Monday, July 28, 2014
The tribe and the world
Humans spent a long time living in small bands of hunter gatherers. Connecting with 30 – 50 people is pretty much hard wired. When a tribe got much bigger than that, it tended to split off into different subgroups. For most of us today, we still really only deeply connect with a relatively small number of people.
Then came civilization. Frameworks had to be set up to get people to cooperate on a larger scale. The people in charge try to expand the natural loyalty people have to small groups to a much larger group. It kinda works, but at great cost. Civilization requires taxes and armies. We've grown from the village, to the city, to the nation, to empires. There are benefits, but most of the benefits go to a tiny elite. History has plenty of examples of individuals and small groups breaking away from civilization when the costs get too high.
Even countries' militaries know better than to count too much on national loyalty. Most soldiers do not fight for their country as much as they fight for their brothers in arms. Small military units have similar personal dynamics to ancient hunting and raiding bands.
Some thinkers, philosophers, and Science Fiction writers think corporations will replace the nation state. The largest corporations have more assets than all but the largest countries. They are not limited by national boundaries. Their reach is world wide. Some even employ mercenaries and private intelligence agencies. Their fatal flaw, as I see it, is that they only exist to make money. It's hard to be too loyal to an organization that isn't loyal to you.
Large multi nation organizations have existed before corporations and still exist today: religions. Their influence on people's lives have varied from very little to all encompassing. Religions tend to emphasize how their members are special compared to everyone else. It's one of the ways they try to bond their group together. While religion can be a strong bond, the fact that so many people of the same religion fight each other shows its limits. Religions also tend to fragment into different sects. Size is always the problem as we are still hardwired to bond with fairly small groups. Just think about people who are avid church goers and move to a new area. How many of them never feel comfortable in a different congregation in the same religion? It's not easy to join a new tribe. They were not dedicated to their religion as much as they were to their local church tribe.
So what's a 21st century person suppose to do? First of all, make sure you have a tribe. In the modern world it's a mix of family, friends, and maybe some coworkers, co-religionists and neighbors. They have to be people you connect with and can rely on. They might not be people you even like especially all that much, but you can rely on each other in a tight spot.
As for the rest of the world? It's tempting to just write them off and stick to one's tribe. However, a few thousand years of culture, civilization, and religion have left their mark on us. On a personal level I try very hard to recognize the godhood in everyone. Sometimes I have to look really really hard, but it's better than nothing. That leaves me with my brothers (my tribe) and the brotherhood of man. (and woman, you know what I mean). All the in between stuff: civilization, nations, religions, and stuff are not that important to me. It's just the very small groups and the biggest. The small we can connect to with our hearts, the largest we can connect to using our brains. A little spirituality can glue it all together.