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Category: Humans

The 25%
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about percentages… the 1%, the 99%, the 47%. If you follow the news, these numbers probably conjure certain images in your mind of a particular segment of society. I doubt whether “the 25%” can trigger a similar response, but its members also constitute a critical component of our fellow citizens.

Who are the 25%? Simply put, they are the people in life who ruin it for the rest of us. Taken together, they are what is wrong with the world.

It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what traits members of the 25% have in common, but ignorance, selfishness, stupidity, and flat-out meanness are definitely part of the mix. They are the ones who refuse to merge into traffic in an orderly fashion. They invade countries on the flimsiest of pretexts. They talk loudly during the main feature. They throw trash out of their car windows. They behead people. Many of them listen to Fox News exclusively, though not all.

Twenty-five percent is just an estimate, of course. The precise percentage is in constant flux because people are moving in and out of the group all the time. At any given moment, though, a full quarter of the world’s population is out there screwing things up for everybody else — stopping the advance of civilization, undermining all of the good work done by good people, and being jerks.

If only the 75% could somehow come together to confront this threat, defeat it, and banish its destructive influence once and for all. Yes, if only. That seemingly simple task, unfortunately, is made all but impossible by the fact that every one of us has been a member of the 25% at one time or the other. Yes, Mother Teresa. Yes, Gandhi. Yes, the nicest, sweetest, most thoughtful person you know. Yes, me, and yes, you. We are we all 25 percenters.

The only reason you might not think so is that when you’re a member, you don’t see yourself as one. It’s the other guy who’s at fault, you may think, but the sad news is that we’re all the other guy. If you still don’t think so, let me just say that the best proof that you are a member is that you don’t think you are. Denial is the single strongest trait linking us together.

So what can we do? Well, that 25% figure represents an average level of membership among all humans. Some people, obviously, spend more time in the group than others. We know who they are (even if they don’t). Conversely, some of us spend very little time as members. Jesus, for instance, had a pretty good track record, though he did go a bit outside the box when he drove those money-changers out of the temple (Hey, dude, I’m workin’ here!). And Mother Teresa kind of lost it in the middle of that now-famous Twinkie incident (you don’t want to know). These so-called “nice” people probably spent only one or two percent of their time on Earth in the 25%.

That, I think, is the key to defeating the 25% — making sure your time as a member is kept at a minimum and thereby bringing the average down. So if the world is going to hell, it’s not just the fault of the jerks. If you are not working to be part of the solution, then you are at least one seven billionth of the problem.
I had an interesting experience the other day as I was walking around the Hollywood Reservoir. It was a nice warm day, and there were a lot of people out on the three-and-a-half-mile loop. Some of them greeted me amiably; others responded uncomfortably to my greetings; several acted as if I didn’t exist. I was struck by the variety of responses.

If you hike in the mountains, you know that an easy camaraderie exists between you and your fellow hikers. Total strangers often stop and talk with one another on the trail, almost always in a pleasant way. Even though one of our chief reasons for being out there is to avoid contact with our fellow humans, we are reliably open and friendly. At the very least, we will offer a smile and say hello.

The city, by comparison, is not such a chummy place. People maintain an impassive front, and any attempt to break through these defenses is received with confusion, even alarm. There are no doubt good reasons for this. We’re busy, we’re in a hurry, we don’t want to become ensnared in one of the eight million stories in the naked city. Our city persona is clearly less trusting than its country cousin. I’m not sure, however, which paradigm should hold sway in the Hollywood Hills.

Since the reservoir is tucked up next to those famous hills (near the landmark sign), you might expect to see a star or two out for a walk there. I confess that I harbored that possibility in the back of my mind. But if Keanu Reeves (who lives nearby, I am told) was out exercising that day, he was more likely at an exclusive day spa somewhere behind an electrified fence. Britney Spears would be working out with her team of personal trainers at a plush location that I can scarcely imagine. People like them, who trade in fame, have to be careful to maintain control over that most valuable commodity. They can’t afford to be squandering it in an ordinary setting in plain view of the likes of me… and I’m okay with that.

Perhaps if Kevin Costner and I summited Everest on the same day and we crossed paths hiking to and from the top, I could expect a nod of acknowledgement. Otherwise, I would respect the perilous road of notoriety he has chosen and leave him the hell alone. Halle Berry might earn a surprised look from me and perhaps a smile, but that’s all. No hard feelings, no need to interact, I’ll just pretend you’re not intergalactically famous and move forward with my life.

I guess I have the same general attitude toward my less famous fellow hikers at the reservoir. The setting is both rural and urban, so it’s hard to be certain about etiquette. Anything goes in such a situation, I suppose, as long as it doesn’t involve a mugging or some other unpleasantness. Engage with me, or don’t; I promise not to take offense.

I confess, however, that I did have one favorite among all the greetings that day. Two cheery old ladies, moving slowly but with determination, addressed me without hesitation. “Good morning!” one beamed, looking me squarely in the eyes. The other chimed in, “Isn’t it a lovely day?” I agreed that it was and added, “It’s great to be outside!” And that was it: no pause in our strides, no effort at some deeper connection, just passing ships hailing each other with expressions of good will.

I’m sure Salma Hayek will forgive me if I feel a little sad for her. She has to keep her city face on no matter where she goes. I’ll bet those two ladies would have offered her the same greeting they gave me that day, but she would have been so shuttered against the world that she could not have responded. Too bad — it was a lovely day, and it was great to be outside, and those little old ladies could have made her day.
Altered Ego
It would be easier if it came in pill form. That would be much more palatable than an injection, I think, or some kind of invasive surgery. I certainly don’t think we can rely on the change to come naturally or through some worldwide spiritual awakening.

The change I’m talking about is the kind that would turn us from the path we are on and set us on a course toward all the things we say we want. You know: love, peace, brotherhood, and high-speed internet for all.

Yes, that will have to be one hell of a pill — one that can fix what ails all of humanity. It will, in my opinion, have to alter our very genetic make-up. It is clear that the current model of human being, despite having some very attractive features, is flawed in some way. Something in our nature has brought us to a precipice, and now we seem to be teetering on the edge.

Our emotions are the problem, I think. Even with all the fancy brainpower, we are all too susceptible to hatred and greed and anger — the Three Uglies. If we could just tinker with the design a little and dial down the dosage of those three constants in the human equation, then we might be able to start moving away from the precipice.

I suppose you could put lust on the list of troublemaking traits as well. Like the others, it does undermine reason and prevent us from seeing the simplest truth even when it is right under our noses. Unfortunately, we need lust to keep the species going, so we’ll just have to live with it. The same goes for fear. It can make us blind and stupid, too. However, while lust is critical to the survival of the breed, fear might be just as important to our survival as individuals. The fear of being attacked and eaten by predators, for example, is a very “rational” fear (though perhaps a bit outdated). Less rational fears, such as those of snakes, spiders, and heights, are not completely unfounded, so I wouldn’t mess with them, either. Fear of the unknown is a pretty healthy response to the world, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. When it is transformed into a fear of The Other is when we get into trouble, and that usually happens when the Three Uglies get involved.

It is possible, I suppose, that changing the formula for human nature might produce some unforeseen consequences. Reducing our propensity for hatred could make our love life less passionate. Turning down the greed might allow some other bastard to get more than his share. And if we were suddenly slower to anger, we’d likely miss out on self-righteousness, which is one of our favorite natural highs. So there will be sacrifices.

Believe me, I’d prefer that none of this was necessary. If there were enough nice people in the world to make this civilization thing work, then we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. But we are too often overwhelmed by the Three Uglies, and when we are, we just can’t think straight. Though we may not like it, we have to admit that something needs to be done. It’s either that or we all go over the precipice together. And the fault, as Cassius said, is not in our stars, but in ourselves — at a chromosomal level.

Perhaps if we think of the change as a kind of cosmetic surgery, a beautification project aimed directly at the Three Uglies. Just a nip here and there on our DNA, and the human race might be able to coexist with itself and the rest of nature. Like a nose job for our soul. All of a sudden, we’d be the most popular species on the planet, beautiful inside and out.

Now that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? One little pill, and we’re all back in Eden? Or better yet, have an array of satellites spew great clouds of change into the atmosphere. A couple of deep breaths, and we could save the world.
Thumbs Up
Humans are a proud species. They like to think that their brains make them special — smarter, wiser, better than all the other animals. But what if porpoises are smarter?

I don’t know that for sure, but their brains are certainly of a comparable size, and by some measures they have a greater capacity for thought than we do. Indeed, they may be able to think (so it is thought) in ways we’ve never thought of. Which is pretty impressive until you realize that their earning capacity is no match for ours, and they don’t even have car elevators.

But let’s not be petty, especially since humans don’t need to be the brainiest to be the best. We have another attribute that puts us securely at number one. I am talking, of course, about the thumb.

And please, don’t try to tell me that we aren’t the only thumbed creatures. Those pathetic little thumb-ish digits on chimps and the other great apes do not qualify as true thumbs. Chimps may be smart (though compared to us, they’re pretty stupid, really — and a damn sight uglier), but they‘re not nearly as dextrous. It’s dexterity, you see, that has vaulted us into the top spot of the animal kingdom.

Raccoons and lemurs also have thumb-like appendages (though they are both considerably better-looking than chimps). And like chimps, they lack a truly opposable digit. That’s the key — a thumb that can work in concert with the fingers to hold and manipulate just about any tool that you (or even a porpoise) can imagine. We are in the driver’s seat on this planet because we are the only animal with the physical dexterity to make a driver’s seat.

(In passing, I should make clear that I think intelligence does play some part in all this. The Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula, for instance, could be seen as a big, hairy, walking hand with eight fingers — all of which are fully opposable. Because they are such dirt-clod stupid creatures, however, all that dexterity is used on simple food acquisition. They do not, consequently, pose any threat to us as the monarchs of all living things. Plus, they’re even uglier than chimps.)

Simply put, then, we’re number one. There may be smarter animals, and there may be better-looking animals, but they all must take a back seat to the human being and his wondrous opposable thumb. The only hitch is that we are sometimes seen as, well, jerks. We are a proud species, as I have said, and sometimes that pride can come off as arrogance. I hope nothing I have said has contributed to that impression.

Just to be sure, let me apologize for any unkindness I may have shown here, particularly toward our friends the chimpanzees. They are more like us than any other animal, after all. The only differences are their brains (about the same as your typical low-grade idiot), their looks (could be worse, I suppose), and their ability (thumb or no thumb) to rip your face off when riled up.

So, no hard feelings, guys. I may have misjudged you. You’re not as dirt-clod stupid as you look. Are we good?
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon