Throughout mankind’s history, there are constants that never change. We claim the cloak of civilization, but just barely. Beneath the veneer of sophistication and presumed gentility, the savage entrenched in our very essence thrives.

You may shake your head and disagree, but it will not change the facts. Our evolution from primates to humans barely conceals the beast behind the façade. “Homo” is the Latin word for human. “Sapiens” mean wise or intelligent. Somewhere along the way, humans were referred to as rational animals.

The animal part is clearly evident and often appears in the news as some brutal act one human inflicted on a fellow human. We often wonder what makes people commit the atrocities that have become commonplace in the daily news cycles. What happens in a person’s mind in the heat of the moment? The rational part disappears with alarming ease. After all, hate, lust, distorted love or curiosity is basic to both the rational and certainly the animal side of our nature.

In the days of the caveman, nothing brought a clan together better than a good, bloody fight to the death. Unlike us, they never gave a thought to the sanctity of life. It was a matter of survival of the fittest. Weaklings had no place in the caveman’s world. The same is true in the animal kingdom. No self-respecting female would mate with a male who lost the testosterone fight with another male.

As the years passed and man became more and more civilized, the concept of the fittest among them to lead and multiply — once, twice or more —remained strong. The driving force behind every decision the leaders made was to gain more territory; capture more females; increase their power.

Therefore, instead of Ogg and Ugg beating each other until one of them is dead, a substitute for such one-on-one beatings was war. It became the popular, at least with the leaders, method of gaining power and riches. Of course, the peons who were conscripted to fight such battles did not agree with the leaders. It was the last thing on the To Do List of people who lived “below the salt” or lower.

Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde; Julius Caesar and the Legions of Rome; and the various and sundry Vikings or the kings of what we now know as Europe engaged in their blood and guts drive for power and glory. Such exploits were either cut short or followed by an enforced retirement. Namely, their untimely and often gory death at the hands of someone who wanted what the now dead leader had.

Funny thing about leaders of any era in history or the financial giants of today, death is never part of their long range plan. It must be such a shock to discover that a lowly guy in a hooded robe can hack all their dreams to shreds with a simple scythe.

The uncivilized essence of the animal lurking under the surface in man enjoys the brutality of entertainment like the gladiator games in the Roman Colosseum. In modern times, we have more civilized substitutes like football or boxing, but there must be blood and pain.

People are captivated by disasters. The possibility of watching someone get hurt, maimed or even killed is mesmerizing. If you doubt this baser side of rational animals, ask yourself why traffic slows to a crawl as drivers gawk at the aftermath of accidents — the greater the carnage, the slower the traffic. The same is true of fires or other disasters played on an endless loop of 24/7 news.

For the sake of clarity, we can bring this fascination with other peoples’ problems and misery closer to home. Dear sweet Aunt Tillie will nearly fall out of her chair as she slurps up the latest gossip of someone’s troubles. Everywhere you turn, someone is gloating over the misery of a “dear friend.”

Like carrion to roadkill, people are captivated by other’s blood and pain, as long as it is not their own.

 

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