A new book suggests we’re all suffering from a condition known as ‘Humania’. Rod McPhee spoke to its author, Leeds academic Steve Taylor
“THERE’S something not quite right about human beings.” says Steve Taylor employing the kind of lay terms you wouldn’t normally expect from an academic.
But, he certainly means it.
For years now he’s been pondering his theory about Humania, which suggests that many of us are actually suffering from a psychological disorder that warps our thought patterns and behaviour.
Our constant craving for more – an overarching characteristic of his theory – has reached a zenith in our celebrity, money and materially-obsessed society. And given all the evidence he might just have a point.
“If you think about it, most animals don’t strive to become more or change their lives radically all the time,” says Taylor. “In fact, they’re very well fitted into their given environment – they just enjoy being in their particular niche.
“And it’s not just because we’re human, because if you look at what we might call more ‘primitive’ societies, hunter-gatherer societies, they’re often much more egalitarian, they share possessions and operate in quite a democratic way.
“But these days there seems to be an acute restlessness in human beings, a discontentment about the way things are.”
In previous years many psychologists may well have dismissed such behaviour as being linked to a variety of other conditions rather than being specifically symptomatic of a unique condition. But Taylor, who has worked at Leeds Metropolitan University for the past three years, appears convinced, so convinced in fact he’s just published a book, Back to Sanity: Healing the Madness of our Minds, which outlines the nature of Humania.
“It was something I’d thought about for years,” he says. “And it was based on my observations of human beings. Also I used to read a lot about history and anthropology and if you look back at history it displays an endless line of wars with society constantly in conflict, also massive inequality with things like the oppression of women.
“I’ve also pondered the behaviour of people obsessed with becoming rich and famous, who want to accumulate more status and power. There is a sense that we constantly want to move into the future and find it difficult to live in the present.
“As a direct result we seem to want to always divert our attention elsewhere, whether it’s through TV programmes, the internet or magazines.”
But Taylor isn’t absolute in his assessment. Although he believes many of us are suffering from this psychological disorder, he doesn’t believe we all are. Nor does he see it as an inevitable influence everywhere.
Taylor says: “I notice it more when I go to London – and I have to go there every few weeks with my work – and when you come back up north it just seems less mad.
“That’s because London is future orientated with everyone rushing around at full speed and that kind of rushing is a type of madness. So, it’s always a bit of a relief for me when I come back up north.”
Thankfully, all is not lost. Although Taylor believes many of us do have this psychological disorder, as with any condition it has the potential to be treated, but much of that treatment has to be self-initiated and that begins with recognising we have a problem.
“The second half of the book is all about how we can regain inner harmony – it’s definitely possible for us to do that,” he says, reassuringly. “We can become less competitive and less obsessed with accumulating wealth. We don’t have to participate in the materialism of society.
“I think a big part of the problem is society itself – we are constantly under pressure to do things we might not normally do. If enough of us started to reject that then I really do believe that society could change – that would certainly help negate the effects of Humania.”
Back to Sanity is available in bookshops and online.
What to do about a bad case of humania
REJECT DISPROPORTIONATE WEALTH – Too much of anything is never enough. Having more money will only make you want even more money
FOCUS YOUR MIND – Too much of our thought processes involve cerebral “chattering” not logical thought which proves to be productive
REALISE YOUR CAREER AMBITIONS – but don’t continually aspire beyond the point of simple satisfaction. Learn when you’ve achieved your goals rather than just shifting the goalposts
LIVE IN THE PRESENT – Don’t rush everywhere, particularly if you don’t have to. Don’t be preoccupied with going places all the time, enjoy where you are
ACCESS TV SPARINGLY – television adds to the sense of thought chattering with its channel-flicking, bite-sized supply of varied information
AVOID ASPIRATIONAL MAGAZINES – these heighten our sense of dissatisfaction and make us believe we need more than we do
DON’T SUCCUMB TO ADVERTISING – Corporate campaigns are specifically designed to make us feel like we want more, even if we have enough
THINK RATIONALLY – Don’t always go with your instincts or your feelings, use logic to determine your actions more.
DON’T PLAN TOO MUCH – Don’t prepare too much for tomorrow when you should remain concentrated on today
REJECT PRESSURE FROM SOCIETY – so much of what we do is governed by individuals and organisations which make us adopt their expectations