Sometimes you just have to wonder WTF people are thinking. Or if they’re thinking.

SF author Jack Vance once proposed[1] the “Simíc Principle”, after the (fictional) philosopher who proposed it. The Principle doesn’t lend itself to brief aphorism, but the basic idea agrees with one of mine[3], viz., that many of our attitudes and behaviors were fixed during the tens or hundreds of millenia our ancestors lived as hunters, gatherers, and scavengers, and those attitudes and behaviors are sometimes a bad fit to a modern industrial society, which after all has only been existence for a paltry couple of centuries.

The Simíc Principle is that humans evolved in an environment which contained continual life-threatening danger, from saber-toothed tigers to volcanoes, and are therefore adapted by evolution to perform best in such an environment. It follows that a diet of sheer terror is necessary for our physical and mental health. According to Vance, Simíc proposed a dedicated corps of public servants, the Ferocifers, whose selfless mission is to severely frighten people on a regular basis, as their good health requires.

Many of the features of modern industrial society, especially some of the more annoying ones, can be explained by reference to the Simíc Principle. The modern human being, coddled in the arms of industrial production and ordered society, is remarkably safe compared to our ancestors, and thus doesn’t experience many really severe frights. It might be expected that compensatory behavior would arise, to provide the needed rush of terror. Extreme sports and carnival rides come immediately to mind as manifestations, but there are others which are perhaps less obvious. There is, for instance, procrastination, failure to take care of routine matters until the accumulated delays add up to a crisis situation. Crises are scary, and the resulting release of adrenalin and endorphins feels good because the procrastinator’s body is trying to satisfy its need for fright.

Even our more recent ancestors, living in agricultural societies that included relatively safe houses and villages (modulo the occasional Viking raid), might have suffered some degree of terror deficiency, and developed campfire stories and Faerie tales to compensate. The clear modern equivalent is the conspiracy theory. Sharing the faux news that the Trilateral Commission is coming to reduce you to servitude, or Big Pharma wants to kill your kids with mercury-laden injections, produces the frissón the body craves. Given demand, supply follows; we thus have Al Gore and a host of others scaring us silly with Tales of Global Warming, preachers terrifying their congregations with the fires of the Pit, and hosts of lesser lights supporting networks of Web pages peddling The End Of The World As We Know It, and vast numbers of people satisfy the unconscious cravings that rise from their forgotten histories by lapping it all up.

There is no group more thoroughly insulated from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than today’s Progressive “liberal”. The median individual of that group is a person who can predict with high confidence that tomorrow will be much like today, and will include shelter, warmth, adequate food and water, and a near-total lack of fangéd predators lurking to pounce. Suffering thereby from near-total Terror Deficiency, they are compelled by their chemicals (as Kurt Vonnegut would describe it) to invent things to be frightened of, or blow trivial threats up into existential ones — and do: children with toy guns are become direct threats to the life and limb of others; the very existence of a real gun is deliciously scary, and the idea that someone who disagrees with them possesses one raises hackles in a very satisfactory manner; and the tea parties, groups of individuals who not only disagree but propose to turf them out of their political power, can be blown up without difficulty into the modern-day equivalent of a full pride of lions threatening the tribe with instant destruction. Soothing them with reason and assurances doesn’t work, because their fears are produced not by external factors but by internal bodily processes beyond their control.

They aren’t nuts. They’re just following their evolutionary imperative.

[1] In a footnote[2] to one of his “Alastor Cluster” novels

[2] Some people find footnotes offputting. I think they’re charming.

[3] And is therefore obviously valid, of course.