Trees have been here for a good while, right? There are very few things in the life domain that precede them. Yet, some life was there before trees and nature made sure to keep the things that work as she encouraged evolution, mutation and diversity. Some systems proved so useful to bring order to chaotic multitudes that they stretch all the way up to our human communities. Nature is very conscientious about not wasting anything and not fixing what is not broken. She loves novelty but won’t sacrifice the effective for unnecessary novelty.
One thing that works, older than trees , and at least as old as lobsters is – as Jordan Peterson explains it in the book “12 Rules for Life” – a dominance hierarchy. There is this primordial counter lodged deeply in our brains, far below the thinking and feeling level or any conscious rationalization. In our complex brains it works pretty much the same as it works in the simple neural networks of lobsters.
Lobsters are feisty little things, always unapologetically looking out for number one, keeping an eye on prime real estate and food sources, fighting for their piece of the pie or, well… anything a lobster may fancy as delicious or attractive. The top lobster, successful in most fights, gets to choose from the best places to live, best food and girl lobsters flock around him to try and get a piece of that, really “a piece” as it’s genetics and body constitution is superior and ensures greater chance for baby lobsters’ survival. Winner takes it all. The lobster that loses a fight one too many times falls to the bottom of the hierarchy and, since the brain cannot cope with this horrible social fail, it actually dissolves and the lobster grows a new subordinate brain. The victor’s brain is, on the other hand, flooded by serotonin and makes him strut and flex, defend what’s his and fight with dedication for his cause. The lobster loser’s brain is flooded with octopamine and makes him withdraw, try not to step on any claws, shy away from a fight, even those ones he could win. It makes him more likely to accept subpar shelter and scraps of bad food; he droops, mopes around and makes him look small and unthreatening and is far more stressed and likely to get sick and die.
The dominance hierarchy is merciless and our brains are primed to grasp it as well. All of us have an inbuilt unconscious counter which determines where we are in the wholeness of things. The counter constantly compares us to the successes of others, pays attention to how we are treated by others and the whole community to determine our objective worth. Even if subjectively we have no idea of what it’s doing or that it even exists, we’ll feel the effects of its judgement. Bad moods, emotions, hunches, gut feelings… are all trace records of the counter that came up with a final tally in which something is off. Were you neglecting someone or something you shouldn’t, were you rude, did you pass up an opportunity that presented itself, did you not give it your all when you should have, were you blind by choice to what was right in front of you… In most cases the counter is completely neutral and is there to push us, to make us move, act, fight, search, find, to be kinder, bolder, more decisive, to evaluate our actions… it keeps track of things even if you’re not and makes you feel according to its conclusions. Sure it can go faulty by chemical imbalances, unhealthy and messy sleeping or eating habits, ignoring circadian rhythms, due to extreme stress, trauma or be misused for envy economy or marketing but, for the most part, emotions and moods that strike us seemingly with no logical explanation are there to make us change something.
There are so many systems nature put in place running in the background. The process itself will mostly be a black box, but the lesson is in the final data – how we feel about something. Listen to what the feelings are telling you. Everything ignored and repressed will come back at some point. Some things are long term umbrella truths. You will necessarily be part of various communities and hierarchies throughout your life and should learn to navigate and succeed within them, and that’s a fact older than trees.