How much control do people have over their own lives?
Not much. Maybe from zero to 20%. The wealthier, the more choices. The other portion of self-identity and life choices dwell outside the realm of individual control:
- gender – male, female or other;
- geography – place of birth;
- historical times – war or peace, health conditions, food access, and more;
- culture – dictatorship, tribal, democracies, other;
- education – availability, contents, control;
- parental genes; and finally,
- family upbringing.
NOTE: Numbers 7 and 8 are not discussed here. Modern science offers a plethora of information. For example, neuroscience has revealed the power of parental and infant interactions – that these hardwire the brain for life. Childhood sexual abuse may lead to hypothalamus damage, immune deficiencies and constant illnesses.
Gender is a major factor. Despite women’s ability to produce children, their muscular system doomed them to be subservient to men. Men, on the other horrifying end, because of their physical strength, become warriors (murderers) to protect their women, food, and other resources. People born with primarily non-gender dominance were often killed at birth. Those born with internal hormonal conditions that conflict with their external appearance often endure ghastly lives.
No gender destiny is preferable.
Females have lived in a constant state of male domination. Additionally, women often died in pregnancy and childbirth. Without male support and protection, women frequently became destitute. Some resorted to prostitution to survive or were burned to death upon their husband’s funeral pyre.
Men were shaped to kill or be killed, whether in skirmishes with other tribes or world wars. Rape is a war reward for men. Conquering armies have always looted and raped. After WWII, in the book and film, “A Woman of Berlin”, a German woman describes the daily rapes she endured and witnessed. Women living in war zones often become prostitutes to feed their families as their male providers are soldiers, as seen in Vietnam.
What will more than 30 million Chinese men do without women since abortions of female fetuses has unbalanced their society? Some have resorted to raiding, stealing, enslaving or buying women from surrounding Asian countries. Tibetan men’s resolution to this and population control was for brothers to marry one woman.
War masquerades as population control. Men who survive war have been culturally crippled in their prime. This benefits the ruling powers to manipulate and control their destinies. Sadly, their mental damage becomes an environmental heritage they bequeath their children.
Returning soldiers bought home inner horrors, as well as a wealth of new knowledge. Cultural exchange, new spices and foods, new views on life, new DNA introduced into a group and other positive effects of war are often overlooked. Even penicillin was a war product.
2. GEOGRAPHY – place of birth
3. HISTORICAL TIMES – war or peace, health conditions, food, and more
A person’s geographical place of birth dictates their culture, religion, education, and environment. Children born in a Papua New Guinea tribe, have vastly different lives from children born in Germany. Born in Germany during the 1920s versus after the EU also provides radical differences. Life was perilous in the Middle Ages. Plagues periodically struck Asia and Europe depopulating the planet yet life after penicillin greatly enhanced the population. Life born into the age of Technology and the Internet has simultaneously enriched and harmed the lives of millions.
Historical times either offer opportunities or doom. As mentioned above, wars and plagues as well as famines have shaped humanity. Illnesses, transportation, languages, weather, availability of food/protein and education all differed in various stages of human occupation on planet Earth.
Arabic students, when learning of the multiple dangers of the Amazon jungle wondered why anyone would live there. I asked them, “Why would anyone live in a desert? They were born there.”
Historical times include war or peace. Children born in war zones are forever harmed. A Jewish friend told me his father, who had been a pre-teen in a concentration camp during WWII, continued to experience nightmares at the age of 90: He dreamed Hitler was still hunting him.
War limits food which in turn determines the physiology of the body and brain. Many childhood negative experiences cannot be cured. People learn to live with them, transform them into art, or, sadly, pass their scars onto their children.
Children born and reared sans war are blessed with life-long happiness that they too usually share with their own families, culture, and planet. Often they are able to endure misery without losing their sanity. Some, however, are so ill-equipped for evil in life, should they find themselves face-to-face with it, succumb.
Religion evolved over thousands of years. Groups or tribes with a religion were united and thus more capable of surviving external threats. But where did religion originate? It seems the human mind, once able to think, questions everything. “Why?” is a parent’s nightmare children constantly evoke.
Ancient Egyptians explained the night sky was held aloft by the goddess Nut. Diving into myriad religious and creationist mythologies reveal a rich source of wonder.
Carl Jung’s Man & His Symbols and Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious propose humanity’s connection to each other. Joseph Campbell’s Creative Mythology complements Jung’s theories. Eventually, humans buried their dead and invented an afterlife, perhaps to handle their grief. Unfortunately, the tribal nature of religions drove wedges between people. Power-hungry leaders used religions to manipulate their people.
Depending upon where – the geography – and the when – historical times – one’s religion, as with the Amazon jungle versus the desert – was ordained by birth. Most people were and are literally born into their religion.
Religious history shows how a king or emperor willfully chose a religion and then forced his choice onto his realm, obvious with the Holy Roman Empire and King Henry VIII. Even further back, authoritarians proclaimed their divine-god-given right to rule and forced religious ideas upon their group members.
To be born before 600 AD, no one was a Muslim. But Muslims in India after liberation from the British in 1947 meant experiencing the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. Religious war. More than a million Muslims, Seiks, and Hindus killed each other. The Medieval Crusades and present religious wars reveal religions’ greed which far outweighs their positive instructions on how to live a good life.
Converts to most religions are minimal. Thus Catholicism and Islam encourage large families to broaden their membership. Jewish and Catholicism retain attractive primitive roots by offering puberty initiations: Bar Mitzvahs and Confirmation.
In Catholic Confirmation, adolescents pledge to become soldiers of Christ, and did so during the Crusades. Islam satisfies men with four wives now and 72 virgins after death. (Women are only blessed with their husband.) Christianity attracts women who yearn for heaven so they may endure their lives, and delight in hell so their enemies, and sometimes husbands, will be punished eternally. Many Jewish people do not believe in an afterlife, so they prize this life on Earth.
Additionally, religions control access to education and thinking. Modern day Irish Catholics dominate the Irish educational system. During its “Golden Age” from the eighth to the 14the century, Islam preserved and built upon Western science. Christianity’s clergy chose what to teach the privileged few. Those opposing official religious doctrines during the Inquisition were ordered killed by the Church. Even Inquisitions in small villages in France in the 1200s and 1300s show doubting the Pope speaks as God, ex cathedra, sealed a person’s fate as a heretic. Such killing of heretics in the name of preserving a religion is as shocking as those who perform ‘honor killings’ and those who kill proclaiming “Allah is Great”.
Like royal dynasties, Catholic popes had ‘nephews’ who followed them onto the throne while the blood relatives of Prophet Mohammed are awarded a high social status. Rumor has it that followers of Christ hunted and killed all his blood relatives to avoid such a hierarchy on Earth.
A universal belief in God minus the trappings of individual religions might be healthier for humanity. Religions satisfy many basic human needs such as group rituals; companionship; social gatherings often accompanied with music, singing and dance; guidance; comfort; as well as others. A universal, shared religion would obliterate religious wars while retaining the best of religious ideas of love and healthy relationships – for people, cultures and the planet.
5. CULTURE – dictatorship, tribal, democracies, other
Wilhelm Reich’s ideas were so dangerous, America burned his books in the 1950s; books such as: Character Analysis (1933), The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933) and The Sexual Revolution (1936). He died in a Pennsylvania prison in 1957. Why?
Some say fraud, others testify that he exposed the ways and means of how a culture shapes personalities. People who have lived under dictatorships, in a culture where the most innocuous truth can lead to the torture and death of a family member, have personalities different from those raised in loving, honest, and socially supportive environments. Eastern Europeans are noted for their common behavior of using others for their own selfish needs, unfortunately, a universal human trait. However, under a dictatorship, no one – other than family – can be trusted, respected, loved, valued or honored. To do so invites heartache, imprisonment or possible death.
Asians boast of ten thousand years of an uninterrupted culture, unlike the West with its anarchy during the Dark Ages. However, Asian culture instills a slave–obedience mentality within its people. Arabic culture, on the other hand, survived the deadly hazards of desert living, before oil, by being open, friendly, and strongly individualized while very tribal. French culture implants philosophical thinking as everyday events just as Americans enjoy violent sports. Culture became such a sacred cow that criticizing FMG, female genital mutilation, was accepted by some Western countries.
But what is culture? It is simply an agreed upon set of rules a group decides to enable its members to survive and flourish. That is one reason why young Chinese have trouble challenging their culture – its ten thousand year reign is not easy to dispute.
Some say a culture is best weighed by its treatment of minorities, children, the elderly and the sick. Basically, a culture that encourages freedom of thought will be more productive, creative, and enjoyable compared to a culture that forces unquestioning obedience that creates suspicion, fear, and anti-social attitudes.
6. EDUCATION – availability, contents, control
Thousands of years ago, Chinese culture invented a method of mass mind-control without television or technology: education. Civil service tests were open to everyone. A person from any background who passed the test, elevated his entire family to a life of comfort. In this life. Thus China encouraged mass sleep deprivation for obsessive studying. What could be more admirable?
People studying for such riches have little time or energy to plot change or coups.
On the other hand, when a Chinese civil servant or other person displeased the ruler, the person and his entire family to the fifth level of cousins were slaughtered. This prevented family revenge, as well as instilled terror and obedience to the government.
Asians often tout their ‘need to sleep only five hours a night’ as a point of honor over weakling Westerners who require eight hours. Asians refuse to acknowledge that sleep deprivation causes lack of bone growth, as well as a host of brain abnormalities and an inhibition of hormonal growth.
This is good trade between the culture and parents: neither need to endure or reason with unruly teenagers striving to separate from the group to establish their own identity. Without teenager hormonal rebellion, parents become gods in their own families, just as Asian dictators are gods within their own countries.
The film “Quest for Fire” (1981, describing life 80,000 years ago) depicted early tribal humans and one of their most precious discoveries: fire. The book Clan of the Cave Bear (1980, with interactions between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon humans) narrates early human tribal life. The present TV series Naked & Afraid (2013, which ran for 12 seasons) shows a naked man and woman (genitals blurred) attempt to survive in various wilderness environments for 21 days. Even with survivalist training, some exit before Day 21. No wonder humans took more than 100,000 years to learn what to eat, how to construct a home, fashion tools, maintain small social groups, and survive alongside other human species.
Each lesson learned was passed unto the next generation. Only 40,000 to 60,000 years ago, humans painted caves walls. Only 10,000 years ago, women learned the art of growing food; Ceres is the Roman goddess for cereals/grains. Only 2,800 BC, toilets appeared in the ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro (in modern Pakistan) and, in India, by 2,500 BC homes included flush toilets and city-wide toilet drains during the Harappan civilization. With the fall of that group, flush toilet engineering was lost but re-invented in England around 1596 by Sir John Harington.
Contrary to Western culture, Western civilization did not begin in Greece, but rather in Ancient Egypt with its massive Alexandrian library, invention of aspirin from willow bark, pyramids and mummification, and much more.
The development of culture relied on a steady food supply, then upon educated people to rule the masses, and, eventually, one of the most superior form of education was invented: written language: Sumerian cuneiform was invented around 3,200 BC but only translated around 1872. Surprisingly, cuneiform recorded tales later thought to have originated in the Bible, such as the Garden of Eden and the Great Flood. Thousands of years later, Gutenberg printed the Bible. Books preserved knowledge. Books allowed knowledge to live past a human lifespan, cross time and space, thus allowing for massive pyramids of human intelligence to flourish, build upon each other and create modern science and cultures.
Such possession of power was controlled by societies, such as the Chinese culture and Christianity. The Holy Roman Empire used Latin, and only encouraged its clerics to master reading and writing. Written Chinese (originating around 1,200 BC) with its necessity to master 5,000 characters appears purposely complex to shield itself from outsiders. Even Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians offered education to a select few. European universities date from 1088 in Bologna. The United States realized the necessity for an informed population for its budding democracy and thus instituted public education.
Education – the ability to think and reason – was another major human evolution feat, perhaps equivalent to fire. Education released people from emotional slavery. Freed from primitive survival urges, humans who learned to think for themselves were thus less likely to be manipulated. Then education itself became a power arena: what to teach, who teaches, what to censure, who censures, what to reward, who gives and receives the awards, ad infinitum.
Every child born still needs to learn to control their bodily functions, how to hold a spoon, how to read, and how to think. Despite education, books and sciences, every person born must learn human behavior from birth.
Education is determined by people’s gender, geography, historical times, religion, culture and, not discussed here, level of wealth.
In conclusion, humans have little wiggle room for personal choice – the zero to 20% control. Four major areas open to individual control are:
1. Education – ability to procure despite obstacles;
2. Marriage – partner to select (if possible) despite biological needs and social controls;
3. Work/careers – available for time used in life and to earn for survival; and
4. Use or abuse of alcohol, addictive behavior and/or other drugs.
A major mistake in any one of these can doom a person’s life. Conversely, wise decisions in one or more of these can provide heaven-like years on Earth.
I have lived in American, Arabian, Asian and European cultures. My cultural confusion taught me to seek the benefit – or trade/buy-off – for behavior viewed as incomprehensible, also known as cultural differences. Asia allowing every parent to be a god to their children is a marvelous trade-off for adults’ absolute obedience to rulers. American ‘freedom’ advertised and touted against European ‘socialism’ revealed its serious flaws with the Covid pandemic.
Why wars still haunt humanity puzzles me. I propose male physiology has been distorted by rulers for their own greed. Why can’t Russia simply make life better for its own people within its own borders? Why can’t Iran and the USA do the same? Why must people think they are better or they deserve more than their neighbors? Perhaps the slowing down of fertility will finally be seen as the wondrous gift it is: forcing humans to live within the means of planet Earth.
In conclusion, people have little or no control over their own gender, place of birth, their historical times, or their environment nor religion. Few control their educational status. No wonder the idea of Fate or Destiny is an attractive philosophy.
In the end, every person has only ONE thing to control – who or what to love or hate.