BELIEF DEVOTION AND THE GROUP
A dispassionate observer from a more advanced planet, who could take in human history at a single glance, would no doubt conclude that our race is in some respects admirable, but in the main, a very sick biological product. The most persistent sound reverberating through man’s history, is the beating of war drums. Tribal wars, religious wars, civil wars, dynastic wars, national wars, revolutionary wars, colonial wars, wars of conquest and liberation, wars to prevent and to end all wars, follow one another in a chain of compulsive repetitiveness as far as man can remember his past.
The most striking indication of the pathology of our species is the contrast between its technological achievements and its incompetence in the conduct of its social affairs. We can control the motions of satellites orbiting distant planets, but cannot control the situation in Northern Ireland and in many other hot spots. Man can leave the Earth and land on the Moon, but cannot travel around his world freely.
Since 1945 man has carried a nuclear time bomb fastened round his neck and will have to listen to its ticking, now louder, now softer, now louder again until, either, it blows up or he succeeds in defusing it. But, this operation will require a more radical approach than UN resolutions, Disarmament Conferences, and appeals to sweet reasonableness. Such appeals have always been ignored, for the simple reasons that humankind is not a reasonable being, for if he were he would not have made such a bloody mess of history.
The first step towards a possible therapy is a correct diagnosis of what is wrong with our species. There have been countless attempts at such a diagnosis, but none of them carried much conviction, because none started from the hypothesis that Homo Sapiens may be an evolutionary misfit.
Evolution made many mistakes. For every existing species, hundreds have perished in the past, the fossil record is a past record and wastebasket of discarded models. The evidence from mans past record and from contemporary brain research, both strongly suggest that at some point during the last explosive stages of the Evolution of Humankind, something went wrong, that there is a flaw built into our nervous system, that would account for the streak of paranoia running through our history.
Here is a list of some of the outstanding pathological symptoms reflected in the disastrous history of our species.
1. The ubiquitous rites of human sacrifice persisting from the prehistoric dawn to the beginning of the last century. (1900!)
2. The persistent pursuit of intraspecific-warfare.
3. The paranoid split between rational thinking and irrational emotion-based beliefs.
4. The contrast between humankind’s genius in conquering nature and its ineptitude in managing its own affairs. This symbolised by the new frontiers in space travel and the planting of mines between a countries borders.
So far, we have moved in the realm of facts. As we turn from symptoms to cause, we must recourse to hypothesis, which pertain to neurophysiology, anthropology, and psychology.
The Neuropsyological Hypothesis
My father latched on to the "Triune Brain Theory", which shares our brain with reptiles and lower mammals, in an evolutionary framework. (Our ear bones, have come from the jaw bone of a reptile).The theory that this type of schizoid-physiology is part of our genetic inheritance, built into our species as it were could go a long way towards explaining some of the pathological symptoms already listed. The chronic conflict, between rational thought, and irrational beliefs, the resulting paranoid streak in our history, the growth curve’s of, and between, the advancement of our science and our ethics, would at last become comprehensible and expressed in some physiological terms. And, any condition that can be expressed in physiological terms, should be ultimately accessible to remedies.
The Psychological Hypothesis
This approach to humankind starts from the fact that an infant has to endure a longer period of helplessness and total dependence on its parents; other than the young of any other species.
One might speculate that this early experience leaves its lifelong mark and is at least partly responsible for humankind’s willingness to submit to authority, wielded by individual groups and his suggestibility by doctrines, and moral imperatives. The brain washing starts at the cradle. (Mostly by the Mother, who has usually has a more advanced conformism in her generally more social environment)
For the vast majority of humankind throughout history, the system of beliefs they accepted for which they were prepared to die was not of their choice, it was shoved down their throats by the hazards of birth. Pro patria mori dulce et decorum est, (for ones country death is sweet and right) whichever patria into which the stork happens to drop you. Critical reasoning played, if any, only a secondary part in the process of adopting a faith, a code of ethics, and an embracement of the times, of becoming a fervent Christian Crusader, a fervent Muslim engaged in a Holy War, a Roundhead or a Cavalier.
The continuous disasters in humankind’s history, are mainly due to his excessive capacity and urge to become identified with a tribe, nation, church or cause, and to espouse its credo uncritically and enthusiastically, even its tenets are contrary to reason, devoid of self interest and detrimental to the claims of self preservation. We are driven to the unfashionable conclusion that the trouble with our species is not an excess of aggression, but an excess capacity for fanatical devotion.
Even a cursory glance at history, should convince one that individual crimes committed for selfish motives play a quite insignificant part in the human tragedy, compared to the numbers massacred in unselfish loyalty to ones tribe, nation, dynasty, church or political ideology. The emphasis is on unselfish. Excepting a small minority of mercenary or sadistic disposition, wars were not fought for personal gain, but out of loyalty and devotion to king, country or cause. Homicide committed for personal reasons is a statistical rarity, in all cultures including our own. Homicide for unselfish reasons, at the risk of ones own life is the dominant phenomenon in history.
Anyone who has served in the ranks of an army can testify that aggressive feelings towards the enemy hardly play a part in the dreary routines of waging war. Soldiers do not hate. They are frightened, bored, sex starved, homesick, they fight with resignation because.
a) They have no choice.
b) With enthusiasm for king and country, the true religion or the righteous; they are moved not by hatred but by loyalty.
To say it once more, humankinds tragedy is not an excess of aggression, but an excess of devotion!
The wars of humankind, with rare exceptions, were not fought for the individual ownership of bits of space. The man who goes to war actually leaves the home he is supposed to defend and does his shooting far away from it, and what makes him do it is not the biological urge to defend his personal acreage of farmland or meadow, but his devotion to symbols derived from tribal lore, divine commandments, and political slogans. Wars are not fought for territory, but for words.
This brings us to the next item in our inventory of the possible causes of the human predicament, language.
Humankind’s deadliest weapon is language. He is susceptible to being hypnotised by slogans as he is to infectious diseases. And when there is an epidemic the group mind takes over. The group mind obeys its own rules, which are different from the rules of conduct of individuals. The individual is not a killer, but the group is, and by identifying with it the individual is transformed into a killer.
This is the infernal dialectic, reflected in humankind’s history of wars, persecution, and genocide. And the main catalyst of that transformation, is the hypnotic power of the word. The words of Adolph Hitler were the most powerful agents of destruction, at his time. Other species posses a single method of communication by signs, sounds or by secreting odours, which is understood by all members of that species. When a St Bernard Dog meets a Poodle Dog, they understand each other without needing an interpreter, however different they look. Humankind, on the other hand is split into some 3000 language groups. Each language and each dialect thereof, acts as a cohesive force within the group and a divisive force between the groups. We have communication satellites that can convey a message to the entire population of the planet, but not a lingua franca that would make it universally understood.
The last item that could account for the pathology of our species is the discovery of death by the intellect and its rejection by emotion. This is yet, another manifestation of humankinds split mind, perpetuating the divided house of faith and reason. Faith is the more powerful partner and the reasoning part of the mind is compelled to provide elaborate rationalisations, to allay the fear of death.
There may be other cultures in the universe that are millions of years older than ours to whom death is no longer a problem. But, the fact remains that to use computer jargon, we are not programmed for the task. Confronted with a task for which it is not programmed, a computer is reduced to silence or goes haywire. The latter seems to of happened with distressing repetitiveness, in the most varied cultures. Faced with death, minds went haywire and populated the air with the ghosts of the departed gods, angels, and devils; until the atmosphere became saturated with invisible presences, which at best were capricious and unpredictable, but mostly malevolent and vengeful. They had to be worshipped, cajoled, and placated, by elaborately cruel rituals including human sacrifice, holy wars, and the burning of heretics.
For nearly two thousand years, millions of otherwise intelligent people were convinced that those who did not share their particular creed or did not perform their rites, were consumed by flames throughout eternity by order of a loving god. Similarly, nightmarish fantasies were collectively shared by other cultures, testifying to the ubiquity of the paranoid streak in the race.
There is, once again, another side to the picture.
The refusal to believe in the finality of death provided a set of ethical values and an inspiration for artistic creation. If the word, death, was absent from our vocabulary, the great works of literature would remain unwritten. The creativity and pathology of humankind are two faces of the medal coined in the same evolutionary mint. To sum up, the disastrous history of our species, indicates the futility of all attempts at a diagnosis that does not take account that the possibility, is that, Homo Sapiens is one of evolutions countless mistakes.
The diagnostic approaches that I have briefly outlined are.
1) The explosive growth of the human neocortex and its insufficient control of the ‘old brain’.
2) The protracted helplessness of the newborn and its consequent uncritical submission to authority.
3) Language as a rabble-rouser and a builder of ethnic barriers.
4) The discovery of and the ‘mind splitting’ fear of death.
To neutralise the pathogenic factors does not seem an impossible task. Medicine has found remedies for certain types of schizophrenic and manic depressive psychoses, it is no longer Utopian to believe that it could not discover a combination of benevolent enzymes, which provide the neocortex with a veto against the follies of the archaic brain, correct evolutions glaring mistake, reconcile emotion with reason, and catalyse the breakthrough from maniac to man. Other avenues are waiting to be explored and may lead to salvation in the nick of time, provided, "That there is a sense of urgency and a correct diagnosis of the condition of man, based on a new approach to the sciences of life". Arthur Koestler (1906-1983) a condensation and adaptation of an Article published in 1978.
Judaeo-Christianity is indeed a preposterous religion, far less compatible with the modern scientific temperament than say Buddhism or Brahmanism.
Judaism, to begin with, is a preposterous religion. It proposes as a serious claim to the truth and for our belief that a God as a spirit is separate from us. That he made the Cosmos from nothing. That he made man, a creature of body and spirit. That man suffered a fall or catastrophe and that consequently God entered into a unique covenant with one of the most insignificant tribes, on one of the most insignificant planets of one of the most insignificant of the 400 billion stars, of one of the billions, of billions, of galaxies of the Cosmos!
Protestant Christianity is even more preposterous than Judaism. It proposes not only the entire contents above, but further. That God Himself, the God of the entire Cosmos appeared as a man, one man, and no other at a certain time, and at a certain place in history. That he came to save us from our sins, that he was killed, lay in a tomb for three days and was raised from the dead. The salvation of man depends on his hearing the news of this event, and believing it.
Catholic Christianity is the most preposterous of the three.
It proposes not only the entire above, but also, that the ‘Man God’ founded a Church. He appointed at its head, a likable, but pusillanimous person like himself a Jew. The most fallible of his friends gave him and his successors the power to choose and elect a leader. Then he required of his followers that they eat his body and drink his blood, in order to have life in them by empowering his priests to change bread and wine, into his body and blood, and vowed to protect this institution until the end of time. At which time he promised to return.