Human beings want, above all, to stay alive. Surely this is understandable and accepted as true by any human being reading this, and of course, only human beings are reading this.
We understand this because we personally want to stay alive. In Catholic high school they taught us that it was, in fact, our duty to stay alive; having been given the gift of life, it was our responsibility to maintain it. We discussed moral dilemmas-should we steal bread if we were starving and had no other means of obtaining food? Yes, because the importance of human life trumps the badness of bread-stealing.
I would like to think that there was a time when people lived in peace and harmony with nature and lifted nary a stone axe against one another. I would like to think that, but it is only true with certain reservations. Within tribes, extended families or clans, people did live in peace-and harmony was maintained by a tribal council of some sort. If you did something anti-social, the elders would decide, often with the input of many tribe members, how you would make reparations for your misdeed. This restorative justice system is visible in the Old Testament, the Norse system of weregild, and the indigenous Somalian practice of Xeer.
This justice and cooperation did not extend unconditionally to other tribes, however. Other tribes might be trade or even marriage partners, but the loyalty was to one’s own tribe. One’s own tribe must stay alive. In times of scarcity caused by natural disasters or human greed, the tribe sought, above all, to stay alive. When the survival of a tribe is threatened all bets are off and raids are justified.
Raids for survival are to be expected and are likely the cause of what is called the Bronze Age collapse around 1200 BC. It is likely the cause because the raiders, who brought down powerful kingdoms, were accompanied by their wives and children. Human beings will take a tremendous amount of abuse, but they will not roll over and die quietly. Ruling elite: take note.
While survival may be a moral justification for raids (and our ancestors did seek moral justifications) raiding for the sake of accumulating surplus took a little more rationalization. This rationalization mostly took this form: while it is wrong to steal from, kill and enslave a fellow human being, it is all right in this case because the victims are not really human beings. They are sub-human, if not downright demonic.
Is this just a silly old tribal rationalization? No, every major war of Europe and the U.S.A. (“Western civilization”) is preceded by dehumanizing and demonizing the enemy, who are chinks, huns, gooks and ragheads, but not human beings. Every imperialistic overture, the modern term for bald-faced raiding, was preceded by dehumanizing the potential victims. They are “half-devil and half-child” as Kipling said, inferior, stupid, savage and in need of help.
Tribalism is not dead, it will likely never die, because human beings want to stay alive and they want their tribe to stay alive. Tribalism is not dead, it has just morphed into different forms in the so-called civilized societies. The One Percent is a tribe; they marry each other (they meet at the Yacht Club) and plan for the survival of their tribe frequently (Bilderberg, Council on Foreign Relations, IMF, World Bank, etc.) The demise of their tribe is the worst disaster they can imagine.
But they are not fighting and raiding to stay alive. They are fighting and raiding to stay on top and the only moral justification for that is that the 99 Percent are inferior, stupid, savage and not fully human.
An interesting concept, and well written. This post reminds me of “The better angels of our nature” by Steven Pinker, I highly recommend it to all!
Thank you for commenting. I think that we humans do not understand the one study subject we have had access to 24/7-namely ourselves. This lack of understanding causes all sorts of mischief. (Just echoing Socrates and the sign at the Oracle of Delphi “Know Thyself”)
And on that note, you may enjoy a recent blog on bigthink.com about the dangers of risk perception. There’s a link on my first (and only so far) post.