Some time before I was born, about five hundred thousand years ago, I suppose we all lived in tiny widely spaced communities as separated from each other as it was possible to be: living in caves , getting by on a day-to-day basis. There where no laws, alliances or any other but the most primitive connections. We survived on hunting and scavenging. Everything we had , we had on our own, and certainty was more a matter of hours rather than years. Gods came in many guises. Sometimes they quarrelled with each other, and their view of the individual was not always benign. Anger them and you could drink to your ruin.
Gradually society developed and moved through different stages until that primitive man is now clothed, for many of us, in all the apparel of modern society. When we are born we reach out to what preserves and protects us, normally our mothers, and we don’t know whether we have been born into that primitive land or a modern one: we are just moved by the instinct to survive. As time wore on nations and societies developed, until things changed utterly.
Now that little baby, nestling in it’s mothers arms is subject to a thousand regulations for its protection and, apparently, is instructed that there is nothing to worry about. Someone might come and attack me. “Don’t worry about that sir, our well-trained police force will ensure public order and safety in your area: just keep eating the milk-shakes”. Violent tribes might come and lay waste to our village and take all we possess. “Don’t worry sir, our well-trained army will protect you from any uncivilised interest in your home or land”.
We are told that we don’t have to worry because the state has taken care of it all. That primitive caveman finds that as long as he does some harmless work, and stops waving his spear around he will find food ready harvested at the local store and a television to blanderise any emotion or experience he cares to investigate. Of course it gets more complicated than that. Drinking too much alcohol we weave our way along the pavements shouting out abuse or some formula for world happiness, only to be informed by some passing gentleman in a blue uniform that we are “disturbing the peace” and subject to instant arrest and a night in the cells. Our baffled primitive instincts look on in bemusement as the body they are cased in is escorted away to reflect on its behaviour. We notice with unease that someone next door has a newer kitchen or more fashionable dress.
In some cases the basis for real worry is absent. Food is plentiful, the roof rainproof and the wide-screen television makes a constant statement that we have arrived and moved far from the caves of our ancestors. Somehow that is not enough. We remain alert for dangers and threats, and finding none that immediately challenge us we search until we find some. Anxiety can become a way of life, far removed from the need to survive. We can retreat into a private world of unease, sure in the knowledge that either we have missed something, or that no one else recognises the danger we are in. Cased in a life of plenty, our ancestors would have been amazed at, we sniff around us and identify dangers in guises beyond their understanding or experience.
Protected from ourselves and others by an all embracing and emasculating state we seek out new anxieties sensing threat just beyond the horizon. Sadly our ability to demonstrate anxiety rather than celebrate our brief time on earth is in constant evidence. Were we able to see and meet with our caveman ancestors he would be baffled by our circumstances but when we expressed the sense of danger that exists around us he would nod his agreement. Everything is different but nothing changes. Sometimes we stand in the garden of Eden staring at that apple.. Longing for what we don’t have: ignoring what we do. Acceptance of where we are is not a failing. We just think it is. As Auden sad quite recently, and as that caveman might have felt, looking down on his newborn child, “We must love one another or die”.