Slaying The Social Survival Mammoth

By Chukwunonso Okwelogu

In 2014, put forth a hilarious and insightful article on the “Social Survival Mammoth”. You should go read it. Seriously. I’ll wait.



You’re too lazy to read it, aren’t you? Here’s the barest of summaries: back in caveman days, being socially accepted and part of a tribe was literally a matter of life and death. Who would share food and shelter with a weirdo? Mate with one? No one. That was a big freakin' deal. Now, in the 21st century, being socially accepted isn’t critical to survival, but it still feels like it is. We still have this antiquated "Social Survival Mammoth" in our heads keeping us in check, telling us to second guess ourselves, telling us that what other people think of us is a matter of life and death.

This is especially true for women, who have a completely different code for gendered social acceptance. A female mammoth. Imagine the mammoth played by Queen Latifah in Ice Age Three: The Meltdown. (Some of you are thinking, “No way, they made THREE Ice Age movies". You’re right. Those mofos made FIVE.)

But your shy, sultry Social Survival Mammoth ™ is a relic. Irrelevant. Unnecessary. Like your appendix. Or those camis you keep in your closet in case layering comes back.

This is a pretty simple idea, but it has permanently changed my worldview. It’s basically evolutionary scientific support for the #YOLO lifestyle. But before we (okay, I) get too carried away, let’s unpack the idea a little.

In our modern society, it doesn't matter if people think your sense of style is odd, or if you say something silly, or if your career choice is strange. You can still find shelter (unless you live in New York, Los Angeles, or Silicon Valley, then you will live in a box). You can still buy food (again, unless you live in the aforementioned places, as all of your money will go toward your box). And people will still mate with you. Depending on your distinct brand of strangeness, there are probably entire apps and websites devoted to mating with you. What a time to be alive!

But despite this new level of freedom of expression, it can feel like we are more constrained than ever to fit into some kind of box. Back in caveman days, there was one teeny tiny box to fit in: conform to group norms and be a productive member of the tribe, or (literally) die. Now, there are a variety of boxes to chose from. Be a gym rat! Or an Instagram model! Or an activist! Or a comic book nerd (which is a cool thing, now)! But our mammoths still whisper to "stay in your lane". Stay in your box.

Our Social Survival Mammoths™ have a new weapon in their arsenal: social media. In 2017, we have measuring social acceptance down to a science. (Or a math? I was never really good at that quantitative stuff.) We don’t have to wonder if people like us—we can count the likes, favorites and re-tweets right there on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter (that’s what the kids are using these days, right?). It’s comforting in a way, and terrifying in a multitude of other ways.

Will you get more likes with an artsy photo? Sexy? Intellectual? Sarcastic? Inspirational? Show more leg? More cleavage? Will people think you're a slut? What if people are just pity-liking you? What if they think you’re trying too hard? What if you get less than nine likes on Insta?? (Just kidding. We all know that all posts with less than nine likes are immediately deleted.)

But let’s take a few steps back and ask a bigger question.

Why does any of this matter?

Before I’m stoned for blasphemy, let me offer an example. Just for a moment, let’s imagine you posted a fire selfie, with killer lighting, make up on fleek, a badass quote, and didn’t get any likes. Not. One. (If you didn’t immediately jump off the highest structure in the area) you’d still be alive. You’d still have a job (if you had one before), a roof over your head (again, if you had one before), food, water, etc. You would survive.

Imagine you wore something risqué to go out, and people talked about you behind your back. You would survive.

Imagine if you had safe, casual, consensual sex whenever and with whomever you wanted. People might (read: definitely will) feel some type of way about it. But you would survive.

Imagine you chose a career field like poetry or marine biology or —god forbid—entertainment, while all of your friends went into law or medicine or consulting. People (I see you, Mom) might talk about what a "waste" it is behind your back, but, say it with me: You would survive.

Over the past few months, this has become my mantra. I will survive. (Shoutout to Gloria Gaynor.) If I do this thing, post this thing, wear this thing, am seen in public with this person, what is the worst that can happen? Will it take money out of my (meager) paycheck? Will it take food out of my (meager) cupboard? No. And I want to do it? Then, I fucking do it.

Sorry, Queen Latifah—my Social Survival Mammoth can suck it. (Cue "Freedom" by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar.)