Human beings have always fascinated me. What they do. What they say. Why they do and say what they do.
Family mythology have it that as a lad, I was drawn only to toys with people in them, humanistic ones. Army men. Action Man. Star Wars figurines. GI Joe. MASK. A Sandi doll, which came into my possession after a clerical error in the North Pole mixed up gifts myself and a female cousin. I kept the doll.
This abiding interest in humanity led me to teaching as a profession and writing as a hobby and interest. It has led me to great stories and novels, films, television along with Herculean feats of people watching and eavesdropping.
All to figure out who we are.
And one of the best descriptions of this I recently discovered for myself here, where Mark Manson explores the nature of our two minds, or the thinking and feeling parts of our identity and how they drive the car sometimes.
As the Corona virus sweeps the world, gusting fear to all corners, it feels worthy to explore more deeply.
As we consider the threat of global pandemic and witness the fragmented new media landscape soak society with information – both valid and genuinely insane – I’ve had cause to consider human behaviour again.
Because when threatened, the first thing people think to stockpile is…
Pardon me? Did you say toilet paper?
The news of emptying shelves was, at least earlier this week, enough to raise a chuckle. Perhaps some people have too much time on their hands.
When the supermarkets and paper companies began making reassuring statements it became even more surreal. Still, I thought, it will pass and we will remember it vaguely, like the 1998 gas crisis that divided Victorian society into those with electric and those with gas hot water systems.
Then my local supermarkets were cleared out and, desperate to avoid using tissues or, even worse, kitchen paper, we headed out early on a Saturday morning to find supplies, like soviet hunter gatherers.
The shelves were empty. And now that the loo roll was gone, the tissues were next, and the rice and pasta (except the gluten free) and the hand soaps and sanitisers. Was this really the new heirarchy of needs when facing a global pandemic?
Then this went viral – Aah, Sydney. Of course you did…
In the search for why, history often provides answers, even though we believe no one has ever faced this. Blame our lifespan echo chamber, made worse by increasing narcissism and a tendency to ignore lessons from history.
In his 1841 book, Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay set out to ‘collect the most remarkable instances of those moral epidemics which have been excited by one cause or another, and show how easily the masses have been led astray, how imitative and gregarious men are, even in their infatuations and crimes.’
He focussed on two such events of roughly the same time on two continents – the Mississippi Scheme of 1719/20 and the near contemporary South Sea Bubble. In addition, he added the Tulipmania of Holland and the low countries, where people went batshit mad and bankrupt for humble little flower bulbs.
Though these case studies were roughly three centuries ago, even now his words are disturbingly familiar, particularly in light of the great toilet paper crisis sweeping the globe so much faster than the virus causing it.
‘Whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit. Millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it.’
Mmm… Imagine that…
Human Beings fascinate me so much, as does history. When I think of all the people who preceded us, or their experiences and efforts to understand what it is to be human and watch the curious ways we behave, I feel equally overwhelmed and reassured.
Because either this is the Rapture or it will fade into history like so many other mass delusions. Either way, human history and the stories it contains are where we can look for wisdom and the answers we seek.
Which is why history needs to be studied, explored and shared.
Anyway, the Japanese have already solved the toilet paper issue.
Their solution is below…