Is War Natural? Are Human Beings Naturally Destructive?
Is being top dog at work, or keeping up with the Joneses truly important?
Throughout the twentieth century, and with other evidence before that, people came to believe that our human roles were doled out in a great chain of being. After Darwin, the “I told you so “crowds — often those handed power and authority — explained how survival has everything to do with competition. We were told that the fittest survive with the idea that nature weeds out the unfit, that unless you compete, the dog eat dog world (BTW, given a choice, few dogs actually eat other dogs, arctic exploration excepted) that it’s eat or be eaten.
But Social Darwinism as a concept makes as much sense as calling the Trump Era “Streisand-dian.” Herbert Spencer came up with and promoted the idea of survival of the fittest. Alas, even in such fantastic circles as the Darwin Awards and decontaminating “the shallow end of the gene pool,” the concept persists.
This reasoning has been used to justify everything from eating meat every day to genocide. There have also been unhealthy bouts of decrying equality among genders and people of color and much more mundane things, like quietly walling away the odor and destruction of our garbage by pretending there is another biosphere where it doesn’t exist anymore.
But we have this spinning planet, each other, and all of life to appreciate and defend. Fighting amongst ourselves is counter-productive and rightfully feared by most leaders, most scientists, most parents and most everyone.
Domination and rigid hierarchy have done lots of damage, but as Canadians as diverse as Stephen Pinker and Margaret Atwood attest, we can do better.
We actually are doing better in some ways. So far, people are terrified enough of the notion of an authoritarian theocracy that they protest fascism in its most hideous forms. And since the end of World War II, we have avoided conflicts so destructive that they threaten all nations.
And, best of all we can do better still. Doing well in your career, having kids that get good grades, and living a comfortable, but sustainable life are worthy goals. Being obsessed with these things, at the expense of others, however, is not healthy. Being kind will give you many more benefits in the long run.
Darwin recognized that we are animals, and therefore part of the biosphere that supports life. He also gained deep and spiritual guidance by doing a fair bit of Ecopsychology practice walking daily around his estate. He connected with nature in all her forms this way. He correctly discovered that cooperation among nature’s systems, the whims of an ever-changing environment, and most of all our familial relation to all living beings is glorious and celebratory.
Nature is both friend and foe, because Nature is neutral. Nature is true, and therefor reliable, unlike other Creators of discredited human origin. Nature, can be counted on, as Henry David Thoreau observed to grow peas from peas. What we put in the soil comes back to us, for better or for worse. Plastic does not nurture plants or microorganisms, it kills them. Peach trees do not result from fish eggs, no matter how much you fertilize your orchard.
It is the same with our relationships to one another. You will reap what you sow. You will win more cooperation with honey than with vinegar.
Violence, has become less and less socially acceptable in all its forms. PTSD shows that war is not healthy for our soldiers, or for the landscape and the civilians. “Mistake” wars happen not at the fault of our brave veterans, but due to the lies of leadership.
In a world of communication, and connection, we are safe so long as we protect the true.
War, in my opinion does occur in rare natural systems. But if it were the norm, we would be in constant fist fights at the supermarket. We would not support murderers any more than we would now think decapitating King Henry’s queens is totally cool.
We are beings that are made of trillions of microorganisms, sustained by many trillions more microorganisms become fields of food. And from the tiniest cell, and pollinating bee, to the macro-fauna that cooperate to make all life possible, we are all completely dependent upon one another.
As Darwin himself tells us: “It is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
In this era of accelerated change, get out and walk like Darwin did. Get out and find the nature that will instruct and help us find the better angels of our nature.