CXXIV – Is Mankind a Mistake?

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I
am often asked whether I think we humans are, by
nature, vicious savages. Given mankind's dreary
historical record for wars, genocides, torture,
and other organized methods of mutual destruction,
are we destined to be the only species to drive
itself to extinction by mass slaughter? Arthur Koestler
posed that question years ago, suggesting that empowering
a killer ape with great intelligence may have made
mankind an evolutionary mistake.

It
is easy, in days such as these, to concur in Koestler's
assessment. Nation-states war with one another,
each seeking more powerful weapons of massive annihilation
with which to not only subdue, but destroy, their
professed adversaries. Politicians and academicians
openly defend the use of torture against suspected
members of any group serving as the enemy du
jour; while men and women exhibit a callousness
to the deaths and sufferings even of small children
who had the misfortune of having been born into
a society of "thems."

Mankind's
history has long been a trail marked by blood and
broken bodies. But note the circumstances under
which such wholesale butchery occurs: only when
we organize ourselves into groups with which we
identify our sense of being. There are, and always
will be, individuals with sadistic and murderous
dispositions, and not all of them work at the White
House or the Pentagon. Contrary to the tenets of
our political conditioning, our protection from
the predations of the random brute is almost always
dependent upon what you and I do to defend ourselves.
Police officers — no matter how well-intended —
are almost never able to prevent acts of victimization.
Ask the ghosts of John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey
Oswald if this is not the case.

When
we are functioning as individuals — whether at work,
in the marketplace, among friends, or driving on
the freeways — our behavior toward one another tends
to be peaceful and respectful. Few of us would be
willing to personally inflict, even upon strangers,
the brutalities that so many eagerly cheer on when
performed by agents of the state with which we identify
ourselves. We would quickly find ourselves without
friends were we to behave toward them in ways that
emulate Dick Cheney's or Donald Rumsfeld's recommended
treatment of Iraqis. How welcome would a Madeleine
Albright be in your community were she to announce
that the brutal deaths of neighborhood children
was a price she was willing to pay for the advancement
of her career? How long would you continue working
for an employer who hired Lynndie England as your
immediate supervisor?

In
one-to-one dealings with our fellow humans, we have
a remarkably good record, behaving as anarchists
(i.e., respecting the inviolability of the lives
and property interests of others, and being responsible
for the consequences of our actions). Virtually
all of what you and I do in our personal lives is
contrary to the coercive, violent, destructive,
death-inflicting behavior of political systems.
It is when we remove ourselves from our personal
relationships with others and organize ourselves
into abstract entities (e.g., the nation-state)
that we let loose upon the rest of humanity those
"dark side" forces that political systems
find it so easy and profitable to mobilize into
destructive campaigns. Our basic decency as individuals
tends to dissolve when we become members of collective
mobs.

Koestler's
query misconceives the nature of the troublesome
human condition. If we were as disposed to killing
our residential neighbors as we are our worldly
ones, his suggestion of a lemming-like self-destructiveness
might be more persuasive. The creative role of intelligence
on the planet might then shift to the more loving
and cooperative nature of dolphins. I have long
suspected that the mocking smile of these creatures
reflects their greater understanding of us than
we have of them! Perhaps, like the mammals
that prospered following the extinction of the dinosaurs,
the dolphins are simply awaiting their special turn.

But
I am not prepared to accede to the implications
of Koestler's prognosis. The respect and loving
cooperation that individuals are able to exhibit
even toward total strangers — as reflected in responses
to the devastation of New Orleans or the Asian tsunami
— affords a more optimistic picture. Perhaps an
awareness of the broader consequences of our genetic
selfishness — to borrow from Richard Dawkins — will
allow us to understand how our common interests
are a coalescence of our individual interests;
that what we share with one another is the need
to protect our inviolability.

The
state depends for its existence upon division and
its ensuing conflict. It would not long survive
in an atmosphere in which people understood their
common interest in respecting one another's being.
State schools exist for the purpose of conditioning
people to accept the nation-state as the source
of their personal identities; to get them to believe
that their interests and the interests of
the state are identical; and that other systems
represent hostile forces to be opposed through the
coercive arm of the state. Students learn to recite
daily catechisms of allegiance to the state, and
to inculcate their duties of obedience to constituted
authorities. In the words of Ivan Illich, "school
is the advertising agency which makes you believe
that you need the society as it is."

Through
years of such conditioning, most of us have learned
to see the world as an inherently dangerous and
destructive place; seeing ourselves — in Housman's
phrase — as "a stranger and afraid, in a world
I never made;" and embracing vertically-structured
organizations, with their top-down authority, as
the only safe and effective model for social systems.
This is why our children – awash in the depictions
of nobility and adventure painted by the statists
— become such eager victims of a war system that
more experienced adults know to be grounded in lies.

Perhaps
all of this is changing, and we are not fated, like
our lemming cousins, to destroy ourselves in collective
and frenzied stampedes to foreign beaches. As our
decentralized information systems continue their
exponential growth, we seem to be discovering an
increased awareness of the destructive nature of
the state with its mechanisms of centralized power.
In addition to its "dark side" influences,
our unconscious minds also have intuitive, emotional
voices that warn us of impending dangers of which
our conscious minds may be unaware. The processes
of decentralization, in other words, may also be
at work within our minds, producing what Carl Jung
characterized as "individuation," (i.e.,
the acceptance of our "dark side" and
consequent withdrawal of such energies from collective
forces).

There
are subconscious forces at work upon our lives whose
hidden energies often appear as precursors to social
changes. One such example was Rosa Parks, who has
been credited with "starting" the civil
rights movement in the late 1950s. Her refusal to
move to the back of a bus was not so much the cause
of this movement, as it was a bifurcation point
— to borrow a phrase from the study of chaos — that
unleashed a great deal of pre-existing energy. Similar
forces are, I believe, at work in our present world.
Cindy Sheehan's success in challenging the Iraq
war has occurred because she tapped into an energy
field of people who resent the sacrifice of their
children to the war machine. Widespread reaction
to the U.S. Supreme Court's recent Kelo decision
— upholding the power of states to condemn privately-owned
land for transfer to other private owners (a practice
that has long preceded this case) — has aroused
the sentiment "we do not want our property
taken by the state."

Likewise,
the anti-globalization demonstrations throughout
the world may represent more than just some pent-up
socialist or neo-Luddite hostility to free markets
and industrialization. They may also reflect a concern
that the corporate-state political systems housed
within nation-states are being redesigned for a
world government to enforce a universal, destructive,
institutional will upon all of mankind.

What
if, in other words, these influences are coalescing
to express the latent message: we are tired of you
taking the lives of our children; we are tired of
you taking our property; and we are tired of you
taking our liberty? What if that is the message
state authorities are hearing, but do not want you
to hear? What if a life force is permeating upwards
through the collective unconscious of mankind to
confront its destructive nemesis, the state, with
a message that says no more than this: "enough!"
What if such hidden energies are proving so powerful
that the state has had to resort to lies, fears,
and violence to shore up, by the most forceful means
available to it, the foundations of a repressive
structure crumbling before decentralizing systems?

Our
dispositions toward our neighbors tend to be peaceful,
cooperative, and respectful, at least as long as
we regard them as neighbors, rather than as abstractions
defined for us, by state authorities, as our "enemies."
The capacity to recognize — and to act upon — such
distinctions lies within the mind of each of us,
if we will but take the responsibility to do so,
and to understand the consequences if we do not.

If
we are prepared to explore our own thinking, and
to follow the movement of our own thought, we may
be able to transcend our institutionalized conditioning
by discovering that, because "war is the health
of the state," our best strategy for survival
— both as individuals and as a species — is to never
allow ourselves to become politically organized.

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