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  • Writer's pictureDavid Williams

Birthing a New Year: 2024

Here we are at a New Year, which brings new hope for something better than the old year and the mess we made of it.  To those who deny that Human Nature really exists, that we are blank slates at birth, and everything we do stems from culture—look at the list at The Human Journey of 211 Universal Traits all Humans Share:

This list does not infer that every human being does every one of these actions or has the same thoughts, but rather the species as a whole exhibits the preponderance of these traits.  Some we consider good, others bad, as humans have a sense of morality.  Where that morality comes from has often (in Western culture) for the last 2000 years been attributed to God.  HE allowed mankind to develop a sense of good and bad, right and wrong, after having eaten the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.  From a scientific perspective it was assumed that humans themselves created a moral sense and that it did not come from nature.  A wrong interpretation of David Hume’s IS OUGHT ARGUMENT, dominated the intellectual landscape for 200 years.  Just because something exists does not mean it should exist.  As in, just because tribal people often go to war against rivals groups and bash their heads in with axes does not mean that things Should Be this way.  This thinking led to the determination that there is nothing in nature that has ANYTHING to do with morality. Moral decisions are the creations of the human mind, designed to keep us from the jungle where brutality and strength were and are the defining elements of life “red in tooth and claw.”  But with the rise of neuroscience, genetics, sociobiology, and evolutionary psychology, the most relevant question arose: if humans created morality, then why and how did our brains invent such a concept, universal to all human societies (though what moral varies from one human group to another)?  And do other animals have a sense of good and bad?  Are we the only ones. Or, do other animals also exhibit moral constraints?  Well, anyone who has studied social animals can tell you that animals do indeed have various notions of proper and improper conduct that if broken can lead to one being outcast from a group or chastised in some awful manner. 

Darwin brought up the idea of morality arising from the affection of the mother/child bond, which was allowed other types of bonding to arise in animals.  It was obvious to Darwin that our moral sense grew from the evolution of animal brains that depended upon others in a community.  Morality HAD to come initially from Nature.   And now with an understanding of neural functions, science had discovered that neurochemicals, like oxytocin, arise in the brain and trigger feelings of attachment, to mother and child, but beyond--to our lovers, our friends.  Our species just went further in the development of moral ideas by stating outright what was acceptable and what was not through tribal consensus, even if unsaid--for people in a culture know what the society tolerates and what it does now.  be written down, like Hammaurabi’s laws, 282 of them to be precise, nearly 3,800 years old. The laws were carved into a massive stone steele in the shape of a pointing finger—a perfect metaphor for any passerby who would know, without doubt, that they were being watched and their behavior analyzed.  The possibility of judgement was there if a transgression occurred, enforced by a  an almighty government.  But the concept for moral thought was there millions of years before we became homo sapiens, existing in our ape-like ancestors, our primate lineage and beyond.  


But in tribal groups, moral conduct only applied to the tribe one belonged to.  “Do not kill,” did not apply toward anyone outside the tribe, for they were not seen as “human.”  All around the world, the name people give themselves can be translated as “the human beings,” while the name others give to them are usually pejorative.  The word “Eskimo,” has traditionally been thought to come from Cree Indians, meaning “eaters of raw meat,” while the word Inuit, which is now the preferred usage instead of Eskimo, means “the people.”  Tribalism has been a true curse of mankind, and has led to innumerable instances of slaughter and despicable savagery, from ancient times until now.  While a few decades ago Anthropologists believed tribal life for early man was peaceful, archeologists have unearthed proof of massive and brutal killings going far back in time.  The myth of an Edenic past, and that of the Noble Savage, have been shattered. 

So, here we are in a new year, with the sins from the old year not wiped clean.  Tribalism still exists in the most monstrous ways, and nothing has ruptured me more than reading the NY Times accounts of the sadistic rapes and murders of Israeli women by Hamas: NYTIMES.

These stories are beyond the pale, and once reading them you can never forget the horror.  To think that anything acts like this can still be committed boggles the mind, as they seem to belong to a different time and place, like the Middle Ages or the Stone Age. But then we have the rapes and killings of Ukrainian women by the Russians going on as well, as the worst aspects of human nature continue to present themselves.  As humans we react to stories.  And it is true that the massive bombings of people do not carry the same emotional weight as does the story of one person being raped and stabbed at the same time.  Our minds can barely grapple with massive death statistics, so even in our analysis of criminal warfare there is imbalance and bias.


The real question is, how do we rid ourselves of unimaginable brutality still going on in various places around the world?  Religions have tried to address the issue of hatred, commanding us to "Do Unto Others," but religion has overall failed, with groups within one sect breaking off into other branches who want to annihilate each other, as we saw with Protestants and Catholics, who fought each other to the death in jolly old England for countless years.  Education has been attempted, with some good to show, but emotions run roughshod over logic, and if your culture hates its neighbor, chances are that education can barely override one’s upbringing from childhood.  So, how do we include ALL humans in the circle of moral thought, breaking the tribal, patriotic, and nationalistic curse?   We are seeing the curse played out in the US as well, with Trump, whose appeals to tribalism are raucous and constant, with the OTHER (usually people of indigenous descent, whose ancestors have been here for 20,000 years, from Middle and South America) Trump constantly paints as “vermin,” (Trump likes to employ the same language on outsiders, like immigrants, that Hitler used to portray the Jews).  We see it played out with Putin as well, and other autocrats who seduce their people into going to war and rallying behind one’s particular flag and religion.  Millions of people eat up this garbage.  Millions support their own version of dictator, or holy ruler, believing in the absolute righteousness of their cause.   It is all despicable, as tribalism, violates the rules, order, and social contracts we have for members of OUR own group.  But why is it so terribly difficult to see that others across political and religious lines are also fellow human beings, deserving of the same consideration?


Some of us think long and hard about how to rectify the primal curse of Tribalism we humans carry, hoping that in a New Year we might somehow break down the fences, mental and real, that divide humanity into these

categories of worthwhile and worthless.   


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