Long ago we made a big decision; to give up our hunter gatherer way of life and embrace farming.
It changed us from a system of nomadic small bands of hunters into a sedentary group of farmers. It gave us ownership of land and tools. It put us against nature.
Agriculture enabled us to survive in large numbers and create civilisations. We developed trade and cities. We grew into huge social groups, developed kings, nations and religions.
Instead of being tribes of a few hundred we became nations of millions.
In order to unify people there had to be social cohesion. We invested in strong leaders – fearsome warrior-kings like Ghenghis Khan, Richard The Lion-heart, Saladin or Constantine. We invented religions – Islam, Bhuddism, Hinduism, Christianity, Shinto, Judaism. We invented Emperors, Kings, Queens and Ayatollahs. We invented political systems – capitalism, communism, anarchism, socialism, liberalism, democracy, theocracy. We invented national cultures and identity.
With people united behind a set of shared values anything was possible. It was possible to raise armies, conquer and loot, build cities, raise taxes and carry out monumental tasks such as the building of cathedrals, temples, pyramids, banks, cities, palaces and hydrogen bombs.
The millions of people within a nation were united by a shared identity. They wore similar clothes, spoke the same language, worshipped the same god, followed the same laws, had a shared history, looked the same, performed the same rituals, gave allegiance to the same leader, paid taxes and thus invested in the structure of the culture, and supported the political system. It unified people so that strangers could live side by side. It enabled people to live in huge cities with the minimum of violence and discord. It enabled wars and conflict with competing nations.
It also spawned great inequalities as powerful kings, aristocrats and religious leaders took a large chunk of the produce and merchants became wealthy at the expense of the working people.
Social cohesion has created the world we live in.
Social cohesion is very powerful. People believe in it.
It made gods out of leaders. The Japanese created Shinto – a religions cobbled together out of many sources in which the Emperor was deified as a descendant of the Sun God.
From the outside this looks absurd. But people felt strongly enough to sacrifice their lives for him in Kamikaze suicide missions.
Sunni and Shia Muslims follow the same Koran and the same prophet but a disagreement over lineage has resulted in extreme hatred.
To an outsider it is absurd. Yet inside the religions the doctrine is sufficient to have martyrs blowing themselves up in mosques full of women and children.
We have the same with Muslim and Jew, Capitalist and Communist, Catholic and Protestant.
All equally fabricated and absurd.
We look at other cultures with their silly costumes, strange rituals, dietary requirements, prayers, beliefs, pageants, uniforms, parades and shows of allegiance with a range of emotions. We are amused, interested, amazed, horrified, bewildered, astounded and in awe.
We find aspects quaint, absurd, ridiculous, impressive, worrying, bewildering and often beyond belief.
Do people really believe these things are are they playing lip service?
Yet we accept our own rituals, beliefs, absurdities and laws as normal and rational.
From birth we are indoctrinated into our culture. We are brainwashed by our family, our community, our schools, our places of worship, our rituals, customs, political leaders and social leaders, to accept the norm, work within the narrow parameters and follow the guidelines.
Through patriotism, religious belief, fealty to the monarch, national pride, racial unity and faith in the law of the land we allow ourselves to be ruled.
In a new country like America it takes the form of the daily ritual of the vow of allegiance and the symbol of the stars and stripes. In North Korea it is stringent conformity and shows of hysterical support to their leader Kim Jung-Un. We see similar fanaticism towards various political and religious leaders around the world.
There are undoubtedly good things that have come out of this ‘civilisation’. We have certainly prospered. Our numbers have greatly increased, our health has improved, our living standards are much higher (at least for many), we have glorious works of art and architecture and incredible science. Our technology is mind boggling.
All the result of social cohesion harnessing the power of millions of people.
On the downside it has created tyrants, mass starvation, war, poverty, extreme inequality, slavery and servitude, genital mutilation, nationalism, fascism, racism and genocide.
Would-be leaders have exploited social cohesion in order to gain power. They have exploited racism, religious doctrines and nationalism to create fear, hate and division in order to propel them to power.
Is it possible that in this modern age we are witnessing the breakdown of social cohesion?
With global travel, the internet and the mixing of races the demes of human culture are dissolving. It is hard for national or local groups to retain their customs and beliefs when there is no rational basis. Why should it be mandatory to wear a veil and be subservient to men when most women do not have to? Why should a black not not be president of the USA? The French girl I met last year was really nice – do we have to hate them all?
Religious beliefs are being questioned.
Political systems are being questioned.
National customs and dress are being questioned.
More mixing is taking place. We are no longer living in homogenous groups.
Of course, this has created great fear and concern. People feel secure within the customs they have grown up with. They want to hang on to them. They feel an affinity to them. They are afraid that their dearly held customs and beliefs are being discarded or, even worse, usurped by immigrants. They certainly don’t want to live under someone else’s patently ridiculous or draconianly restrictive, even barbaric, customs.
It has resulted in a spate of extreme nationalism founded on xenophobia and racism resulting in populist politics – Trump, Erdogan, Johnson, Bolsonaro, Modi and Brexit. It has resulted in ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban and Kim Jung-Un.
The question remains – is this a phase?
When people lose their faith in Kings/Queens, politicians, religions and even national customs, is there something better the other side of that?
It seems to me that we are at a crossroads.
Do we produce a new narrative that is more powerful than the previous narratives?
Do we create a global story that we can all believe in? A story that is rational, with a place for us all, that is tolerant, respectful, and allows freedom?
Astory that goes beyond religion, race, culture and nationality?
I think we have a choice.
We either create a global village that encompasses all humanity and nature and enables us all to flourish or the social cohesions dissolve and we end up with anarchy and destruction.
With 8 billion people we cannot go back to our hunter gatherer way of life. Without social cohesion we cannot live peacefully in communities. The breakdown of social cohesion would create chaos, power struggles, warlords and Mad Max. It would result in mass violence and starvation.
The present wave of populistic nationalism is causing immense environmental destruction and fueling international conflict.
I believe this is a unique period of history.
We have the opportunity to build something really great or descend into barbarity.