July 24th, 2009

evolving

Monkeys, Man, Monkeys

So while in the midst of research for the still-untitled-used-to-be-called-Deathless Russian novel, I started watching a show called Mad Men.

Which means that while reading about some of the absolute worst shit humans have ever gladly seized the opportunity to do to other humans, I started watching a show about advertising.

But of course, what Mad Men is really about is masculinity, a certain kind of old school masculinity that is a thin layer of societal superego overlaying pure, gooey id. They chase and tackle and use women, attempt to destroy each other every day, and try in various primate ways to show each other up and become the dominant monkey. There's a scene where a young, strong man gets his just ever so slightly greying boss to eat a bunch of oysters and swill vodka at lunch, then fakes a broken elevator and makes him climb dozens of staircases so that he vomits in front of a client. See, he's weak and old, and has to be crushed under the paw of the younger beast, the one who has the most females to mate with, the shiniest tools, the squarest jaw. It's an entire show of watching primate behavior play out. With vodka martinis.

Give them guns, and it's the Stalinist regime.

Because the thing about regimes are that they're made up of people. I'm not even sure they're entirely made up of damaged people. They're made up of people who have been told, or told themselves and somehow no one argued, that their pure gooey id should have no check, and that in fact their id exists and functions for the good of all. So whatever they feel like doing, it's politically virtuous. And every time they kill someone for disagreeing, every time they rape a girl from the country, every time they sign a piece of paper to starve out a whole region, and nothing happens to them, the monkey in their head beats its chest a little louder, and next time it'll be worse.

But hey, that's the Big Bad Soviet Union. The Gory, Awful Bear. We'd never do anything like that. We virtuous capitalists. Never.

I read about the things that Stalin and his friends did, before and after the revolution. And I think: what is wrong with you people? At what point does axing capping someone in the head because they read Marx differently start to sound like a good idea? How could you fuckers have killed millions of Ukranians before you even got around to the really good killing shit? What is broken in you? (I mean, other than that Stalin was 5'3 and hated himself for it. The audiobook I have is hilarious on that point. This dry British voice saying: Like many men of untoward ambition, Stalin was extraoridinarily short. OH SNAP.)

But then, I read about the arguments between Lenin and his buddies, and the early politburo squabbles, and how Stalin brought his aggressively stupid friends in to replace anyone competent because they would agree with him no matter what. And it hit me.

They're a bunch of Usenet creeps, having flamewars and kerfuffles and trolls and sock puppets and a serious lack of moderation.

And somewhere along the line they figured out that no one would or could punish them for bringing the banhammer down for sure and for real. For taking out their arguments with their frenemies on the real world. It's ghastly and shocking, especially since we don't like talking about Stalin in this country, since we played nice with him fro quite awhile, and it's easy to chalk it all up to them being wicked Russians. But I see this kind of shit online all the time. And it always comes from feeling powerless, and it's always saved from becoming real and genuine violence by the distancing power of technology.

We act like this all the time
. We just don't have the power to really dig into our primate natures. Someone would punish us. That's all a superego is--a healthy sense of the likelihood of getting caught. How many people have you watched freak out online and could tell that if they could seriously strangle you IRL, they would do it right now? (Hell, a certain SF author threatened violence against a woman who literally did nothing to him just today.) That fury is a drug, especially for modern folk who can't tap that drug any time they want and go paleolithic on some other monkey's ass.

Unless they can. Unless by dumb fucking luck they get ahold of a whole country.

We are all broken monkeys. We run on a very thin code-line of social conditioning, and it is not very hard at all to break that programming and reduce us all to screaming, bloody creatures bent on our own way--and the way of the monkey is mating more than anyone else, killing competing alphas, and gorging ourselves on fresh meat. I think this is deeply true in geek culture, where traditional displays of violence and sexuality have been thwarted and sublimated into advanced tool-use and language skills. So basically, geeks use tools and words to punk noobs and show their dominance and it's all about as evolved as flinging shit, but we do it with an iphone app, so it's cool.

No one is exempt from this. It's hard wired. To some extent I've even watched the men in my family play out Mad Men-style masculinity battles (the fam was in advertising for years, in fact) and deal with the fallout. And it's not a gender thing, either. Women play out these same urges, sometimes better, sometimes worse. It depends on which kind of aggression they've been taught is acceptable. It just happens, over and over, and the minute some broken monkey like all the other broken monkeys climbs up the social shitpile high enough that there isn't anyone above them to hold their arms back, people start dying, and starving, and suffering. Because it makes the monkey on top feel big.

One of the most chilling things I've ever heard is my father-in-law-to-be talking about traveling in the Russian countryside and seeing the gulags. Still there, still clean, still fully stocked and waiting. People work there. There are no prisoners, but they're still very much functional. He asked one of the people who lived nearby why.

"Well," the villager said, "you never know when we'll need them."

Primates. All of us. And I can watch it and recognize it and still know that least of all I am not exempt. And the most frightening thing about "regimes" is that they are just people, and most of them are not even particularly damaged or bent. They just make the same choices most people make, on a grander scale, with longer knives.

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