I've often felt that the coolest (and hardest) thing about being human is that you have to straddle a very difficult fence between responding solely to instinctive, "hard-wired" animal impulses and being moved solely by rational thought. For us men, this can be especially difficult: you're cut off by some guy in traffic, and some part of your brain cries out for revenge. You have a choice of giving into this impulse or ignoring such feelings as irrational.

What happens most of the time, of course, is that you make some sort of reply (usually involving the car horn and/ or your middle finger), but you don't actually hunt the offender down and kill him (though, sadly, this now happens all too frequently). So can we truly divorce ourselves from our animal impulses? We've succeeded in creating a society where the most violent of our impulses are kept in some sort of check, but I think that a wild animal is still lurking inside us all, and often reveals itself in ways that are not at all apparent to us.

I studied the Soviet Union extensively in college (back in the "good old days" when there was a USSR). Often, the question was put to us, "Why do the Russian (and associated other) people put up with such authoritarian governments as they've had throughout their history?" The answer, according to some academics, is that "The Russians like the whip" (a phrase of one of my professors).

It's hard to deny that Russia has had quite a number of repressive regimes in its long and storied history. But I think such statements are overly simplistic. I do think that the lesson of history is that people need to be led, and whether that leadership is benevolent or malevolent is probably largely a measure of luck.

Aristotle said it best when he declared that "man is a social animal." We congregate in societies, through our states, our religions, even our families. We have within us a basic need for some kind of companionship, whether as a utilitarian measure or otherwise. The worst thing you can do to a criminal is stick him in solitary confinement. Some people have managed to break this need, but it's manifest that they're in the minority.

Are people, at heart, sheep? Probably to some extent. The difference is that sheep have no choice in the matter, while we, as humans, do. We can ask questions, search for truth, take action. Most of us are condemned to sheep-itude by sheer inertia, but this is not the way things MUST be.

BTW, an interesting question would be what separates faith from blind obedience. Are those of faith merely sheep, or is this a misunderstanding of the nature of faith? I will not address this question here, but I note with interest that Jesus used sheep/shepherd metaphors in a very positive way.

Consider the nature aspect further:

While, yes, we are omnivores a certain portion of our nature is carnivorous. Combine this with our gregarious nature, and you produce conditions of congregated hunters. It should not be surprising that dictatorships will arise - dominance by the strongest and most successful hunter.

You could argue that the harsh conditions present in the countryside of Russia would further reward those hunters who were most fierce, and over time produce an even more likely tendancy for harsh governance, but when does this stop being nature and become cultural - a learned social behavior that continues to reward the most successful strong, dominant leader?

It is a worthy discussion.

The road rage example is pretty good for dealing with the issues of our or deeper nature, but not I think for the exact reason you mention. I tend to consider the matter in classic flight or fight terms. There you are strapped stationary into a ton of metal and plastic and flammable material hurtling yourself down the road with great speed... and some fool cuts you off. You can't run. You are trapped. This idiot just placed you at risk of imminent death with no escape. Well flight is certainly ruled out, and you know what they say about cornered animals...

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