Sigmund Freud postulated that the primary motivating force behind humankind was sex. Many who followed him in the realms of theoretical ‘shrinkdom,’ disagreed. Except for those that agreed.
I (though not a psychoanalytical theorist very often) would like to agree with Freud. His idea makes life seem more raffish, more fun and frolicsome. But, I’m afraid I have to cast my lot with those who think otherwise.
I believe territory is considerably more significant to human beings than sex, much as I hate to admit it. Indeed, territory rules for virtually every creature that walks, runs, flies or swims.
An example of the power of territory (Robert Ardrey explained the whole territorial imperative thing better than I can) or the negative impact on human nature by lack of turf can be found, I think, in the decline and fall of communism worldwide – except in the cases of a couple of badly functioning enclaves. Communism was, in fact, doomed from the moment Karl Marx arrived at the theory, because he chose not to factor in territory. His dialectic deemed we would move beyond that stage under communism. His dialectic was, in that context (and many others), bullshit.
What Marx failed to take into account was the fact we humans don’t really want to ‘share.’ We, rich and poor alike, want our own, and we don’t want anybody else feeling entitled to get their hands on that which is ours.
If you are doubtful about whether human beings take territory seriously, I think warfare probably answers that question. We pay lip-service about wars being fought over philosophies, creeds and even wealth, or lack thereof, but mainly they are fought over territory. We want what you have. Oh yes, the natural resources will help us, too, but mainly we want to encroach on your place.
Ethnic bigotry is based on territory. Those people don’t look like us, act like us, eat like us, worship like us, even screw like us, therefore they are bad, and we don’t want them in our bailiwick. Why are they on my turf? Why are they in my neighborhood? Deservedly disdained ‘racial profiling’, a cheap-shot excuse for bigotry in a stressful time in history, is all about territory. The bottom line is, we don’t want “them Ay-rabs here.”
Territorialism is a visceral thing. If your home has been broken into, it goes straight to the guts. You feel you have been physically kicked, violated. If one of your nearest-and-dearest has been in any way assaulted, your impulse in the direction of homicide is understandable. Indeed, an opposite response would be questionable, so strong is your territorial imperative. “You have been in my home, you bastards! I want to kill you for that.” None of this has anything to do with the fact that your DVD or laptop has been lifted; it is the realization that somebody uninvited has been in your home – your bastion of safety. When I was in my teens, my father’s car was stolen from his place of work in Vancouver. A few weeks later they caught the little creep and his teenaged girlfriend in Las Vegas, and found the car. Dusty and dirty, but not too much the worse for wear. However, the car had also been the love-nest for the horny young runaways. When he got it back, the old man had it thoroughly detailed, and got it back spotless – literally and figuratively – but my mother was never again comfortable riding in what had been my dad’s first brand-new car. You see, somebody had used mother’s territory, uninvited in a manner that was to her despicable.
Indeed, the hideousness of rape lies not so much in the brutality of the act – which indeed is unspeakable – but primarily in the ultimate violation of territory. The body is the victim’s ultimate and absolute territory. What could we claim as more of our own than our very being?
Territory can be violated in other, less dramatic ways, but the end result can be distressing nevertheless. In my case that sense came about when I last visited my childhood community a few years ago. I mention that it was “a few years ago”, because I have never really had a desire to back. That’s because ‘they’ took it away from me. They wiped a chunk of my legacy territory from the map – metaphorically, at least.
I grew up in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. The Burnaby of my recall, in my little corner of that world, was a rural enclave, a refreshing haven from the larger centres. In the area around Deer Lake there were still small farms, wildlife in the manner of raccoons, deer, and even the odd bear. Roads were gravel; mucky in the winter, and dusty in the summer. Access to Vancouver in terms of transit, was limited. There was the convoluted BC Electric route that involved at least one transfer, or the less regular but preferred Pacific Stage bus line. It was direct and a fare cost a whole 15-cents for a kid. Best of all, at least until the mid-1950s, there was the Burnaby Lake Interurban line. I loved the trams and still have nostalgic dreams about them.
Burnaby today is an urban jungle, to my way of thinking. I do not recognize it and, at some inner level of despair, resent the fact that it has been changed so radically. Territoriality is violated when that which was cherished is taken indirectly away.
The last time I spent any time there, more than a decade ago, as I was waiting in a mass of traffic at an intersection that was once bordered by forest rather than high-rises, I fumed xenophobically: Who the hell are these people all around me? I don’t know any of them. They didn’t live here when I did. Why are they here? Where did they come from? This is ‘my’ town, not theirs. They are interlopers. I want my Burnaby back. My old school, Douglas Road Elementary is still there, but the neighborhood is from an alien planet and was plunked down when I was away.
But then, I thought, I probably look a little different, too. But, the point lingered in my mind
Back to Freud, in conclusion. Yes, sex is mighty important, thank God. But, in its essence, even sex is territorial. That is why we have the emotion of jealousy, and why adultery causes fits of consternation in not a few circles. Not so much because it’s sinful (the sinful nature is a matter for individual beliefs), but because it means somebody else is rooting around in another’s turf.
Anyway, it might have been well to have asked old Sigmund after he fled Austria to escape the Nazi boots tromping through Vienna following the Anschluss, whether he was thinking more about sex, or territory. Knowing him, it was probably sex.