Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The World Explained-by Monkeys

Enjoy this essay by David Wong-It explains everything.

Twelve Steps to Total Enlightenment by David Wong



1. What do monkeys have to do with it?

Picture a monkey. A monkey dressed like a little pirate, if you wish. We'll call him Slappy.

Imagine you have Slappy as a pet. Imagine a personality for him. Maybe you and he have little pirate monkey adventures and maybe even join up to fight crime. You'd be sad if Slappy died, wouldn't you?

Now, imagine you get five more monkeys. Tito, Bubbles, Fluffy, Marcel and ShitTosser. Imagine personalities for each of them. Maybe one is aggressive, one is affectionate, one is distant and quiet. And so on. They're all your personal monkey friends.

Now imagine a hundred monkeys. Then a thousand.

How long until you can't tell them apart? Or remember their names? At what point, in your mind, do your beloved pets become just a faceless sea of monkey? If you get enough monkeys, you'll eventually have enough that you no longer even care if one of them dies.

Now, each of these monkeys is every bit the monkey that Slappy was. It's just that you don't give a rat's ass any more.

2. So this whole thing is your crusade against monkey overpopulation? I'll have my monkey castrated this very day!

Uh, no. Stay with me here.

You see, monkey experts performed a monkey study a while back and discovered that the size of the monkey's monkey brain determined the size of the monkey groups the monkeys formed. The bigger the brain, the bigger the little societies they built.

They cut up so many monkey brains, in fact, that they found they could actually take a brain they had never seen before and with a simple dissection, analysis and a quick taste, they could accurately predict what size tribes that species of creature formed.

Most monkeys operate in troupes of 50 or so. But somebody slipped them a slightly larger monkey brain -- but a monkey brain nonetheless -- and they estimated the ideal group or society for this particular animal was about 150.

That brain, of course, was human. Probably from a homeless man they snatched off the streets.

3. Oooooh. Okay...

I don't get it.

Let's try an example. Famous news talking guy Tim Russert tells a charming story in his book Big Russ and Me about his father, who used to take half an hour to carefully box up any broken glass before taking it to the trash. Why? Because "the trash guy might cut his hands."

That this was such an odd thing to do illustrates my monkey point. None of us spend time worrying too much about the garbage man's welfare even though he performs a crucial role in not forcing us to live in a cave carved from a mountain of our own filth. We don't usually consider his safety or comfort at all and if we do, it's not in the same way we would worry over our best friend or wife or girlfriend or even our dog.

For instance, I live in a town heavy on little ordinances about what one can and cannot throw out in the trash (lawn clippings must be sealed in clear plastic, labelled, individually sterilized, named and stacked in alphabetical order according to species). Thus, if you listen to people around here speak on the subject of garbage you get nothing but snide comments and strategies to get around the petty rules (just dump the drain cleaner in a pickle jar! Those trash bastards will never know!)

There is almost no thought about what the drain acid or the Black Plague-infected rats in the garbage will do to the poor sanitation worker.

Why? Because the trash guy exists outside the Monkeysphere.


4. The Monkeysphere?

Yes, the Monkeysphere. That's the group of people who each of us, using our monkeyish brains, are able to conceptualize as people. If the monkey scientists are monkey right, it's physically impossible for this to be a number larger than 150. Most of us do not have room in our Monkeysphere for our friendly neighborhood Sanitation Worker. So, we don't think of him as a person. We think of him The Thing That Makes The Trash Go Away.

5. Hey! I like my garbage man!

Maybe, but one way or another we all have limits to our sphere of monkey concern. It's simply the way our brains are built. We each have a certain circle of people who we think of as people. Usually it's our own friends and family and neighbors and classmates and coworkers (or at least the ones in your department) and church or suicide cult.

This is literally the reason society doesn't work quite right. The people who exist outside that core group of a few dozen people are not people to us. They're sort of one-dimensional bit characters.

Remember the first time, as a kid, you met one of your school teachers outside the classroom? Maybe you saw old Miss Puckerson at Taco Bell picking up and eating a whole Taco Salad with her bare hands? Or you saw your principal walking out of a dildo shop?

Do you remember that surreal feeling you had when you saw these people actually had lives outside the classroom? I mean, they're teachers.

Or think of it this way: Which would upset you more, your brother dying, or a dozen kids across town getting killed because their bus collided with a truck hauling killer bees?

Which would be bigger news to your neighbors, those dozen mutilated bus children across town or 15,000 dead in an earthquake in Iran?

They're all humans and they are all equally dead. But the closer to our Monkeysphere they are, the more it means to us.

6. That's not my fault! I don't know those people!

Right. And they don't know you. That's why they don't mind stealing your stereo or vandalizing your house or cutting your wages or raising your taxes or bombing your office building or choking your computer with spam advertising diet and penis drugs they know don't work. You're outside their Monkeysphere. In their mind, you're just a vague shape with a pocket full of money for the taking.

That's the whole thing, right here. Life on Earth, in a nutshell. We are hard-wired to have a drastic double standard for the people inside and out of our Monkeysphere and those outside make up 99.999% of the world's population.

Have you ever gotten pissed off in traffic? Like, really pissed off? I think we all have. We've thrown finger gestures and wedged our heads out of the window and screamed "LEARN TO F#@&^NG DRIVE, F*%$ER!!" We've all pulled the gun out of the glove compartment and let a few fly at the offending car. Not firing at their head or anything. Just, you know, at their tires.

Now imagine yourself standing in an elevator with three other people, two friends and a coworker. A friend goes to hit a button and accidentally punches the wrong one. Would you lean over, your mouth two inches from her ear, and scream "LEARN TO OPERATE THE F#@&ING ELEVATOR BUTTONS, SHITCAMEL!!"

They'd think you'd gone insane. We all go a little insane, though, when we get in a group larger than the Monkeysphere. You know the feeling, that invincibility of being an anonymous head in a crowd, screaming curses at a football player you'd never dare say to his face.

7. I'm nice to strangers! Being anonymous doesn't have to lead to assholism!

Not right away, but eventually. It starts when the needs of ourselves or those within our Monkeysphere require screwing someone outside it (even if that need is just venting some tension and anger via exaggerated insults). This is why most of wouldn't dream of stealing money from the pocket of the old lady next door, but don't mind stealing cable or adding a shady exemption on our tax return or quietly celebrating when they forget to charge us for something at the restaurant.

You may have a list of rationalizations as long as a porn star's beefhorn for doing it, but the truth is that in our monkey brains the old woman next door is a human being while the cable company is a big, cold, faceless machine. That the company is, in reality, nothing but a group of people every bit as human as the old lady, or that some kind old ladies actually work there and would lose their jobs if enough cable were stolen, rarely occurs to us.

That's one of the ingenius things about the big-time religions, by the way. The old religious writers knew it was easier to put the screws to a stranger, so they taught us to get a personal idea of God in our heads who says, "no matter who you hurt, you're really hurting me. Also, I can crush you like a grape." You must admit that if they weren't writing words inspired by the Almighty himself, they at least understood the Monkeysphere.

You see? Once you understand the Monkeysphere principle you can see examples all around. You'll walk the streets in a daze, like Roddy Piper after putting on his X-ray sunglasses in They Live.

Click on a talk radio show. Listen to conservatives talk about "The Government" as if it were some huge, lurking dragon ready to eat you and your paycheck whole. Never mind that the government is made up of people and that all of that money they take goes into the pockets of human beings. Conservative talker Rush Limbaugh is known to tip 50% at restaurants, but flies into a broadcast tirade if even half that dollar amount is deducted from his paycheck by "the government," even though that money helps that very same single mom he had no problem tipping in her capacity as a waitress.

Click over to a liberal show now, listen to them describe "Multinational Corporations" in the same diabolical terms, an evil black force that belches smoke and poisons water and enslaves humanity. Isn't it strange how, say, a lone man who carves and sells children's toys in his basement is a sweetheart who just loves bringing joy at Christmas, but a big-time toy corporation (which brings toys to millions of kids at Christmas) is an inhuman soul-grinding greed machine? Strangely enough, if the kindly lone toy making guy made enough toys and hired enough people and expanded to enough shops, we'd eventually stop seeing it as a toy-making shop and start seeing it as the fiery Orc factories of Mordor.

And if you've just thought, "well, those talk show hosts are just a bunch of egomaniacal blowhards," you've just done the same thing, boiled real humans into a two-word cartoon character. It's the Monkeysphere!

8. Stop using the word 'Monkeysphere!' Humans are completely different from monkeys!

Legendary monkeytician Charles Darwin would disagree.

It was Darwin's observation of primates along with his assistant, Jeje (pronounced "heyhey") Santiago that caused him to deduce that humans and chimps were evolutionary cousins. As sophisticated as we are (compare our advanced sewage treatment plants to the chimps' primitive technique of hurling the feces with their bare hands), the inescapable truth is we are just as limited by our mental hardware as that tragic figure of American lore, Terminator 2.

The primary difference is that monkeys are happy to stay in small groups and rarely interact with others outside their monkey gang. This is why they rarely go to war, though when they do it is widely thought to be hilarious. Humans, however, require cars and oil and quality manufactured goods by the fine folks at 3M and Japanese video games and worldwide internets and, most importantly, governments. All of these things take groups larger than 150 people to maintain effectively. Thus, we routinely find ourselves functioning in bunches larger than our primate brains are able to cope with.

This is where the problems begin. Like a fragile naked human pyramid, we are simultaneously supporting and resenting each other. We bitch out loud about our soul-sucking job as an anonymous face on an assembly line, while at the exact same time riding in a car that only an assembly line could have produced. It's a constant contradiction that has left us pissed off and joining informal wrestling clubs in basements.

This is why I think it was with a great burden of sadness that Darwin turned to his assistant and lamented, "Jeje, we're the monkeys."

9. Well, Monkeysphere or no Monkeysphere, some groups deserve our sympathy and some don't.

No, I'm not talking about sympathy. That was a stupid, stupid comment and you're a fool to have made it.

I'm not asking anyone to sympathize with the terrorists, for instance.

But think of Osama Bin Laden. Did you just picture a camouflaged man hiding in a cave, drawing up suicide missions? Or are you thinking of a man who gets hungry and has a favorite food and who had a childhood crush on a girl and who has athelete's foot and chronic headaches and laughs when a friend farts, a man who wakes up in the morning with a boner and loves volleyball and fusses over his spoiled children and haggles over the price of a car and who goes on Seinfeld-esque rants about too much ice in his drinks?

Something in you, just now, probably was offended by that. You think I'm trying to build sympathy for the murderous bastard. Do you see the equation? Simply knowing random human facts about him immediately tugs at our sympathy strings. He comes closer to our Monkeysphere, he takes on dimension.

Now, the cold truth is my Bin Laden is just as desperately in need of a bullet to the skull as the raving four-color caricature on some redneck's T-shirt. The key to understanding people like him, though, is realizing that we are the caricature on his T-shirt.

Go ahead, try it with any bad guy. I heard a 16 year-old kid I know, one just getting into politics, go on and on about how Washington doesn't give a shit about us and how greedy politicians are and so on ("what's FICA?!?!" he screams as he looks at his first paycheck).

I also saw this same kid, at his job, drop a hamburger patty on the floor, pick it up, and slap in on a bun and serve it to a customer. Well, there's your key to understanding your government, kiddies. Those politicians see you in the exact same way you see the customers lined up at the burger counter. Which is, just barely. Want to guess how the CEO at your company sees you worker bees?

In both cases, for the guy making the burger and the guy running Exxon, getting through the workweek and collecting the paycheck are all that matters. No thought is given to the real human unhappiness being spread by doing it shittily (ever gotten so sick from food poisoning you thought your stomach lining was going to fly out of your mouth?) Why? Because that many customers or employees just can't fit inside the Monkeysphere.

If you've just now protested that you shouldn't have to care for the customers for minimum wage, let me assure you that if you don't feel sympathy for your fellow man at $6.00 an hour, you won't feel anything at $600,000 a year.

Or, look at it the other way. If you're allowed to be indifferent and even resentful to the masses for $6.00 an hour, just think of how angry the average Pakistani man is allowed to be when he's making the equivalent of six dollars a week. And so on.

10. The Monkeysphere will surely be the end of us all!

Well, maybe. There is a reason why all of the really phat-ass nations with the biggest SUV's with the shiniest 22-inch rims all have some kind of representative democracy (where you vote for people to do the governmenting for you) and all of them are, to some degree, capitalist (where people actually get to buy property and keep some of what they earn). It monkeys out like this:

A representative democracy allows a small group of people to make all of the decisions, while letting us common people feel like we're doing something by going to a polling place every couple of years and pulling a lever that, in reality, has about the same effect as the darkness knob on your toaster. We can simultaneously feel like we're in charge while being contained enough that we can't cause any real monkey mayhem once we fly into one of our screeching, arm-flapping monkey frenzies (a woman showed her boob at the Super Bowl! We want a boob and football ban immediately!)

Conversely, some people in the distant past naively thought they could sit all of the millions of monkeys down and say, "okay, everybody go pick the bananas, then bring them here, and we'll distribute them with a complex formula determining banana need! Now go gather bananas for the good of society!" For the monkeys it was a confused, comical, tree-humping disaster.

Later, a far more cynical man sat the monkeys down and said, "you want bananas? Each of you go get your own. I'm taking a nap." That man, of course, was German philosopher Hans Capitalism.

As long as everybody gets their own bananas and shares with the few in their Monkeysphere, the system will thrive even though nobody is even trying to make the system thrive. This is perhaps how Ayn Rand would have put it, had she not been such a hateful bitch.

Then, some time in the Third Century, French philosopher Pierre "Frenchy" LaFrench invented racism. This was a way of simplifying the too-complex-for-monkeys world by imagining all people of a certain race as being the same person, thinking they all have the same attitudes and mannerisms and tastes in food and clothes and music. It sort of works, as long as we think of that person as being a good person (those Asians are so hard-working and precise and well-mannered!) but when we start seeing them as being one, giant, gaping asshole (the French, ironically) our monkey happiness again breaks down.

11. So we should kill the French?

It's not all the French's fault. The truth is, all of these monkey management schemes only go so far. For instance, today one in four Americans has some kind of mental illness, usually depression. One in four. Watch a basketball game. The odds are at least two of those people on the floor are mentally ill. Look around your house; if everybody else there seems okay, it's you.

Is it any surprise? I just watched a whole news special on the Obesity Epidemic. I've had this worry laid on my shoulders about millions of other people eating too much. What exactly am I supposed to do with that information? I know what to do about the fact that I'm fat, but why am I getting upset about 80 million other people whose diets I don't control? You're harshing my buzz with the pork-laden plight of people outside my Monkeysphere and now I carry that useless weight of worry around like, you know, some kind of animal on my back.

12. So how can we defeat the Monkeysphere? Would it help if we cut all of the carbs from our diet? What if we were more proactive?

You can start by implementing a little three-step plan I like to call The TriMonkey or... the T.R.Y. Monkey:

First, TOTAL MORON. That is, accept the fact THAT YOU ARE ONE. We all are.

That really annoying person you know, the one who's always spouting bullshit, the person who always thinks they're right? Well, the odds are that for somebody else, you're that person.

So take the amount you think you know, reduce it by 99.999%, and then you'll have an idea of how much you actually know regarding things outside your Monkeysphere. Once you accept this you can no longer smirk over other people just because you think they're morons.

This way you won't, for instance, snidely dismiss all religious faith as ridiculous and in the next breath solemnly share your experiences with the conspiracy of reptilian overlords who secretly run society.

Second, UNDERSTAND that there are no Supermonkeys. Just monkeys.

Those guys on TV you see, giving the inspirational seminars, teaching you how to reach your potential and become rich and successful like them? You know how they made their money? By giving seminars. For the most part, the only thing they do well is convince others they do everything well.

No, the universal moron principal established in No. 1 above applies here, too. Don't pretend politicians are somehow supposed to be immune to all the backhanded fuckery we all do in our daily lives and don't laugh and point when the preacher gets caught on video snorting cocaine off a prostitute's ass. A good exercise is to picture your hero -- whoever it is -- passed out on his lawn, naked from the waist down. The odds are it's happened at some point. Even Gandhi most likely has hotel rooms and dead hookers in his past.

And don't even think about ignoring advice from a moral teacher just because the source enjoys the ol' Colombian Nose Candy from time to time. We're all members of varying species of hypocrite (or did you tell them at the job interview that you once called in sick to spend a day leveling up on Final Fantasy X?) Don't use your heroes' vices as an excuse to let yours run wild.

And finally, DON'T LET ANYBODY simplify it for you. The world cannot be made simple. Anyone who tries to paint a picture of the world in basic comic book colors is most likely trying to use you as a pawn.

This is not a world of us vs. them, of home vs. away teams and animal mascots. It is not a world of step-by-step success plans and clever slogans.

So just remember: T-R-Y. Go forth and do likewise, gents. Now you've got
MONKEY MOMENTUM!



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1 Comments:

Blogger shoe said...

david, i love this. thanks so much for posting it. i find you to be not so much a supermonkey, but at least an important cog in my monkeysphere!! thanks again!!

10:22 PM  

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