Christopher Sebela

writer, wronger, rearranger

The different martial arts all share an interesting gimmick. (I went from tae kwon do to sho ryu karate to kempo, one foot-smelling dojo much like another, as I followed the traditional Japanese directive to spend more time training than sleeping.) You’re supposed to act like an animal. I don’t mean in the abstract: you’re supposed to model your strategies on those of real, specific creatures. Using “crane style” for precise, fast, distance attacks, for instance, or “tiger style” for aggressive, in-close slashing. The underlying idea is that the last animal you’d want to emulate in a violent situation is a human being.

This turns out to be true, by the way. Most humans are instinctively terrible fighters. They flinch, they flail, they turn away. Most of us are so bad at fighting that it has actually been an evolutionary advantage, since before the mass production of weapons people had to think to truly hurt each other, so the smart had a fighting chance. A Neanderthal would kick your ass and then eat it, but try finding one to test this.

Alternately, consider the shark. Most species of shark hatch live inside their mothers and start killing each other right then and there. The result is that their brains have stayed the same for 60 million years, while ours kept increasing in complexity until 150,000 years ago, at which point we became able to speak, and therefore human, and our evolution became technological instead of biological.

There are two ways of looking at this. One is that sharks are vastly evolutionarily superior to humans, since if you think we’ll last 60 million years, you’re insane. The other is that we’re superior to sharks, because they’ll almost certainly be extinct before we will, and their demise, like ours, will be thanks to us. These days a human’s a lot more likely to eat a shark than vice versa.

On the tiebreaker, though, sharks win. Because while we humans have our minds and our ability to transmit the contents of them down through the generations, and sharks have their big ol’ teeth and the means to use them, sharks don’t appear to agonize about the situation. And humans sure as hell do.

Humans hate being mentally strong and physically weak. The fact that we get to take this planet down with us when we go brings us no joy whatsoever. Instead we admire athletes and the physically violent, and we loathe intellectuals. A bunch of nerds build a rocket to the fucking moon, and who do they send? A blond man named Armstrong, who can’t even say the line right when he lands.

It’s a weird curse, when you think about it. We’re built for thought, and civilization, more than any other creature we’ve found. And all we really want to be is killers.

— Josh Bazell, Beat the Reaper

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