today seem so very unforgivable to us, and why the disconnect between our government and the governed has never seemed so vast.  The gap between our evolutionary imperative to adapt in order to survive and the moral values we have developed in order to thrive has perhaps never been bigger—and the decisions we must now make about America more important.