“OUR FEELINGS weren’t designed to depict reality accurately even in our ‘natural’ environment. Feelings were designed to get the genes of our hunter-gatherer ancestors into the next generation,” states author Robert Wright in his recent book, Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.
He ponders, “Are our feelings in some sense ‘false?’ Or ‘true?’ Are some false and some true?” He goes on to say, “The fact that we’re not living in a ‘natural’ environment makes our feelings even less reliable guides to reality.” As well “… in a small hunter-gatherer village, if someone took advantage of you … you needed to teach him a lesson,” and “In such an intimate, unchanging social environment, it would be worth your while to get so angry over exploitation… .” This could be called a feeling that is “true.”
Using the example of road rage, he comments that there is no benefit of indulging your rage. You’ll never see the disrespectful driver again and he won’t know your rage. Can we then consider the rage to be displaced? He goes on to say that we might term road rage (and for that matter off-road rage) as “false.”
It seems that what he means here is that if we are obedient to these “false” feelings, we could be following an illusion that the rage and revenge is good, yet it might turn out that the feeling isn’t even in our own self-interest or good for the organism. Of course, there might be a fleeting self-satisfaction in some sort of revenge, but it’s often followed by embarrassment, potential danger, or more displaced rage that can potentially turn into a dissociated state of anger.
Perhaps we can bring ourselves back closer to true ancestral or hunter-gatherer feelings. By being engaged in ongoing community conversations we can open ourselves again to this ancestral immediacy where expressions such as righteous rage have a true impact.
Even in an urban setting, living with a meditation practice and simply watching our breath can bring a natural intimacy with ourselves and others. We can then experience closer-to-true feelings that can help us to see more clearly and become more evolved — if we want to!