By Dr David Laing Dawson
“The center can not hold”
From the very beginning when each extended family was ruled by an alpha male and no language or symbols existed for that which was not immediately apparent, and all other tribes were “others” competing for the same watering hole and hunting ground, our tribes remained small. Our gradually increasing frontal lobes and imaginations, our developing ability to create and communicate with symbols, including our invention of Gods and tools, allowed us to dramatically increase the size of our tribes. The alpha male, (and occasionally female), needn’t be seen, might in fact only exist in our imagination, though we need to be regularly reminded of his existence through symbols and rituals. With both religious (imaginary) and secular alpha males and their acolytes and lieutenants and new weapons, our tribes could each expand through inclusion and conquest, and then fracture and start over again.
The periods of unrest between each new consolidation were long and unleashed famine and pestilence. But it was always clear that survival depended on size and power and alliances, so new tribes, then fiefdoms, city-states, kingdoms and then nations and empires with new alliances were formed, growing in size and power, through inclusion and conquest, increasing our Darwinian chance for survival (at least for a few more generations).
Our history has been one of tribal expansion by inclusion or conquest, followed by fragmentation, conflict, disintegration, and then consolidation and expansion again, with the secular kings and potentates finding an array of ways to incorporate the religious tribal formations, from a full embrace, to an uneasy truce, to self-serving accommodations, to a perennially argued separation of church and state.
Fast forward to the twentieth century with our sciences allowing, causing, a rapidly expanding population, along with increasingly fearsome weapons, and it begins to become apparent that for our survival we will need to expand our concept of our tribe to include at least half the world if not the whole world.
The first world war shatters alliances, empires, and nations, and leads to attempts to form new constructs, new alliances, new global arrangements. But they are for the most part poorly conceived, and lead directly to the second world war. And this time we have a documented, even filmed demonstration of how much damage our new weapons can cause, and how depraved we can all be when we revert to our primitive tribal yearnings.
And again we consolidate, grow more inclusive, form alliances. With some alliances we try to include half the world (NATO, The Soviet Union, European Union, Trade agreements), and with others we try to include the whole world: U.N., Nuclear weapon treaties, World Court, UNESCO and WHO.
And this gives us an unprecedented period, 75 years?, of prosperity and peace. (all relative of course). Fewer people without food and medicine, life span increases, fewer deaths in war, and those wars we have are, relatively again, contained. For the most part our new inclusiveness and our mechanisms to resolve tribal disputes work.
But again we find ourselves at a tipping point.
With our expanding populations and our technologies causing the existential threat of global warming, along with a brand new pestilence upon us (neither the first nor the last), many of our achievements over the past 75 years are under threat:
Russia is reverting to a Czarist totalitarian expansionist regime. Hungary is revisiting its fascist heritage. Austria is flirting with this as well. Turkey moves from a separation of church and state to a full embrace of Islam. There are reports of a rising far right in Germany. Great Britain leaves the European Union. America (Donald Trump) undermines NATO and the UN, and withdraws from nuclear treaties, WHO, and the World Court. China takes steps to absorb Hong Kong.
Within each country old religious/race based tribalism has arisen, in Europe provoked by Mid East and African immigration, in the U.S. from an unfinished, un-reconciled history of slavery, civil war, and a flirtation with fascism. Global alliances are giving way to nationalism.
We need global leaders at this time, men and women (maybe it should be all women), who understand the lessons of the past century, who understand that this time, if it all falls apart, it is unlikely that any of us will survive; we need leaders who understand that our tribe, our concept of us, must expand to include the whole world.
Human advancement is not inherent in our biological instincts. We are not born good and well-intentioned. We learn to share and trust and expand our consciousness of others. Those biological instincts that kept us from losing our watering hole to the other tribe some centuries ago no longer work in favour of our survival. Human survival now depends on our ability to overcome those instincts, to control them through human made social structures, organizations, laws, systems, that are inclusive, non-violent, always sharing. And at this time, for this century, for our survival, those social constructions need to be as big as, as inclusive as, the UN, WHO, and the World Court.