I went to my first speed dating event, for the sole reason that you have to try everything in life once (yes dad, as long as it don’t involve needles). Because of my poor German, I probably wouldn’t be able to understand half of what my opponents were saying, nor verbalize my general resentment towards men, which I believed would significantly favour the evening. I don’t dress up, to make a point, and head out. My first date is a tall guy with thin blond hair. He appears to be shy, but I have no doubt that a fair share of toxic masculinity is hidden behind that seemingly harmless grin on his face. I’d give him two beers and a fishcake before he starts throwing subtle insults my way. The first toilet visit will be fake, to secretly speed date someone behind my back. If he’d be my boyfriend, he’d be interfering with my social life. If he’d be my colleague, he'd be interfering with my career. If he’d be higher up in the corporate ladder, he’d be fondling his secretaries. And if he’d be my across-the-street neighbour, he’d be having a wank in front of the window. Men, they’re all the... “Hallo, my name is Heinrich.” I almost bounce off my chair. “Right, of course. Hi.”

The welcoming drink goes down pretty smoothly, without any inappropriate comments, yet. He’s probably just scared, seeing as people are being cancelled left right and centre these days. Holland has hardly got any television show hosts and judges left it seems: all made to retire to the couch. In summary, there were a bunch of men who misused their power to have a go at young girls who were hoping for an opportunity in life. There was even a tv-host who openly shared his story about molesting a woman who passed out on his couch, as a response to a news item about another tv-host who was accused of molesting a woman after he drugged her. “It’s what boys do when they’re young” he said, while other grown men around him were laughing loudly to his story. The television show was taken off air, by the way. Although it’s a legit reason to cancel these people, I wonder how many men would be left in their function if we would take this woke policy all the way? I can tell from experience that universities would count some serious losses. Internships, conferences, field work: there is gender and age inappropriate behaviour all over the show. Might as well cancel the whole lot and take over power at once. Zero tolerance, we had enough! I’m tapped on the shoulder and kindly reminded to move to the next table. “Tschusch Heinrich.”

The second date is a chubby guy with excessive facial hair, Ernst. We order wine, and I make sure to cover my glass with a coaster at all times. You never know what could end up in there these days. After we order starters, he asks me about my hobbies. I rush through the answers, so I can eat my food in silence. While still busy removing pieces of lettuce from my teeth with my tongue, I ask what keeps him busy in life. His story sounds amiable, and some aspects are suspiciously similar to mine. I don’t believe a word of it. It also hasn’t gone unnoticed that Ernst ordered nachos for starters. Glorifying unhealthy habits and avoiding vegetables is a classical sign of toxic masculinity. Nachos for machos. And do you know what another sign is? Dick pics. The director of football club Ajax has been sending them too, to his female co-workers. He got fired, by the way. I wonder whether Ernst had ever sent dick pics. He surely looks like he’d be capable. The pig. Soon after he swallows his last nacho, the waiter hints us to round things up. “Tschusch Ernst.”

The third date is with Salim, who not only sounds foreign, but looks that way too. This is just trouble in a bucket. The disrespect of women is mainly driven by cultural pressures, and wherever Salim is from, I’m guessing he’d been under quite a lot of pressure. I nervously agree to his every word, to not trigger anything, without blinking once. While giggling to what may, or may not, have been a joke, I order myself Mediterranean couscous. Or should I have led him order it for me instead? He gives me an endearing smile and orders pizza. I’ll be counting my blessings if I don’t have to hand-feed him the slices while rubbing his shoulders. In some countries, we’re not even allowed to eat at the same time. How strange, isn’t it, a rage against women, even though we are raised by them? It’s not just social and political settings, but the media too that fuels misogyny. If all that rappers sing about is bitch-slapping and wife-trashing, how are we ever to grow up respecting women? Luckily, Germany ranks pretty high on gender equality. In retrospect, this evening could’ve been a lot worse. The waiter empties our plates out, thank heavens. “Tschusch Salim”

“Hallo, I’m Günter. I also like animals.”

    Yeah right, I see straight through you.

“Hallo, I’m Hermann. Would you like me to buy you a drink?”

    Did you just patronize me?

“Hallo, I’m Wilhelm. Where do you normally go out?”

    That’s none of your business, you stalker!

“Hallo, I’m Tobias. You look very nice tonight.”

     How dare you objectify me!

“Hallo, ich bin Karl, swasch zu hatz fronzem beite am hutschige gunz?“

    How dáre… wait, what?

Date number nine. I swipe the sweat of my forehead, scratch my neck, and skittishly scan the room from left to right. For what exactly, I’m not entirely sure. I mumble “Tschuss Klaus” to a high-school teacher who plays the guitar and mansplained to me why Xavi isn’t ready to coach Barcelona yet. Klaus didn’t hide his discomfort during our date very well. The last date, time for coffee. His name is Friedrich and he seems anxious too. The poor guy, it can’t be easy for them either. Always expected to be the charmer and make the first move, and when they do, chances are 9 out of 10 that they get a cold shoulder or snappy comment in return. And whatever the magnitude of their life-long rejection, they aren’t even allowed to express their pain and sorrow. Perhaps it’s all a myth anyway, that men have this uncontrollable hunter instinct, but society instead that expects it of them. Even us women, caregivers of boys and lovers of men, are subconsciously feeding into the ego of the hulking and dominant male. Perhaps we should start changing things around ourselves, by allowing men to be more vulnerable, sorting out our own shit, and start paying for our drinks? Friedrich looks up from his empty coffee cup. “Could I perhaps get your number?” I accidently swallow my chocolate biscuit whole. “Sorry (coughs loudly), my German ist nicht so gut.” I move uncomfortably in my seat and try to reach for my bag without losing eye contact. “Anyway, it’s getting late. I better go. I presume the drinks were on you? Tschuss Friedrich!”

That time never came, one day you’ll see, where we could all be friends. Perhaps it’s a good thing Freddy Mercury ain’t around no more to witness that. And not quite have we given peace a chance, so it’s probably for the best John Lennon ain't with us anymore either. Genocide in Myanmar, concentration camps in China, terrorism in Syria, and bombings in Ukraine – it’s all happening today. It almost feels as if War is an inescapable part of human civilisation, like a dark passenger. Some even go as far as saying that War has been a driving force behind human evolution, referred to as the Killer Ape theory. This theory proclaims that our tendency towards violence and thirst for blood are fundamental parts of human psychology. Easiest would be to just come into terms with ourselves.

But even though this theory may seem plausible when looking at what’s happening in Ukraine, the truth is a little bit more nuanced than that. First of all, humans remain to be pretty peaceful in comparison to other species. In fact, we're practically domesticated apes, after thousands of years of favouring the smartest and friendliest people during baby-making. Based on fossil evidence, it also appears that War is a relatively new phenomenon. Although personal feuds and a bit of retaliatory killing have always occurred, humans naturally have a strong aversion against violence. Simple proof of that would be our response to seeing blood or lifeless bodies, and the severe trauma that veterans are left with. Yet, after the Ice Age something strange happened, when human evolution suddenly turned from a ‘snuggle for survival’ to a ‘struggle for survival’.

It started when we exchanged our existence as nomadic hunter-gatherers for a life in sedentary settlements. Suddenly, we had something called property, which was worth defending and fighting for. And as humans slowly established self-sufficiency, by cultivating crops and domesticating animals, we depended less on outside communities. Our focus became to keep intruders out, instead letting strangers in, which was easier done with large numbers of people. But as tribes grew into empires, we were no longer able to recognize all faces in our community, due which we became increasingly suspicious of people who looked and behaved different to us. This evolved into something we now call group affiliation, and later on patriotism. Xenophobia is basically the flipside of that same coin.

To manage large groups of people who don’t even know each other, the need suddenly grew to have someone in charge to overlook the whole bunch. A leader, if you will. Captains and lieutenant colonels were put in place, who were particularly good at handing out orders and weaponry. They played into soldier’s moral compass, their longing for group affiliation, and devotion to comradeship. Because even though the War in Ukraine makes us doubt whether there is any decency left in this vile world, people are inherently good. We have a build-in sense of empathy, aversion to inequality, and desire to do the right thing. A good captain lieutenant knows how to use these traits to his advantage, by applying just the right amount of mind control.

When people gain power, it does something strange to their personality. Throughout history, there has been a clear trend in which people with certain societal privileges start exploiting or oppressing others, to reinforce these privileges. Although leaders are originally chosen for their great social skills, such as empathy, collaboration, generosity and interest in others, those very same skills seem to vanish once they are put into power. There is actually a name for it, called acquired sociopathy. Suddenly, the once charismatic leader starts to show some serious authority issues and empathy deficits, leaving his followers vulnerable to impulsive and self-serving acts. Like Lord Acton said: power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Once sociopaths have reached the top, it ain’t easy to shake them off. They will start applying five basic steps to dictatorship, in order to stay in control. Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and Fidel Castro: they all swore by them. First, censorship is used to regulate the information people have access to. If they accidently read uncensored articles anyway, you can simply write it off as ‘fake news’. Second, indoctrination convinces the common people of your ideology. For example, training camps can be helpful to reinforce your beliefs without anyone daring to question it. Third, propaganda assists in further spreading your message. You could, for instance, consider taking ownership of all media outlets. Fourth, scapegoating may be necessary to justify your bad deeds towards the outside world. Easiest would be to create a common enemy, such as Jews, Nazis, fascists, or communists. Finally, creating a terror state. You have to make sure that when people dare to protest, they will simply disappear.

In a stable society where people are well-off, dictators normally don’t stand a chance. They’re only allowed a stage when people face soaring poverty, corruption and inequality, which is why mini Putins have popped up in Turkey, Iran, Brazil and the Philippines. In such places, discontent voters are easier to fall for smooth talkers who promise them a world of change. Even civil unrest can be pretty efficient in drastically changing the tables around. Although War clearly doesn’t favour the majority of people, it does benefit certain individuals. Because it’s impossible to reach full equality in a society, there will always be people at the bottom of the social ladder, with meaningless jobs and zero social status. When civil unrest breaks out, these former ‘nobodies’ will step out of the shadow and take the lead. With a gun in their hand, it’s gonna be very hard for people to reject them any longer, or deny them of the wealth they feel entitled to.

Luckily, economic wealth is rising globally, with an evident decrease in deadly combat as a result. And to avoid history from repeating itself, we have invented UN security councils, Geneva conventions, NATO agreements, nuclear deals, and Declarations of Human rights. But whatever international peace treaties we come up with, they mean substantially little when another dictator loses his marbles. To a Russian dictator, moral rules are only for the obedience of Western fools. And that Ukraine, once part of the great Soviet Union, wanted to sign an association treaty with the EU was simply too much for Putin to bare. He accused NATO of threatening Russian’s future, or history as a nation, and got so worked up about it that he send-off fully-geared murdering troops. That the Soviet Union is long gone, and Ukraine’s people democratically voted in favour of joining the NATO don’t matter. He won’t have it.

Whatever triggers a War, on average 487.550 people die for its cause, based on the number of casualties per armed conflict that broke out since the Second World War. That has been sixty-five armed conflicts, which lasted on average 20 years. Just before the War in Ukraine broke out, there were already 24 active conflicts spread across the globe. My goodness, will we ever learn? Unless we go back to our hunter-gatherer days, we probably won’t. But at least, when it comes to dictators, we don’t put up with them forever. Whatever their desperate attempts to protect their wealth and influence, we shall not be fooled indefinitely. Most dictators do fall, one hard way or another. Mussolini was shot, Hitler shot himself, Saddam Hussein was hanged, and Gaddafi got tortured to death. Let’s hope for Ukrainians as well as Russians that Putin awaits a similar faith soon.

 

 

1. Yuval Noah Harari, 2014. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Random house 

2. Rutger Bregman, 2020. Humankind: A hopeful history. Bloomsbury Publishing

3. Dacher Keltner, 2016. The power paradox: How we gain and lose influence. Penguin

I always get suspicious when people compliment me, and especially when it’s on my looks. It can only mean that they want something from me... I’m not insecure or anything, but I don’t consider myself to be remarkably attractive. And I’m not arrogant into saying I’m not hideously unattractive either. I just am, dangling somewhere in between pretty and ugly. But what’s pretty and what’s ugly, we can rightfully ask ourselves? As for pretty, a simplistic answer would be pointing at People Magazine or TV shows like The Next Top Model. But although we clearly can’t take our eyes off these people, it wouldn’t be realistic to compare ourselves to them. With regards to ugly, any answer will be wrong. We are all beautiful in our own way. Although, in all honesty, there’s no denying that some people are primarily beautiful from the inside. Let’s just say that the outside packaging isn’t everyone’s best selling point. But what seems ugly to me might be pretty to someone else, and the other way around. So what’s the correct answer then? Quantitative predictions and testable explanations is what we need. 

Scientists aren’t known for being the prettiest of people, but they were the ones who dared tackling the topic first. While fashion models were standing in front of the camera, they were secretly making notes in the background. They observed thousands of pretty people who never bothered looking back, but it didn’t harm them. They instead satisfied themselves with the statistics they got out of it. When data were summed up and total means got compared for significance values, things got interesting. The main result was that symmetric faces score highest. The discussion material explained that it might be because we relate asymmetric faces to weak facial muscles, premature aging and womb-related trauma. Results also showed a positive bias towards lush-coloured cheeks and well-nourished faces. Scientists theorised that it’s because we correlate colourful and full cheeks to a healthy lifestyle. That’s one point for us and zero points for The Next Top Model: skinny ain’t so pretty after all.

But there’s way more to it. Of significant importance to the conception of beauty is the size and arrangement of facial features. As an explanatory example: beautiful eyes are overlooked when a hawk shaped nose is blocking the view, and having a delicate nose becomes irrelevant when eyes are way too far apart. Deep set eyes, hanging eye lids, outlandishly large teeth and unusually thin lips aren’t very favourable either, case studies have shown. Data analyses also demonstrated that the distance between the eyes should preferably be under half of the width of the face, and that the length of the nose mustn’t be longer than the total width of the face. Equally significant, the distance between the eyes and mouth should preferably be one-third of the height of the head. The forehead is a problem on its own, or statistical value rather to say. Too long ain’t good, and too short definitely ain’t. The same goes for chins. Cheeks are a bit easier on the statistics, as long as they aren’t too chubby. In contrast, high cheekbones, small ears and strong eye brows significantly favour the face. So essentially, although we shouldn’t judge people on their looks, we do it anyway, for reasons that are now scientifically known.

The scientists published impressive papers on their fascinating findings, but received little attention over it. Which leads us straight to the next issue: people seem to care more about looks than about knowledge. We don’t need science to tell us what facial features are pretty, make-up is what we need! Likewise, we know more about Kim Kardashian than about Yuval Noah Harari, and spend more money on fashion than on literature. Scientists weren’t sulking over it though, but instead saw it as an opportunity. Their next obvious research topic was on the origin of shallowness, and data became numerous. The discussions of peer-reviewed articles based on significant correlations drawn from the results of their data, explained that people unwittingly presume that pretty people are kinder, happier, and more successful than not so pretty people. Teachers rate their assays higher, bosses forgive their poor performances more easily, and friends show a higher threshold towards their unethical behaviour. It’s why handsome men get away with cheating and how pretty women talk their way out of speeding tickets. Juries and judges even tend to give pretty people lighter sentences. Although unjust, we treat them differently because we are simply impressed by their beauty.

Nevertheless, we cannot measure all pretty people by the same standard. Studies show that there are significant differences in the perception of beauty between cultures and races. For instance, white people favour skinny bodies whereas black people like curvy bodies, and Asian people prefer white skin whereas European people admire tanned skin. It’s because beauty often relates to wealth. Being tanned historically meant that we were poor peasants working the land (which is still the case in Asia), but nowadays means that we can afford lengthy holidays on sunny beaches. Likewise, African men idolize voluptuous women because it’s considered a sign of prosperity. In Europe, however, food is unlimited and skinny became trendy because it shows the discipline to go to the gym and the luxury to afford organic food. And it’s not only wealth, but status as well that influences beauty. For instance, people traditionally fancied stretched necks in Thailand, feather decorations in Papua New Guinea, and lip plates in Ethiopia, because it represented their hierarchy. These days, we like suits, diamonds and fancy cars. So in the end, all perceptions of beauty are based on what culture has indoctrinated us with. It might not be a bad thing: when you’re perceived as ugly in one country you can try your luck in the next.

One last issue needs to be clarified, which scientists haven't yet managed to proof statistically. It’s that being pretty is different from being attractive. The most stunning looking people can be unattractive, and the oddest looking people can be attractive. Beauty can appear or disappear in an instant, as soon as people open their mouth. Because ultimately, looks don’t show kindness or empathy in people, or give away their sense of humour. What we also find attractive is confidence, passion and intelligence, which might mean that we aren’t so shallow after all. People even get prettier over time once we start to take a liking to their personality. Someone that would’ve never caught our eye on the street can suddenly become  beautiful, just by getting to know the person. Finding an ugly person attractive has its advantages as well, considering that rejection is unlikely and competition will be minimal. That’s actually why I prefer my boyfriends not to talk in public; I wouldn’t want to risk other ladies falling for their spectacular personality. It’s why I don’t obsess about my own looks either; they must clearly be dating me for other reasons. See, I don’t need to be pretty, I rather be spectacular.

Although natural disasters can cause death and despair, they hardly leave us with trauma the way we, ourselves, do. We are at the mercy of us, human beings who show no remorse. It’s almost as if God skipped a few while handing out empathy. Notoriously known are narcissists, with a self-image so great and self-esteem so fragile that even the slightest criticism can cause damage, which is why they constantly look for attention and admiration, achieved by manipulative and vindictive acts. They are quick to turn to the use and abuse of other people, including, or at the costs of, their own children. As a result, their children grow up hurt and having such a low self-esteem that they are easily damaged, look for attention and admiration, and turn to the use and abuse of other people. These people, as a consequence, are so hurt that they turn to the use and abuse of… well, I think you get the point. It’s almost as if trauma gets passed down, like a little train that stops at every generation.

Because we originally evolved to become a nurturing and empathic social species, the use and abuse by others doesn’t sit very well with us. It’s mainly the limbic system in the central part of our brain that takes the punch, where emotions are registered. In children, the limbic brain is still developing, which is why experiences, whether good or bad, create an emotional map of the world. And a narcissistic (or traumatized) parent can be a pretty bad experience. They often shift, perhaps unknowingly, between wounding and soothing, sometimes being cruel and sometimes being kind. This creates extreme confusion in children and leads to cognitive dissonance, causing stress in their developing brains. Without an internal sense of security, children find it difficult to distinguish between safety and danger, which is why their little brains quite literally get wired differently.

Children will go through any length to feel seen and loved. If they are denied of such, they will try to draw attention by crying, yelling or breaking stuff. Good children with bad parents seem to have concluded that unless they give a spectacle, nobody is going to pay attention to them. But they will find that their pleading and crying don’t always register with their caregiver. And if the person to whom they naturally turn for love and protection rejects them, children will learn to shut down and ignore emotions. They may even conclude that they are worthless, deserved it for some reason, and start expecting that other people will treat them horribly too. Why else would their own parent treat them that way? An attitude like this makes easy prey for other narcissists, which means they are pretty much set up for more trauma later down the line.

And trauma is quite the brain bummer, let me tell you. The left frontal lobe, called the Broca area, stops functioning almost completely after a traumatic event, which is the speech centre of the brain. Without a functioning Broca, you quite literally can’t put your thoughts and feelings into words. That’s why trauma victims often sit frozen in emergency and court rooms, seemingly having “lost their tongue” when asked what happened. And it’s not only the left frontal lobe, but sometimes the whole left part of the brain that is deactivated after trauma. It goes without saying (sense the irony) that the left part of our brain is pretty vital, particularly for language, problem solving, memory, judgement and impulse control. Without it, we can’t identify cause and effect, grasp long-term effects, or create coherent actions. That’s why traumatized people often make irrational decisions, while quoting that they have “lost their mind”. They have in fact! Or rather, they have “lost executive functioning of the left brain hemisphere.”

Simultaneously, the amygdala is activated during trauma, which is a cluster of brain cells that determines whether stimuli are relaxed or threatening. When threatening, it triggers a cascade of hormones, preparing the body for fright or flight. Adrenaline increases heart rate and blood pressure, while cortisol increases blood sugar and metabolism. The body normally returns to baseline, but in traumatized people stress hormones are being secreted long after the perceived threat. With the passing of time, this will be expressed by agitation and panic, memory loss and attention problems, irritability and sleep disorders. Quite the bummer, like I said. And if that isn’t enough, a traumatized brain also lowers serotonin production, which is a natural remedy for dealing with stress. It makes for quite a nice comeback from “Are you out of your mind!” “No actually, I’m out of serotonin.” (hits the drum: pa dum tss).

When troubled children grow into teenagers with malfunctioning amygdalas and Brocas, they can’t calmly hover over their thoughts the way others do. As a result, they may overlook red flags and get involved with toxic people, who then start using and abu... Whoops, they have just hopped on the trauma train. Final station: PTSD. Because their rational brains were wired to disassociate and ignore messages from the emotional brain, they often don’t take actions when faced with another unsafe environment. Their conscious minds carry on as if nothing is wrong. As the situation progresses, the rational brain may need more heavy tools, such as alcohol and prescription drugs, to dull emotions and drown memories. After all, we not only use our minds to discover facts, but also to hide them. The emotional brain isn’t very good at denial, however, and keeps sending off stress hormones in a desperate attempt to be taken away from the threat. The quite visible end result of that will be a highly emotional, impulsive and aggressive human being.

Animals too don’t always respond to stress in the best of ways. Studies including rats, monkeys, cats and elephants showed that when researchers played a load and intrusive sound, animals ran off home immediately. However, one group was raised in a safe and nurturing nest, whereas the other one in a cold and noisy nest where they were deprived of food. Yet animals of the latter group also rushed home, even after having spent time in more pleasant surroundings where food was plentiful. Are traumatized people perhaps also condemned to seek refuge in what is familiar, no matter how frightening? Terror might even increase the need for attachment and comfort, regardless of whether the source of comfort is also the source of terror. So once you are on the trauma train, getting off isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Trauma can even be passed down generations via our DNA. Methylation patterns, which affect gene expression, are heavily impacted by stress factors such as smoking and chemicals. And trauma, as you may have guessed, is quite a heavy stress factor. It was recently illustrated that the structure of methyl groups can be passed on to offspring. In rats, babies with a caring mother had the brain chemicals that respond to stress be affected differently than babies with a neglecting mother. And these chemicals modified the expression of over a thousand genes. Nurtured rats turned out to be braver, smarter and more resilient to stress than unnurtured rats, which was still apparent in the next generation.

Because trauma has such a cascading effect, it can lead to local jam-packed trains. The United States has become one of those traumatized nations, after generations of military veterans, high school shootings, and discriminated youth. At war with themselves, victims often turn to physical violence, most commonly directed at their partner and children. It was calculated that eradicating child abuse alone would reduce the overall rate of depression by more than half, alcoholism by two-thirds, and suicide, drugs use, and domestic violence by three-quarters. In South Africa, another traumatized nation after the apartheid, violent school teachers, and ongoing inequality, one in three women have experienced domestic or sexual violence. That’s thirty percent of all women trying to be good mothers or compete with men on the work floor with deactivated frontal lobes, spiked cortisol and depleted serotonin.

The expression of traumatic stress is strongly shaped by culture as well, as moral values are a direct response to what is acceptable in a society. This is part of the reason why domestic violence varies so greatly between countries, from 10% in the Philippines to 80% in Egypt. But does this mean that it is almost like a default setting, which men automatically turn to unless they were taught differently? Is the use and abuse of women simply part of human nature? I can’t find it in my heart to accept this theory. I rather believe that it’s the other way around, that abuse is a result of their own trauma. That some men unwittingly hopped on the train and were simply never taught how to get off.

Could this also explain where narcissism comes from? Bad role models, neglect and the inability to express emotions could be the very root causes of non-empathic behaviour. After all, a child’s sense of proper and improper ways to behave, and their moral perceptions of right and wrong are brought to them. Simply put: assholes aren’t born, they are made. If a lack of empathy is indeed the result of poor nurture, instead of our dark nature, it might be easier to lend forgiveness to these people as well, which is the first step to getting off the trauma train yourself. In the end, we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how to respond to it, with a little bit more love, and a little bit more compassion.

 

 

*1 Bessel Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma

*2 António R. Damásio, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

*3 Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

I never feared turning thirty nor put any emotional value to this age, as it’s really nothing but a number. But then I actually turned thirty… Even though I still feel the same and convinced myself that wrinkles give me that classy look, I somehow became more observant. Or was I just in denial before, unwilling to give into my intuitions and admit to my observations? Somehow, my first holiday as a thirty-year old has changed my perspective and I can no longer look at people in the same way, or at myself for that matter.  

It started with an innocent trip to the zoo. Seeing these beautiful and strange animals, whether they were birds, antelopes or cats, all looking like pieces of evolutionary art. But then I also saw the creatures on the free side of the fence, and I had a little out-of-body experience. I became aware of my fellow humans who were, unlike the caged animals, not a pretty sight. Their bodies all of a sudden seemed odd to me. Standing upright with their arms hanging beside their plump bodies. A concentration of fat around the nipple area, and bulky bellies with no tail to outbalance them. The humans around me were hairless, except for a patch of excessive hair growth on top of their heads. The heads were sized out of proportion, with noses that stuck out, and a skin that displayed an array of colourful sunburns, pimples and rashes. Sexual selection clearly wasn’t favoured during human evolution. 

When I came home, I tried to shake my thoughts off and recover faith in human aesthetics by watching movies starring the Collin Farrells and Scarlett Johanssons of Hollywood. But soon after I went to an entertainment park, which didn’t do much good regarding this matter. The many day visitors were no treat to the eyes, and I was often stuck in queues with people who did the exact opposite to my eyes. Again I pictured those majestic tigers, colourful parrots and fluffy tamarin monkeys, wondering where it all went wrong. But it didn’t just stop there. I became aware of the ridiculous situation I found myself in. There were about 150 people standing in line to sit in a little train that went up and down a track. Everyone was waiting for the duration of an hour, to get a little rush of adrenaline that lasted no longer than two minutes. And that’s not all we do outside working hours for entertainment, this is only the beginning. 

We most commonly involve ourselves in sports, either out of social desperation or to rid ourselves of excess weight caused by consuming food items so unnatural that our bodies are incapable of digesting them. After eating potato chips and sugar cones, we go out to get exercise in ways that can also be considered somewhat unnatural. We run for hours to return to the very same place and call it jogging. We move limps under the weight of water and call it water aerobics. We sit on mats to bend our bodies in impossible ways and call it yoga. And we lift objects so heavy that our muscles can hardly support them and call it weight lifting. In nature, these activities would be a complete waste of valuable energy, and evolution would have filtered this nonsense right out. 

But we have outsmarted evolution by domesticating animals, cultivating crops, storing water supplies, building houses, and inventing means of transportation. These days, we only have to walk from our doorstep to our car to get to the nearest shopping mall. We have made sure that even the very weakest will survive. The downside is that we have become spoiled, overweight and bored. And boredom has a hold on us, as we seemingly do anything for some entertainment in our corporate, westernized and digitalized lives. We jump out of aeroplanes with a parachute, climb up walls only to descend again, and hit balls with a golf stick so far that it can take up to an hour to find the damn things. People have also made a sport out of cars, by driving down impossible terrain or in endless circles. We also run in circles, or wear ice skates while doing so, and jump over high obstacles, and throw heavy discs as far as possible, or slide down snowy mountains. Just to kill time or see who does it the best. 

Humans who aren’t fit enough to run or jump tend to avoid boredom in other ways. They throw darts at a board trying to hit the highest number, fill in numbers on a piece of paper in hopes it’ll match somebody else’s, or throw numbered cards on a table in a variety of ways. People also take jigsaw puzzles apart and mix rubik's cubes up, just so they can return them to the original state. Some collect miniature trains, others list all the bird species they see in the wild, and yet others dive into a digital world full of dragons, fairies and Pokémons. 

Some humans get bored with their own bodies and dedicate their time to getting as skinny, tanned, or muscled as possible. These people even gather on stage sometimes to compare their lack of body fat or excess of muscle tissue. There is a tendency to focus on clothing during these little get-togethers, specifically on the fabric, shape, colour variation, and person who designed the costume of choice. There are often hundreds of people who spend their free time to go look at these people on stage, while clapping their hands to make noise whenever they get the chance. 

In addition to slim bodies and stylish outfits, people also cheer up their ugly appearances by putting make-up on, ink in, and metal through their skin. Some people wear so much make-up that it’s hard to tell their ethnic origin, or have tattoos so numerous that they start looking like lizards. Others put piercings through their gum, or even their private parts, for reasons yet unknown. People sometimes even jam metal hooks through their skin so large that they can hang from them, called body suspension. It’s not uncommon for these people to do it publicly as well, and they’re not shy to hold competitions either. 

And it gets more bizarre. Humans consume things that were never intended to be consumed, either by swallowing, smoking, injecting, or snorting it. Just to feel a bit happier, crazier, or more relaxed. It was boredom that led to the invention of these drugs, and chronic boredom that led to excessive consumption at the cost of people’s own health. Many people choose drugs over basic needs in life, such as nutrition, sleep and sex. Not everyone though… some people rather solve their boredom by having freakish, totally unnatural forms of intercourse. The way in which some people have misunderstood sex has shocked me to the core. Absurd role playing, disturbing fetishes, violent bedroom rituals; let’s rather not go into detail. We surely got some explaining to do when intelligent, alien life forms find our planet… 

Suddenly, I get snapped out of my thoughts as it is finally my turn to hop in the seat that will make me go up and down, and do a few loops and flips along the way. After these exciting few minutes I go home. First, I watch a little story on a screen about somebody else’s life. Next, I put some metal objects through my ears, hang some beads around my neck, apply some dark lines to my face, and make my eyelashes look bigger than they are. I’m meeting a friend and we normally do little more than sit at a table, while drinking alcoholic beverages that make our brains feel funny. When I come home after hours of endless babbling about nothing memorable, I cuddle my bunny; a little being that probably doesn’t even recognize me and has no recollection of me feeding him every day. I go lie in bed to read a story about yet another person’s life. I’m either too drunk to admit that I’m just the same as all those other ugly and bored people, or just too young. Maybe I’ll be ready when I’m forty.