Let me try to put it another way. Roughly 500,000 years ago - with language and a few tools - we surpassed wolves in our ability to cooperate. We refined survival cooperation in groups of up to about 70 or so individuals. We were so successful at this level of specialization and cooperation that we outgrew the planet. By roughly 7,000 years ago survival competition between tribes started to become unavoidable. This is the point at which the tribal unit was in more and more places obsolete. Bigger groups had a survival advantage. These unnaturally large groupings devised all manner of things to hold these new survival units together. Customs, dress, flags, religions, laws, specialized enforcers etc.. The point I want to make with this sweep of pre-history is that as recorded history gets started, and up to our present time we are still basically designed to cooperate in groups of less than 70 people. Stick with me here.
Just like a tribe, the modern Nation State is still a cooperative survival unit. The important distinction it has with a tribe is that as it grows larger and more complex, more and more people are not aware of the cooperative relationships they have with the other members of the survival unit. In a tribe everyone is accountable. In a nation state, not so much. A nation state is, for most, a shored up alliance of convenience. Most people look for smaller groupings within the larger survival unit. The competition between these smaller groupings within the survival unit look very much like the competition between tribes that got started when habitable land became scarce 7,000 years ago.
Now as then, there is pressure to become bigger than the competition. Regardless of the ultimate size of todays identity groups, self-interest tends to be defined too narrowly for there to be any national harmony. And while there is no denying the pressure to become bigger, it is still a reach for tribally adapted man. All the usual tricks get employed, i.e., superficial appearances, creeds, beliefs etc.. I'm not saying it should be different. To not compete in this way would be suicide.
More directly to your questions. Human nature is not so much innocent as it is maladapted to the size of the current competitive survival unit. The reality of competing interest groups speaks to our limitations regarding both far sightedness and cooperation. Integration helps people to have more diverse looking interest groups, but does not help the problem of interest groups being overly narrow. We are indeed tribal.
Further, self-interest can not be eliminated, only moderated. Everything that lives, does so at the expense of something else. Vegans draw the line after vegetables. Others with "dumb" animals. And that is just what we are willing to sacrifice for our food. When it comes to our comforts and entertainment, what else might someone tolerate? Slavery? Child labor in a third world country? Subordinating women?
It is because this line is repeatedly drawn in selfishly shortsighted ways, by so many, with members of our own species, that we have a problem.
Because someone is in a weak position makes them vulnerable to the selfish, short-sighted self-interest of lots of very human and often distant people. That doesn't mean todays vulnerable wouldn't do the same to someone weaker or more vulnerable than they are. But likewise no one deserves to be victimized.
It is not a matter of saving the good people from the bad people! Everyone is vulnerable at times, and everyone is shortsightedly selfish at times. The commitment we make is to protect those who need protecting, when they need protecting.
A big part of this we do with laws. But laws don't even have a chance if there is not already the will of a sizable group to step in to protect those who need protecting.
posted 5 years, 2 months ago
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