When I was in University, one of my majors was Psychology. It fascinated me so much I never stopped studying. One of the major “threads” in Psychology is the “nature vs. nuture” question. Are we programmed by our evolutionary animal instincts OR are we programmed by how we are raised?
When I saw Arnie Benn’s book Evolutionology I had to get it. Arnie brings new light to the question of our “animal instincts” and how they affect our thought processes and actions. He also talks about how you can evolve from knee-jerk animal reactions to more evolved “human” reactions and decisions.
Here is my discussion with Arnie and more about his new book.
Melanie Rockett: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Arnie Benn: I have always been a seeker of truth. I grew up in South Africa under the abhorrent Apartheid regime, and moved to America, attracted by her beacon of liberty, freedom, equality and opportunity. I have been a teacher, a tech entrepreneur, a film and TV producer, a writer, composer, and inventor. I have been married and divorced, religious and secular, and have lived on three continents and speak three languages. But my biographical details are all just cosmetic.
Ultimately, I believe that just about all of us human beings are essentially the same in our hopes and desires. I believe myself to be a citizen of this planet far more than a member of a particular cultural, religious, or demographic group. I believe the sooner we integrate that understanding into our lives, commerce and politics, the sooner we rescue our often-foolhardy race from its current path, a trajectory leading towards the edge of a cliff.
Melanie Rockett: You have recently published a new book, Evolutionology: The Power Of Knowing How People Work. This is your first book, which always seems to be the hardest. Can you tell us how you came to write it?
Arnie Benn: It crystallized out of my own process of self-discovery, which led me to recognize the same things in everyone around me that I was seeing in myself, which led me to try to explain what I was seeing in as simple and as self-evident a way as I could.
It now seems unavoidably true to me, given the state of the world and of our lives, that we live based on our survival instinct and our emotion, and we only delude ourselves that our choices are both smart and free. They are neither until we see the truth of our instinctive motivations, until we choose to rise above the sum of our chemical imperatives. We all exist on this spectrum between reacting and choosing, between unevolved and civilized. And few of us are as evolved as we think we are. Myself included.
I wrote these ideas down because I found them personally empowering, and because I believe them to form a perspective that can help us approach our many problems — as individuals and as a society — in a far more effective way because it does not obscure the ultimate cause of our dysfunction. And in order to make it more practical and more fun, I also include an online quiz (Evolutionology.com) where we can actually measure how evolved we are in four areas: Religion, Politics, Sex & Relationships, and Self-Confidence.
Melanie Rockett: In Evolutionology you talk about our “animal” instincts vs “rational” actions and how we often make dysfunctional decisions. Can you give us an example?
Arnie Benn: Sure. Perhaps the most timely example is the political election process. People are so convinced that they are making the wise choice of party and candidate, and that the other side is wrong, stupid or misinformed. The ironic truth is that neither side is correct. They each simply have their bias, to which they themselves are blind (as are we all).
Our deepest truth is instinctive vulnerability and fear, because we are mortal and frail. There are only two ways to flee from fear: to the Left or to the Right. The Left embodies compassion because we rely on the Compassion of people and society for institutions to make us feel protected. The Right embodies Self-Reliance because we rely on our strength and efforts to protect ourselves and our families. We are all a mix of these two energies. If we are mostly Compassion, we vote Democrat. If we are mostly Self-Reliance, we vote Republican. The rest are the stories and carefully selected facts and arguments that make us feel right about our choice, because feeling right = feeling safe, which is really the ultimate goal, emotionally, subconsciously.
An evolved approach to politics would be to nurture the best ideas from both sides, to meet in the Center in moderation and compromise, and to marginalize fringe and extreme views. A political human is capable of voting for either party, depending on what the country needs most now. A political animal, though, votes for the party that makes them feel right about their political beliefs, and therefore safe. Such voters only think they care more for the country than for their own self-esteem, but they are sadly mistaken.
Melanie Rockett: How can reading your book give us more “control” over our lives?”
Arnie Benn: My book is designed to pull back the veil and to reveal exactly how our survival instinct runs our lives and our decision making like a puppet master. Once that is seen, its application to many areas of our lives will be obvious. We begin to recognize when our intelligence is behind our choices and when our fears are driving our dysfunctional choices and rationalizing them with layers of story.
In my opinion, this unmasking of our animal in the mirror is the single most essential perspective necessary if we intend to evolve more quickly and more efficiently. We are still evolving as a species, but our progress is far too slow and painful because we think we are already evolved! As a result, we do not see the causes behind our strife because we believe we have already evolved beyond such primal behavior. Although we are capable of doing so, we have not… yet.
If this book can be as valuable to anyone else as the ideas have been to me, I will count it a worthwhile contribution.
Melanie Rockett: Many first time authors struggle with the writing process. What did you find worked best for you?
Arnie Benn: I always like starting with a broad structure layout where I plot the basic overall message by chapters. Then I bullet-point what I want to convey, making sure the flow of ideas is sequential and cogent.
I tend to collect thoughts, quotes and ideas along the way as they occur to me, which I usually email to myself and then integrate into my written plan as I go. The actual writing of it is the last part and tends to be rather straight forward once the layout and vision is complete.
Melanie Rockett: What can we expect from you in the future? Are you planning on more books along the same line OR something entirely different?
Arnie Benn: I am working on a follow-up to Evolutionology, a more in-depth book called The Animal In The Mirror, which takes this instinctive concept and shows how it describes all of human behavior: our politics, religion, relationships & marriage, depression and substance abuse, children & bullying, education, animals, science, and much more. On my website there is a signup link if you would like to be informed when it comes out.
But after that, I will be changing gears to work on some musical composition that I have been putting off until the two books were done. I know myself well enough by now to know that if I allowed myself to get too deeply into a new composition, the books would not get finished. And I am trying to be good about finishing things, even though one of my greatest inspirations, Leonardo da Vinci, was horrible at finishing commissions (though ridiculously accomplished in just about everything else).
Want to keep in touch with Arnie Benn?
Try out the quiz to find out how evolved you are: Evolutionology.com