A Thin Veneer of Civilization

NPR // Throughline // When Things Fall Apart

“What we assume in other people is what we get out of them. Our view of human nature tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we assume that people are fundamentally selfish, then that’s how they will behave. If we assume that people are fundamentally decent, then maybe we can create a very different kind of society.”


Deeply Human Hate

Why do we hate one another – and how can we stop?

How and when does conflict metastasize into hatred? Dessa picks apart the science of hostility, with help from a criminologist who identifies the tipping point between prejudice and hate, and an Israeli psychologist who’s studied one of the longest conflicts in the world today.


“The most important job of the brain is to ensure our survival, even under the most miserable conditions. Everything else is secondary. In order to do that, brains need to: (1) generate internal signals that register what our bodies need, such as food, rest, protection, sex, and shelter; (2) create a map of the world to point us where to go to satisfy those needs; (3) generate the necessary energy and actions to get us there; (4) warn us of dangers and opportunities along the way; and (5) adjust our actions based on the requirements of the moment. And since we human beings are mammals, creatures that can only survive and thrive in groups, all of these imperatives require coordination and collaboration.”

— Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

All We Can Offer Anymore

I used to enjoy waking up to watch the news in the morning but between the past presidency and the pandemic, I’ve been feeling rather pessimistic about both the current state of our world and our collective future.

It isn’t just the news stations. It’s social media too. I log into Facebook and Twitter and I see so much pain and anger. Everywhere I look the world is burning, flooding, and fighting. People are sick. People are tired. People are lost and afraid, but nowhere are people at all willing to put petty differences aside to save the whole of humanity.

Sure we could change, but we won’t. We are a historically stubborn species and once we have decided on a course, almost nothing will move us. I don’t really blame us. We have our language and our reasoning, but deep down there is hardly any difference between us and the rest of the animal kingdom.

We want power, status, and wealth: things we think promise survival. We are wrong by instinct. We are driven to our destruction by our very biology.

So, it would seem that the human species is experiencing its last death throes and we are bringing the entirety of life on this planet with us. Facing such mortality, all I have found to be grateful for is knowing that I will not live to see the worst of it, only this awful beginning.

I’m grateful too for the bubble of happiness around me. The cushion of love and support I have is such a privilege and I wonder to what end I could put it to use for a greater good. I may be disappointed and depressed by the state of the world, but I still care, and I want to help.

No one of us can save the whole of it or stop what is now an inevitability. We have failed ourselves and each other, but there is no undoing or redoing. All we can do now is focus our personal privilege and small actions on easing suffering where we can. This is the work we have now. This is all we can offer one another anymore.

Runaway Self-Hatred

“A degree of regret may sometimes be helpful: it can help us to take stock of errors and avoid the worst of the pitfalls next time. But runaway self-hatred serves no useful purpose whatsoever; it is, in its masochistic way, an indulgence we can’t afford.

We may be foolish, but this doesn’t single us out as particularly awful or unusual, it only confirms that we belong to the human race, a fact for which we deserve limitless sympathy and compassion.”


A person is a person through other people strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance.”

— Michael Onyebuchi Eze (via Dense Discovery)