|Surviving Human Nature|
Conflict and Destruction
History records the tedious and repetitious details of human competition, conflict, destruction and killing. Students of world affairs will have little difficulty identifying recurrent problems in the conduct of business and governments and the interaction of countries. Human conflicts and killings are deeply troubling but at the same time, much has been accomplished in reaching for a sustainable, good life for some privileged humans. The rapid development of science, communications and culture exchange is unprecedented in the history of the planet. A smart, kind-hearted subtype of humans flourished despite the persistent presence of crude-thinkers and killers. The smart kind-hearts developed powerful tools of communication to shape the future in a constructive manner.
Since 1946 there have been an estimated 145 armed conflicts, and a "cold war" consisting of a competition between the USA and Soviet Union (Russia)who accumulated massive military organizations and enough nuclear weapons to destroy each other in a matter of minutes. The right to employ and train killers is assumed by police, military and other government organizations. In the 20th century the scale of war escalated to involve most countries of the world and millions of combatants. The destructive scale of world war two has left surviving humans with a legacy of doubt and fear that will not be easily overcome. While in Canada we remember and thank soldiers who fought and died in World War 2 (WW2), there is a curious dissociation between the celebration of victory and the horrors of mass destruction and killing. Every country wants its citizens to view soldiers favorably in case they are needed to fight another war to “defend freedom”, but at the same time we celebrate peace and distain people who kill close to home. The aggressions of Germany and Japan in WW2 were so manifestly evil that other implicated nations were motivated to fight against them..
We are developing an understanding how humans have moved from a primordial existence, living in small groups to a social existence that involves living in enlarging cities that are part of larger economic and political organizations. The tendency in most academic and media discussion is to relate current events and then explain the causes of events in terms of local conditions. News reports attempt to emulate scholarly discourse, but only gather a few casual opinions which vary from trivial gossip to somewhat informative but brief explanations out of context. You can argue that none of the best academic systems of commentary on current events such as history, economics, sociology, anthropology, and political science really explain what is going on.
Human nature is the substrate for all events and human action tends be monotonously recurrent. The innate rules of association built into our brain pertain to small groups and tend to become dysfunctional when individuals try to relate as members of large and anonymous groups. Groups less than 150 members strong can often self-regulate using innate behaviors that have evolved over tens of millions of years.
As groups grow larger, humans require regulation using a system of rules and physical constraints that are an external form of behavior coding. The external behavioral coding requires systems of enforcement, capture, judgment and punishment of individuals who break the rules. The external system is ephemeral and must be renewed continuously. The external system grows in scope and complexity as populations increase in size and density. No single human can know let alone obey all the rules of a modern society.
One confusion arises when we believe an idealistic proposition that progress is being made toward a more rational and consistent world. The evidence for a more rational world is limited to specific places for limited periods of time. I live in a rational and consistent community that I consider to be almost utopian. I assume that the privilege of living so well is limited in time and space. My privileges could be suspended at any moment by any number of events natural and manmade.
A realistic appraisal of human events must consider that enlarging populations may lose self-regulation and may become ungovernable at specific times and places. The history of civilization is characterized by recurrent cycles featuring the growth of cities and empires and their dissolution thorough natural disasters, draught, famine, war, disease and the excesses of tyranny. These cycles are also manifest in individual lives and have similar patterns on a miniature scale.
The idealist may fantasize egalitarian societies that coexist peacefully and honor universal rules of human rights. However, humans have a deep tendency to form groups, to develop and defend boundaries and to treat outsiders as enemies. This tendency is expressed in every aspect of human life and dominates the modern world despite concerted attempts to modify this tendency and create just societies. All groups have interests, privileges and costs of membership. All groups have hierarchies and competition for privilege and prestige. The effort to create tolerance and an ideal, egalitarian state counters these deep tendencies and probably will never be stable and enduring
Social organization appears to be basic to animal life. Coherent social organization is achieved by a metabrain- thousands of individual brains coordinated in a network of interacting individuals. One of the functions of social organization is the distribution of individuals in spacetime and the regulation of the interactions. Humans are used to social regulation through speech and written rules and tend to overlook the more basic and pervasive social controllers that operate from innate properties in the brain.
The view that the good and the bad are products of a society is now yielding to the deeper insight that the dialectical nature of the human mind is built it; this dialectic generates culture not the other way around. A well-meaning coalition of humans in Vancouver, for example, held a rally to “eliminate racial discrimination”. Their premise was that racial discrimination is a learned behavior and can be eliminated by social policy and education. Human history overwhelmingly contradicts this idealistic notion. Discrimination is an essential feature of the human mind and is not going to disappear.
A more realistic philosophy of human life emerges as we recognize that it is impossible to permanently change human nature by social and political means, by education, persuasion, coercion and law. The practical question that continues to face policy makers is how much external regulation and what kind is required. As the numbers of humans increase and larger numbers live oppressed, in poverty with little hope, the need for external regulation will increase, but no-one knows how to manage such large numbers of unhappy and uneducated humans.
We can argue that a good civilization is based on some form of democracy, full employment, affluence, tolerance for diversity, education, health care, and support for the needy. An educated, participating middle class is essential for democracy to work. The society must seek people with advanced education, highly developed skills and the ability to apply current knowledge.