It is becoming more and more obvious, that it is not starvation, not microbes, not cancer, but man, himself, that is mankind's greatest danger. Carl Jung
What brings people together in the first place? Most species with mobility tend to flock together. People are no exception. Borders created between species are a common event, also between subunits within species, and are a plague of humankind today.
Our inborn need for acceptance coincides with our practical need for group survival. Clans and tribes arise from family groups and eventually coalesce and evolve into nations. People coalesce into groups for protection, sustenance and warmth. This tendency is also expressed by herbivores in general. Even carnivores, who may lead more lonely and independent lives, often stake out territories and form hunting groups. Humankind was smart enough to drive out the carnivores and domesticate the herbivores. In forming societies and claiming territories, humankind has expressed an awesome range in behavior the world over. By any measure, individual humans exhibit as much variation as societies do.
Evolution served us well in bringing us into being. Developing peaceful societies is another matter. In pre-history, our inborn fierceness was countered by our herding instinct, even as each tended to preserve the other. These seemingly opposed instincts came into balance as we made our evolutionary way through the jungle and savanna. We are now locked in a battle of societies where only the "fittest" (not godliest) will survive--unless we can muster enough statespersonship. Terrorism whether religious or secular in nature is just one expression of this engagement.
On the grand scale, a vague outline appears. The fierce U.S. vs the herds of Islam are societal expressions of the genetic nature of humankind. And the reverse is equally true. In either case, the herding instinct is a growing wedge of miscommunications between the societies. That the "fierce" leaders on each side have locked horns is a natural expression of our heritage.
If we think about it, the herding instinct is, like fierceness, exclusionary in nature. It tends to separate societies whether they are families, neighborhoods, economic levels, religious orders, political or economic units. Although one instinct is agressive and the other defensive, the responsible genes seem to augment each other -- increasing human conflict where there is insufficient damping movements to maintain balance.
Competition between and among human societies with conflict across borders is a common historical pattern; and, also, between subunits within societal borders: Bosnia, Cambodia, Uganda, Rwanda, and Northern Ireland are contemporary examples. At the same time, it appears that the European Union is blazing one trail toward peace. Not only have ancient enemies buried the hatchet, but they have become firm and fast allies, acting in concert and sharing governance as well as currency. We see Europe as a harbinger of the future.
Societies can be peaceful, violent or anything in between. Compared with the US, Japan, Norway and Portugal are quite peaceful. Compared with Washington DC, Tokyo is a Garden of Eden. There are at least three contibutors: Authoritarian Personality provides the potential, Societal Values set the tone, and the matter of Montheism and Violence.
Let's see how this came to be. Humankind first lifted itself out of savagery and did so by forming societies that protected the many. The first laws were likely based on unrealistic myth. But those with value were preserved. Values may not have been so perceived by tribes or individuals as being in their best personal interests. Nevertheless, as mastery over nature improved, populations grew at increasing rates, requiring ever more complex laws to maintain the public order.
With liberal and broad education of its members, a society tends to become better at lawmaking as it becomes more law-abiding. And more importantly perhaps, society becomes more abiding in the spirit of the law. Borders among societies must become stable before societies can move on to transparency and peace. Transparancy is not here yet in very many places.
The rule of law (governing human affairs and appropriately enabling individual choice within reasonable limits) is a singular feature that sets humanity apart from the animal world. Achieving balance between individual and group interests is a never ending issue in human society.
Nature wrote the laws about survival of living organisms. Most societal attempts to form stable governance necessarily begin in savagery and must go through strongman phases before they can possibly evolve toward a governance of law recognizing, and recognized by, a democratic society embracing any of many economic systems in ongoing dialogue. Societies on this earth have not yet achieved universal dialogue, though some are much better than many others. This process is not yet complete, and terror is just one expression of that incompletness.
Laws have loopholes, if not when first written then later as situations change. The wisdom inherent in a given law governs its success. Compare, for example, the huge and long-term success of the First Amendment with laws controlling marijuana, or liquor during prohibition. The latter led to over-crowded and costly new prisons, to a quagmire of our own making in our own time.
Social realism in lawmaking is vital. Societies evolve in different directions. So the strength of law is an evolutionary thing and not always in tune with the times or competition among societies. Laws can be eroded, as with the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. A "strict constructionist" in interpreting the constitution is driving the final nails in the Fourth-Amendment coffin. Ironic, comical, and tragic. Although laws, like religion, must move with the times to retain their relevance, societies can go too far or not apply them effectively. The latter happened to the Fourth Amendment. Our Constitution cannot be amended by the president alone, but just that has happened bit by bit, gradually and steadily, since Harry Truman's time. See Eroding Civil Liberties"
Our genetic heritage does not serve the cause of peace well. Our innate tendencies toward aggressive behavior (in wide variation) along with our need for group approval leave many of us groping in various directions from an early age. Some of us seek secular enlightenment at the same time others go for religion and faith. In the extreme, extremism itself appears, whether in the garb of plutocratic, political, economic, or religious fundamentalism. Terrorism can spring from any such extreme sector of any society permitting conditions where alienation and humiliation are prominent among the everyday tools for individual and group "competition and survival."
Nevertheless, humankind has an opportunity this century to rise above the strongman mentality.
The very things that set humans apart from other animals in degree include: oral communication, inventiveness, handed-down memory, tool making, insight, abstract thinking, formal decision making/planning, and formal moral codes. Yet terrorists and the current administration alike are attempting to redefine all eight to reflect their own self-interests at the expense of the rest of us.
Posted by RoadToPeace on Sunday, August 21, 2005.