I work with a lot of people for whom procrastination is a problem—and goodness knows I suffer from it as well sometimes. We’re either stuck in a rut and not doing the things that we want to be doing with our lives, or we’re feeling that there is some enormous, unconscious force that renders us a puppet to our laziest inclinations.

I don’t know anyone who has been spared the virus of self-sabotage at some point. But I would be willing to guess that it wasn’t such an epidemic among the more tribal, communal cultures of the past. And so I find myself wondering: is the cultural move towards a more individualistic society based on personal freedom and individual liberty actually an evolutionary force? And if so, is self-sabotage a side-effect of that relentless spirit of manifest destiny?

Because when I am in the dregs of full-fledged self-sabotage mode, there is no one who is more individualistic and self-centered than I am. It’s as if I have activated the forces of individualistic, ego-centered, survival-of-the-fittest mentality.

And those are strong voices. They go something along the lines of, “You suck, you’ll never amount to anything, of course you can’t do that, see all those people thinking that you’re stupid, I can’t believe you just said that…”

And this persistent, nagging voice, that mode of “self, thou art not worthy of thy species” just makes me want to hit the self-destruct button.

Taking a broader look, it sure looks as if our entire species is hell bent on hitting that button. We’re exhausting natural resources, over-building factories spewing carbon-monoxide emissions, and polluting the oceans. Depression is an epidemic and toxic environments trigger cancers that are indiscriminate in their killing spree.

If evolution is supposed to be about the survival of the species, how come there’s this huge force that threatens to wipe out the fit, the weak, and everyone else in between? It makes me wonder if “Survival of the Fittest” should be called “Death-Drive: Pass It On.”

I find it somewhat comforting to know that there’s nothing wrong with me –that my internal wrestling matches are biological. But if that’s true, then maybe—maybe?—quelling our personal sabotaging voices has much larger implications for the future of the species.

Consider this interesting debate happening between evolutionary biologists:

On the one had there is Darwin who proposed his theory of evolution based on the survival of  the fittest. This is called “individual” or “kin” selection,” meaning that the traits of certain  “top of the heap” individuals pass down their strengths to their offspring; what is strong and “fit”  replicates and evolves, generation after generation. And what replicates, survives. Darwinian logic assumes that this is a biological law, a scientific fact.

On the other had there is Edwin Wilson and other biologists who have have dared to challenge Darwinian dogma. Wilson believes that although the struggle to wipe out the weak and perpetuate the strong does indeed happen among certain species, it doesn’t happen within all of them. Not all organic beings are locked into the be-fit-or-die evolutionary script. In fact, some life forms actually survive because of co-habitation, shared resources, and the passing down of cooperative – as opposed to individualistic– social traits. Biologists call this “eusociality.”

According to Wilson in his controversial book, The Social Conquest of the Earth, “Individual selection is responsible for much of what we call sin, while group selection is responsible for the greater part of virtue. Together they have created the conflict between the poorer and the better angels of our nature.”

So are our deep inner conflicts actually indicative of larger biological and social forces that are at play in the field of unconscious evolutionary battles between co-habitation and strident individualism?

There are a lot of philosophical and logical problems with this rather simplistic and binary view of human psychology, but I wonder: is it possible that as we start paying more attention to group/community/social dynamics that the unregulated industrial and technological progress that now threatens the earth in unprecedented ways can be steered in a different direction? One that uses industry and technology as eusocial tools as opposed to individualistic profit machines?

This is already starting to happen and I applaud companies such as Microsoft and Honda for transitioning  destructive practices into cooperative/future-sustaining ones.1 But the momentum needs to greatly increase.

And it seems that for this to happen–for a vast amount of people to begin creating new infrastructures to sustain social/community/eusocial dynamics– that anyone, from poets to bankers, who is of sound mind and body can quell those inner tendencies towards self-sabotage and start living our lives not from the vantage place of suffering past afflictions, but creating meaningful, systemic changes at the level of both our personal psychology and social practice.

It seems like wacky, circular logic to imagine that doing what I really want to be doing with my life is somehow less individualistic than beating myself up about everything I’m not doing.

But when I’m not mired in negative thoughts about my sorry lot in life, there are so many other things I can begin thinking about that allow me to take action towards creating a meaningful existence, one that isn’t centered around my own suffering but is, rather, centered around supporting other people, creating small constellations of community, and becoming a more activated human being who is engaged with the world around me. Compassion, helpfulness, gratitude, and connectivity with other people is so much more natural when self-sabotage is out of the picture.

The future—in terms of the planet, social injustice, and our own personal psychology— isn’t over yet. So let’s put in motion the energy to steer ourselves, and the technologies we touch, into the eusociality of cooperative survival. Starting now.

Image by Marina del Castell, courtesy of Creative Commons license. 

Originally published on

Published On: April 9th, 2014 / Categories: Logopoeia: essays and responses / Tags: , , , /

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