I’m breaking both my new blog post rules today. First this has nothing to do with writing. Second; it’s a long one. Enjoy!
For those of you familiar with my blog, or me in any way, you will know I have a thing about the ever growing human population, its effect on the planet and so on and so forth. (See here and here for linked musings.)
I also have my theories on many aspects of human behaviour and why, as a ‘civilised’ society we really haven’t come as far as we think we have in terms of distancing ourselves from our base core as animals.
Sure, we are intelligent (though there are times I would argue our intelligence is our biggest downfall as a species.) Sure we don’t toilet ourselves out in the wild, unless we are on a camping holiday, up a mountain, in a traffic jam, or three years old. We like to think ourselves as above the rest of the animal kingdom because we have managed to survive and thrive for nearly a million years now (which is nothing given we’ll probably be extinct in another hundred if we carry on). We believe we are superior because we’ve developed a whole bunch of pretty much pointless technology (if you stop to think about it for half a second.) When I speak of humans in this way I speak of ‘Western’ societies and cultures, who yes, may be more ‘civilised’, whatever that means, but I have a theory that we as a species are not so far removed from our animal instincts as we like to believe, at least in one area of our behaviour.
And to make my point for this ramble I am going to refer you to the city of London (or any other sprawling metropolis you care to live near, or are familiar with.)
Some of you may not know this, but I have a little bit of an aversion to people. I don’t mean people as individuals, I know some very lovely people and I like company otherwise get lonely. No, I am speaking more in terms of society, people en mass, as a concept: a Western society; a consumer, capitalist society; a modern society. We are a conceited animal and this bothers me as a member of the species and it seems to me that when people gather together en mass, for any reason whatsoever our animal instincts become all the more apparent and this hypocrisy that we are so high above other species bugs me, because we’re not. Not really.
Now, if I find myself in a crowd of people I can become quite claustrophobic, as I’m sure an awful lot of others can do too. If I spend time with a large group of friends, I retreat into myself more than I do if with only a few, and the introvert in me needs days alone to recover from the ordeal. In general I am not the most tolerant human of other humans. I will admit that. I don’t like it about myself, in fact I regularly beat myself up about it, because society deems I should be all loving, all caring, all embracing of my fellow man. However, I just cannot abide people en mass. Don’t get me wrong, I am not an evil, human hater, wishing ill on all who cross my path. I have developed the social skills I need and have a moral compass which wishes well and goodness to all, (okay, almost all.) I am polite, amiable, affable, conversational, kind, sensitive (not all at the same time I hasten to add), even in the face of extreme adversity. I tolerate the sometimes baffling behaviour of other humans because I realise I am not perfect and I’m human and others tolerate my baffling idiosyncrasies so all’s fair. No, I am a grumpy, intolerant, snappy, boring, judgmental, selfish human too when I want to be. I have no illusions that others won’t find me irritating, rude,even obnoxious at times, but all this does not stop me absolutely detesting other humans when there are too many of them around. This I believe is pretty much a base animal instinct. Some of us simply control the uncomfortable feeling being around crowds of people better than others.
Here’s the thing which got me re-thinking this issue again.
Yesterday I visited London for the day. I have been to London before and always thought what a hell hole it is. (Sorry if you love London as I realise many do, but uuurghh, it isn’t for me.) I had, after years of not visiting, kind of forgotten how bad it was, but yesterday it all came flooding back.
Now I am no country bumpkin who simply hates cities from sheer ignorance. Quite the opposite. I was born and raised in England’s second city. No, not Manchester; Birmingham. I could also spend many a week wandering the streets of Edinburgh and I have always liked the times I have visited other UK cities. But, but, but…London is a different kettle of fish altogether. It isn’t that it is just so much bigger, it is, at least it appears that the people there are just so, well, rude, for want of a better word. I know I am now going to get Londoners from all over say this is not so, but just hear me out as I don’t blame you. You see it’s probably not your fault.
In Britain we hold a theory that the further north you travel, the nicer folk are generally speaking. I wholeheartedly agree with this from my experiences and here’s my theory as to why this holds true.
Generally speaking, the further north and west you go in the UK, the less people there are. It’s that simple. The further South-East you go, the more there are.
I personally don’t believe human beings were designed to live in anything bigger than villages or small towns. I really don’t.
All that our ‘survival of the fittest, dominant species, transport linked, global community’ crap has done is encourage us to live in massive, overcrowded communities which, from what I see, only make us extremely miserable. Why else do we have a TV programme called “Escape To The Country?”
This misery of overpopulated communities I evidence every time I travel to London.
Take yesterday for example. I arrived at London Marylebone station mid morning. I felt calm and relaxed after a pleasant train trip down on a Chiltern train from The Midlands. The first thing I had to do was find toilet facilities, which I located quickly, only to discover I had to pay 30 pence for the privilege. (Yes, I had forgotten about this particular quirk of the capital’s public restrooms.) I can only assume the reason there is a charge is, due to the sheer volume of people needing to use these facilities, the council, or whoever, have to ensure they are not been misused. The more people there are to mistreat them, the more need there is for a charge to deter ‘undesirables’. How depressing. Large communities cannot be trusted it seems. (Either that or the charge is to pay for the upkeep of the wonderful decor of a perspex Monopoly Board on the back wall – nice but pretty pointless use of public money when a short walk away, homeless people camp.)
Anyway, having no change, I hopped on over to the WHSmiths on the other side of the concourse and bought a flapjack for me and a KitKat for the little one. Whilst we were in the queue, getting in the way most likely, those ahead of us and around us were practically throwing their money down at the cashier before she even had a chance to see what they were buying. So in rush they were. Why is it people in London are always in a rush? Do Londoners have such bad time management skills that they never leave enough time to casually stroll into a train station and catch a train at a leisurely pace? I’m surprised there aren’t more dead bodies from heart attacks littering the place.
Anyway, I digress, again. The next job was to hit the tube. With a six year old. Now this wasn’t too bad in the morning but later on. Well. I’ll come to that shortly.
The first thing you notice about people travelling on the tube is the lack of eye contact anyone human will have with any other human and the air hanging heavy with suspicious minds. No one is relaxed. Hackles are up, eyes are alert to the surroundings but dead to other humans, ears pricked because everyone is a stranger and anyone can pose danger. The drunk, the mentally ill, the mugger. Any one of these people around you might have a bomb strapped to them, a gun in their pocket or a knife at their belt. You begin your day happy and relaxed, being the same old trusting self but after ten minutes on the underground you find yourself merging in with this suspicious, nervous menagerie of people. You know no-one. You trust no-one and survival in the metropolis jungle becomes your only concern.
This atmosphere of suspicion and fear leads to an almost eerie quietness throughout the underground which I find odd in a place so heaving with people. All that is heard is the clatter of heels on stairs, shuffling footsteps, suitcase wheels bouncing down escalators and the screech of the trains themselves. But there are no human voices. Or at least, very few. This eerie quietness of a place packed with so many people is disconcerting and telling. No one says please or thank you. No one smiles and this, I believe, is our animal instincts kicking in. All we are interested in is protecting our own space, and no one does that quite like the locals.
You can spot them a mile off.
They will be the ones marking their territory like a dog.
Heads held high, shoulders back, eyes forward, focused, running down/up the left hand side of the escalators, crossing the yellow safety line in a move no tourist would dare try. They don’t stop and consult underground maps, or falter at the barrier for their ticket, and they don’t care if you were next to the empty seat first. They are quicker than a whippet out of a trap when it comes to snatching that elusive seat as soon as the previous occupant has lifted their bottom from it. It’s quite a sight to behold. They must have been champions at every game of musical chairs when younger. In fact I wonder if Musical Chair Champion has to be a prerequisite of acquiring a job in London.
Then there were the two women in the queue for the escalator: “It’s busy isn’t it?” says one to the other “Oh yes” says the other one very pointedly: “It’s the Museum Crowd isn’t it?” as though tourists were the scourge of their city, rather than part of it’s lifeblood. After which, they jump the queue as, of course, they have more right than we to be at the front. Some locals do speak, but generally only to mark their territory, show the tourists and outsiders who’s boss.
Once on the train, there spouted the word of a poncy young adult very loudly organising his trip to America with his friends. They were sat opposite him but happened to have a can of squashed human sardines standing up, swaying backwards and forwards, between them. “Right, yah, my father lives in Floridaaah yah; he’ll let us know the cool places to stay…blah blah blah blah….. Yah, that’s the kinda vibe.” (The vibe? Who even speaks like that?) “Oh we can pop down to Mexico from Floridaah yah?” Yes, because Florida to Mexico is akin to a trip through the Blackwall tunnel. Maybe it is if you have daddy’s private jet to borrow, who knows? Again, marking his territory. Subtext: “I don’t care I’m on a packed tube train. I’m quite comfortable with this because I do it all the time and I’m young, hip and happening. It doesn’t matter that everyone can hear me and that I’m basically talking at someone’s groin. I’m from London and I laugh in the face of the Tube crowds.” All I could think was “Tosser.”
See this is what being around people in crowds does to me. I become an intolerant, sarcastic cow.
Depressingly, other than this one individual, I saw not one smile on four different tube journeys. Not one. Not even his friends. If they were his friends.
Not that I blame people for not smiling. It’s hotter than hell on the underground and you’re surrounded by all manner of odd humans. Really odd. It’s like a pressure cooker. There is nothing much to smile about as people pour in and out of the doors like a can of coca cola that’s been shook up too much.
This however doesn’t account for the rudeness one encounters. The woman with the suitcase who thought it perfectly okay to barge her way thought the queue to the escalator for example. Seriously, what makes her better than me, the next person or the next? Though actually, again this rudeness, this abruptness of Londoners, I think, comes down to basic animal survival instincts. The aim is to get from one point to the next as quickly as possible, but there are all these other millions of humans trying to do the same. In conflicting directions most of the time. Then of course there are the bumbling tourists with their children strolling though the barriers to navigate. Shoulder barging seems the quickest and most effective form of communication it appears.
On top of it all, there is just simply the mad, fast paced rush of the entire place. Those who run up or down the left hand side of the escalator, because tube trains don’t run every three minutes. It’s like some sort of disease that people using the underground have. “Must not ever wait for a tube train: I must run and ensure I arrive just as it is pulling in, then jump on board, regardless of how many people are in it already. I couldn’t possibly wait for the next one.”
It is just an alien world to me. Humanity seems desperately lacking. No one surely likes it? Everyone is miserable and rude and intolerant of others and the worst thing is it is so easy to find yourself quickly getting sucked into the mentality of basic my ‘survival’ matters above all else. But instead of your survival being about avoiding the jaws of a Sabre toothed cat, it is being first to the train, to a seat, to your destination.
And it is all, to my mind completely pointless and unnecessary.
Those commuting on the tube are doing so for their jobs which earn them a wage to help them live in the most expensive city in Britain. And they rush about like blue arsed flies to do this. They do this so they can buy lots of stuff. All the stuff no one really actually needs. The stuff our intelligent, civilized, developed society tells us we need.
This is why I don’t like humans much and going to London in particular just brings it home to me more. I just can’t help but despair at our species when I am in large crowds, be that in a tube station, in a shopping center or even on social media. The constant rush and white noise of so much unimportant stuff. I reflect and can’t help but think: “Oh Good Lord there are just so, so, so many of us. Too many of us, clogging up the planet, destroying it with consumerism and planet wrecking stuff.” It scares me, truth be told.
And thus I just don’t think we are designed to live crowded together in big cities. It clearly makes us all hateful and miserable and intolerant. It is also why we generally only have a few close friends and family. Humans, like other animals are not, I believe, designed to cope with too many other around. Too many other animals in the pack creates competition, suspicion and intolerance.
Humans, in this respect, despite all our intelligence, are no different to other animals. The main difference is that other animals live in herds which don’t go into the millions crammed into ridiculously small spaces. Animals, when they have their territory threatened by other herds kill and maim other animals. Out intelligence and humanity prevents us from this, to a certain degree, but tell me, why do you never hear of rioting in small Scottish coastal towns? Hmmmmm? I think the rudeness and utter misery conveyed by the majority of people I saw in London, especially on the underground, simply echoes this on a mini, repressed level. It only takes one small incident for the pressure cooker to blow. We want/need to claim our territory, even if it’s just that tiny corner of the tube train and we’ll beat any one down if they try to get to it first. I saw it in queues for the toilets, queues in the museum, (crikey, I even felt myself ready to blow at the woman in the queue behind me who had no concept of personal space and continually bumped into my back). I saw it as people jostled and vied for the best seats on the train home. It is the same in any environment where many people are gathered. If we are honest in these situations we, at best, tolerate our fellow humans. We don’t embrace and love them. As I’ve said before, we look out for ourselves, then our own tribe (family, close friends, those we have specially selected to be a part of our lives). We care very little for anyone else. We don’t have the capacity to.
And to me, London is just one massive, human zoo.
NB all ramblings are my own opinions. Feel free to add yours in the comments box below and thanks as always for reading.