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No More Survival Instinct?

By Sammy of Stone Marmot

Jan. 30, 2010

The most basic instinct common to virtually all, if not all, creatures is the survival instinct, the drive towards self preservation. This survival instinct, as well as the desire to reproduce, dominate the lives of most all creatures. But, curiously, this instinct seems to be disappearing in most Americans.

Some common examples that triggered this observation:

1) Many Americans these days will walk into a street without even looking to see if they may be walking into the path of some vehicle. I was taught as a child to look both ways for any traffic before entering a street. Many American adults apparently never learned this or even thought of it. And this problem is not just confined to pedestrians, for this problem also seems to be very prevalent among bicyclists.

2) Many Americans try to drive a motored vehicle while their minds and bodies are focused on some other task. Everyone is familiar with those who are too busy talking on their cell phones or text messaging to worry about driving. But I have also seen people eating, reading a book or newspaper, putting on make-up, changing a diaper, dancing (I assume that is what they were doing when they have both hands above their heads and they are moving in a rhythmic fashion), and even appearing to have sex while driving.

3) Many people will attempt to do some strenuous adventure, such as a hike or paddling trip, without any training or far beyond their skill level, that are well beyond their physical abilities, without consideration of their present health, the weather, political conditions, and/or without the proper gear, maps, or planning. I have seen many people like this on trips I have been on that the rest of the group have to "babysit" to get them though the trip. I have also heard many people like this bragging about their adventures, wondering how they ever managed to survive. Then we all have read or heard in the news those who weren't so lucky, often jeopardizing the lives of others and/or causing big political crises.

4) Instead of buying the minimum home that meets their needs and that they can afford with some margin, many people buy the absolute biggest and fanciest house they can manage to convince someone to loan them money for, even if it is a stretch to make the payments and there is no margin for potential future problems.

5) People deliberately live in questionable places and do little to protect themselves. For example, much of New Orleans is below sea level and the city has flooded at least 27 times in its less than 300 year existence, yet people still insist on living there. People also live in the flood plain of rivers that are known to flood on a regular basis. And few Floridians have done much to protect their houses from hurricanes, even after the rather disastrous storms of 2004 and 2005.

How did this most basic instinct for survival manage to get suppressed in these people? At first it may seem that the survival instinct has been replaced or overwhelmed by the drive for pleasure. But many of these problems, such as entering a street without looking for any possible traffic, don't appear to have any potential pleasure associated with them. The real problem appears to be that these people are out of touch with reality. They are oblivious to their surroundings.

Is it possible we live in too safe a society? Most of us haven't had to worry about lions or other wild animals pouncing on us for many generations now. Most Americans haven't and maybe never will experience an attack from a foreign power on American soil. Our school systems try to protect us from failure, with some educators suggesting not even grading students anymore. Our lawyers try to convince us that nothing that goes wrong is our fault but always someone else's fault. The basic message from the government and the media is that we don't have to do anything to protect ourselves; all our institutions are supposed to protect us from all harm.

But as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the present economic crises, etc., demonstrate, our institutions can't anticipate every possible problem, may be slow to respond, and may not even survive some situations. People need to wake up, become aware of their surroundings, and start taking responsibility for their own lives if we expect to continue to exist as individuals and as a country.

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