News outlets have always loved bad news. It sold papers in the old days, and keeps us glued to our phones now. That being said, doesn't it seem like we're being carpet-bombed with the stuff these days? And we're not doing well with it. I tried to buy some hand sanitizer at Wegmans and the cashier laughed at me through her mask. People can't decide whether to sell their stocks in a panic or buy them in a panic. We sent Elizabeth Warren packing for being too smart. It's left me pondering some of the imponderables: are we, as a species, just not prepared to deal with all that we've created? How did we get in this fix? Why do we behave as we do? Resisting the urge to simply steep myself in pints of Stache Black Lager at Liquid State, I decided to consult an expert. I posed some questions to Dr. H. Humbert Cornstarch, an evolutionary psychologist and paleolithic anthropologist at a local ivy league university. He also holds a PhD in mixology. I found the interview most illuminating...
SBR: Thank you for your time, Doctor Cornstarch. Let's start with a question that struck me lately. Last week, when it snowed in Ithaca, everybody with a snowplow on his truck was careening in and out of traffic like he had permission from Svante himself to ignore the Vehicle and Traffic Code. What's the deal with that?
CORNSTARCH: Of course. It's called the "snowplow effect,” and it's quite well documented. You might recall that Doctor Leakey uncovered compelling evidence in the Great Rift Valley that paleolithic snowplow operators enjoyed an extended lifespan when compared to non-snowplow operators. The theory he posed was that by strapping on a plow and acting all crazy, predators gave them a wide berth, preferring the slower and more predictable humans. He published a paper on it, or a blog entry or something.
SBR: Fascinating! Something else has been puzzling me lately. It's been observed that the customers at Ithaca Bakery move in maddeningly slow motion, and often linger for hours...almost as if they had nowhere special to be. How is that part of our evolutionary legacy?
CORNSTARCH: It's quite simple, really. One must first understand that the Stone Age was fraught with imminent peril for hominids. For example, saber-toothed tigers could smell a warm banana nut muffin up to five kilometers away. We scientists like to say "kilometers.” Humans who made sudden movements in bakeries, or seemed impatient to get on with their day, were quickly weeded from the herd. It's basic Darwinism.
SBR: Um...there were bakeries back then?
SBR: Well, I guess that checks out. How about this? There's a grocery store, and all the customers shop in a counter-clockwise direction. Start at the bakery section and work toward dog food. It's like the unwritten code in the exercise yard at a Turkish prison. You get the sinkeye if you go the other way. Does that mimic some primordial survival strategy?
CORNSTARCH: Well, of course ours is essentially a social species, but what truly separates homo sapiens from other hominids is, in fact, the ability to deliver a really effective stinkeye.
SBR: Didn't Dr. Goodall observe stinkeye behavior in chimpanzees?
CORNSTARCH: That turned out to be the chimps mimicking the scientists who were observing them.
SBR: You have to admit though, Doctor, that human behavior is sometimes baffling. For example, why would a person risk her life to text "lol" while driving fast on Route 13?
CORNSTARCH: On the contrary, all human behavior has evolutionary roots. The ability to go at a full run while simultaneously chiseling "lol" on a stone or clay tablet was absolutely essential for our ancestors. Slow down and the hyenas will catch you.
SBR: OK, then why would a sizeable percentage of lower-middle class citizens consistently cast their votes for an orange billionaire whose policies favor the rich? How does that scare hyenas?
CORNSTARCH: Hmm. I got nothing.
SBR: And while we're on the subject, doesn't treating climate change like a hoax fly in the face of our basic impulse to ensure that our species survives?
CORNSTARCH: I've said all I'm going to say today. Thank you for the opportunity.
With that, Dr. Cornstarch abruptly got up and left the interview venue, leaving me to pick up the tab for several pints of Stache Black Lager. I needed to check my phone for news alerts anyway.•