The Grand Unified Theory of Why People Suck

This is how I see your brain and the way it works. Possibly I need help. I’ve definitely watched too much TV.

As I wrote this I was sat on a plane about 10 hours from home. Since my last post I’ve spent 20 hours in the air, 8 on a train, and what feels like 500 sitting around in airports and stations waiting and thinking, so if what follows makes you think ‘wow. this guy has WAY too much time on his hands’ you’d be right.

Anyway, for anyone interesting in my last post – on why people can’t NOT be idiots at a baggage carousel, here it is: my grand unified theory of baggage.


Economics is the reason you can’t wait for your bags.

For anyone who’s not familiar wth it (or hasn’t seen the movie Beautiful Mind) Russell Nash, one the pioneers of Game Theory, came up with a system of predicting how people will act in a certain situation. If you want to know more then it’s really interesting but in interest of space (and because I’m not an economist) I’ll not go into much detail. What he did do though was discuss the idea of ‘Prisoners Dilemma’: the concept that if it really comes down to it, nearly every time you will screw other people and they – even if just to get in first – will quite happily screw you in return. The only way this doesn’t happen is if you are in an ‘infinitely repeating’ set of ‘games’ with the same people (ie this might explain why you’re less of a douche to your friends and your family than you are to other people). People at the baggage carousel are a great way of seeing this in action – you don’t know them, and you don’t live in the arrival hall of Terminal 2 so aren’t that likely to see them again either. The result? Get the &*&* out of my way everybody.

No, actually it’s history, sociology and politics. Competition and conflict are hardwired into society

When you think about it, it’s not just economists that have an opinion on this: sociology and politics have some relevant things to say: At the age of 15, in a history lesson on… maybe the unification of Germany? I remember vaguely tuning in long enough to see the words ‘Hegels dialectic’ written on the board. As a 15yr old I dint know or care what that was, but thanks to my weird brain and good memory it still stuck there. Hegel basically said the the development of all human society (or, really anything) is usually a function of conflict: thesis + antithesis => synthesis. Please dont ask me to explain this, I literally know nothing more than that about it, but what I think it means is you usally dont get a new thing without two other things crashing into each other.

Skipping forward a few years to both lessons on history and – during my degree – on labor relations and law, Marx came up. Not the idea that we should all go work in a salt mine, or execute rich people. But his theory on history and society. Marx’s theory was that people are constantly in conflict and that they never really WANT to find an equilibrium. There’s never a point where rich people feel they have enough money, or that unionised workers think they have a fair enough deal (hello ’36-hour-a-week France’) – basically each group wants their own way and they want as much of it as they can physically get their hands on. So they’ll fight like wild dogs for as long as they can and will take what they can, instead of seeking to compromise. I’m not a socioligist or a politician either, but one look at modern day politics and society makes me think they’re not wrong either are they?

When you go to the baggage carousel you’re not looking for a solution that lets everyone get their bags easily. What you want is to get your bag as quickly as possible, and Hey! Get the &*&*& out of my way everybody.

Actually hold on, I think it might be neurology.

On a course I went to recently (one aimed at teaching me ’emotional intelligence’, someone showed me a map of the brain and explained the way it works in a really simple and – I thought – interesting way. Basically, at the base of your brain, packed with emotion and pure animal instinct, is your amygdala which I think of as a small incrediblehulk. Managing this, and regulating the way in which you unleash your reactions and instincts, is the cautious, sensible pre-frontal cortex – I picture it looking like Brain from the cartoon Pinky and the Brain.

Anyway, as you go through life apparently it is like Brain and the Hulk are a team, possibly handcuffed to each other like the protagonists of an 80s/90s buddy movie and on the run from the mob. Anyway, they make their getaway in a drivers ed car – the one where both have a set of pedals and attempt to leave town with the hulk reacting to all things with a foot on the accelerator and the brain trying desperately to pump the brakes. 21 Jump street has an amusing scene that’s quite similar – picture this, but with hulk and a giant cerebral mouse in it and you might see what I am getting at (you’ll also get a good sense of what a weird, weird brain I have).

Anyway getting back to the baggage carousel this is the situation – its not your natural instinct to hold back or wait, it’s to react and to go for what you want. Restraint is a learned thing, and it’s never more than a temporary measure like holding your stomach in for a photo. When it comes down to it, your brain wants you to get the &*&*& out of the way everybody. (and in fact, I just saw there’s a Harvard study out suggesting your considered behaviour is meaner than your instincts. so it’s even worse than I thought).

Or maybe particle physics?

It’s probably pretty obvious by now I am no expert on anything above (except maybe the pop culture references. I do watch a lot of TV). But even by those low standards I know NOTHING about science having been terrible at it at school. I had a skim through an interesting book called the Tao of Physics which a friend recommended and which has some interesting thoughts in it (but which real proper serious physicists apparently think is a load of rubbish).

Anyway, to play devils advocate, is it just me or is the entire physical fabric of the universe built on conflict and struggle and movement? The more people know, the more they’ve learned that your body, the planet, let alone sound and light, are made up of waves and vibrations and tiny, furious particles of energy that spend all of eternity spinning round each other, crashing and pulling and pushing in a constant state of change? If the universe was waiting at the baggage carousel would it stand by the line? Or would the various atoms and molecules and waves of energy keep smashing around and do the atomic equivalent of telling them to get the *&*&* out of my way everybody?

Ok it looks like it’s all of them.

So we’ve been through nearly every school of thought I can think of – from economics, to social studies to history, politics, biology, neurology and physics it seems there is no reason on earth why you WOULD wait by the line for your bags. Literally every shred of existence and humanity in your body is telling you to be a douchebag and push to the front.

Maybe that’s not always a bad thing – maybe it’s important for human survival perhaps. When I learnt english at school we did a poem called ‘The Pulley’ by George Herbert that said god didn’t let people have the gift of rest so they’d always be striving, and maybe that’s the reason (either that or he’s just got a really mean sense of humour).

It certainly explains why this taoism stuff is so hard. When I decided at the start what religion to choose I thought taoism was the easy choice – the slackers choice. Turns out I’ve chosen the hardest thing of all – to go right against all that is natural, and with only a tiny bit of chinese poetry to help me figure out how. Dammit.

Anyway, I guess at least I’ve learnt something. I’ve learnt to appreciate the power and elegance of religions like taoism and buddhism. They don’t give you anyone to hate, or anything to feel righteous about – they don’t tap into your natural instincts of douchiness, and they don’t really tell you how to negate them. They ask something seemingly simple but at the same time incredibly difficult. For something that started out as a half-joke perhaps I’m really starting to grow as a person…

Or maybe not. Get the **&*&* out of my way douchebags. I just saw my suitcase.

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One Response to The Grand Unified Theory of Why People Suck

  1. Philip says:

    Dougsan, At the carousel ‘He who stands on tiptoe doesn’t stand firm. He who rushes ahead doesn’t go far.’ Tao 24. But maybe you have missed something, what about the random acts of kindness that happen at the carousel? The helpful lifting of cases that are too heavy, for example. And have you considered how there is a self organised distribution of people aroumd the carousel as though an invisible hand has placed them? And what about the effects of nicotine withdrawal, perhaps those desparate and inconsiderate people are just suffering from having no nicotine in their system for too long. They are almost deranged at the point they pick their bags up. The point is though that a Tao master has no possessions (81) and therefore would not be at the carousel, unless of course, he or she was helping others, as this makes them happier. (81). And think about the word ‘carousel’, a kind of tournement in which variously dressed companies of knights engaged in plays, chariot races, excercises etc. Could this ‘carousel behaviour’ be a modern day tournement hardwired into our cultural dna? I think now its time to carouse a little and celebrate the birthday of Dougsan, now that would be an interesting blog! Philip

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