Anyone who saw Channel 4’s return-to-nature reality show Eden: Paradise Lost will have seen a summary of humanity’s grim struggle over the millennia.
The show put 23 individuals into 700 acres of lush Scottish wilderness and observed them build a community from scratch, a process that became so painful to watch that Channel 4 abandoned regular updates throughout the year and went for a throw-away round-up show during August.
What transpired in the Eden must have been how society was shaped for hundreds of generations before progressive thinking prevailed. And even then, not so much.
The Alpha Males took themselves off to the woods, there to sate their gluttony with endless meat, hacking through the livestock like it was closing time.
They demanded the women “do the women’s jobs” – like washing up – in exchange for their brawn and any voices – again, mostly female – that offered objection were shouted down and ignored – in between the sexist and homophobic jokes and the leering, of course.
The majority had left the show long before the year was up and those that endured to the bitter end confessed they were more or less ashamed of themselves depending on their levels of self-awareness.
Life in the office
It is perhaps not to great a stretch to suggest that the modern office has many of the characteristics of this Lord Of The Flies hegemony. Yes, people wear suits and exchange pleasantries, but the values of predatory capitalism are derived directly from the “survival of the fittest” that reduced species to winners and losers.
Perhaps that is why it is the most dominant social model in enlightened society – it still allows for bare-teethed fury beneath a veneer of equality, politeness and purpose.
This anger-from-nothing, this hatred of other and tribal bonding, also figures in a major new study of the US workplace by the Rand Corporation, Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles.
The headline finding was that a “disturbingly high” one in five workers say they face a hostile or threatening environment at work, including sexual harassment and bullying.
Nearly 55% say they face “unpleasant and potentially hazardous” conditions; and only 38% say their jobs offer good prospects for advancement. Less educated workers endure tougher working conditions.
Lead author Nicole Maestas, a Harvard Medical School economist said: “I was surprised by how pressured and hectic the workplace is.”
She said the conditions were keeping many out the workforce with fewer looking for office jobs and many employers complaining they cannot fill jobs.
“There’s a message for employers here,” Ms Maestas said. “Working conditions really do matter.”
The findings and the show are a reminder that respect for others is a deliberate and pre-meditated act and not an inevitable reflex. Civility is entrenched by the doing of it and the constant, wilful suppression of the opposite.
We are in touching distance of the wolves