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Healing the Hurts of Nations

and building a world fit for humans

Part One

Palden Jenkins

www.palden.co.uk/hhn


Part One: Some Questions

About the world's nations and peoples

We live in times where globalisation is penetrating every corner of the world.

Some aspects of this, people welcome: travel, exotic ideas, foods and products, relative freedom from the stiffened clamps of tradition.

Some aspects are regrettable: standardisation, imposition of the ways of the developed world on the rest of the world, loss of cultures, languages and local characteristics... and bulldozers, weapons and pollution, everywhere.

Sometimes one wonders whether the world is becoming unfit for human habitation.

This first section looks into the question of nations, the basis by which human life has thus far been organised.

What do nations do for us? How much are they necessary? What would we lose if we didn't have them? What are the alternatives?





1. Your Passport Please...

What are nations for?

A nation is a group of people identifying with one another, recognising a shared connection derived from ancestry, kinship, location, language, culture or belief. Or perhaps they are just ruled by the same government. Or decisive historic events welded them into a nation, willingly or not.

We could define three main kinds of nation: 'first nations', 'nations' and 'states'.

Nationhood is complex. There are some 180 states in the world, and some 15,000 identifiable peoples. Some peoples are spread across different states, and some states encompass different peoples. This becomes a problem when one people feels oppressed. Which is common.


First nations are conglomerations of clans and tribes sharing a native identity, culture and origin. They usually trace their heritage back to a common ancestor or source. Most first nations existed before recorded history, possessing an inherent natural, ethnic nationhood.

Nations are variously welded together by historical events and ruling élites. They possess a created emotional integrity. Sometimes nations possess sufficient social glue to hang together, and sometimes not – or they tread a narrow line between institutional unity and human diversity. Before states arose, nations had heartlands without definitive boundaries, held together by traditional power-arrangements, custom or kinship.

States are governmental entities formed by rulers, élites or political agreements, largely for consolidating power, often without the consent of subject peoples. The first ancient states were city-states or empires. States establish clear boundaries within which their taxes and jurisdiction operate, ruled through centralised and military power and integrated economies.


Nation-building

Until the spread of industrialisation and rapid communications between 1800 and 2000, two societies existed side by side, worldwide – one growing and the other retreating.

One was driven by trade, money, law, religious and military power, centralised around towns and transport. The other was a village-based, self-sufficient or feudal peasant culture outside the money economy, ruled largely by elders or feudal lords. Peasants could get on with their lives if they paid their tithes, obeyed their lords and provided fighting men when required.

In the last 200 years communications have brought centralised systems and modernisation to the furthest-flung areas – an incorporation process which, today, encompasses the world. With this, Western-style statecraft, law and economics spread too.

Nation-building, a term used when intervening in 'failed' states, is a misnomer. It builds state institutions more than helping nations' welfare. Democracy is flagged as a cure-all, but its frequent result when transplanted is dictatorship, business hegemony or political fudges.

Democracies and people's republics have seen a distancing between people and the state. Corporations, institutions and transnational organisations nowadays act with governments to make an over-arching power system in which people take second place to the interests of the system.

This question sits prominently on the unwritten agenda of the 21st Century.

States were first ruled by monarchs, lords and magnates. Loyalty was imposed by the sword or by threat. By the late 1700s, reaction against authoritarian power-abuse led to ideas like 'the will of the people', the 'social contract' and 'human rights'.

With them, patriotism become more important in social control. While the 20th C brought freedoms, education and social benefits, pressures to conform and collude also increased, using carrots more than sticks – discipline is now more psychologically internalised.


Re-humanisation

An emotional and humane revival is today taking place in the hearts and minds of millions of people, transcending national boundaries. It surfaces whenever a humanitarian crisis or a potently symbolic set of events breaks out. Compassion and empathy are growing, helped by education, travel, media coverage - and a surreptitious shift of heart.

Mass-produced 20th Century conformist and nationalist values are being subtly undermined by a contrary sensitivity and empathy for suffering minorities. Women and their growing social-political influence affect this. This undercurrent of re-humanisation points to something quite tribal – though it is unclear whether this means our tribe or the human tribe. Faced with a new six billion strong global family, we find ourselves caught in a semi-conscious tugging of the heart.

As globalisation proceeds, nationalism and tribalism grow in proportion to it. Everyone, no matter how cosmopolitan or well-travelled, still needs to go home and shut the door, to be in 'safe space' and 'together with friends'.

These intimacy needs are genuine, yet they provide little justification for narrow nationalism, xenophobia or dogged obstruction of wider-world imperatives.

Tribes have their 'ring of power' – bonds of solidarity in which common needs, shared values and the wellbeing of the clan override individual differences.

When space became scarce or the 'ring of power' broke as a result of tragedy, invasion or disintegration, painful precedents and social devastation ensued. In Mesopotamia or northern India this breakdown happened 3-4,000 years ago, but elsewhere it has occurred more recently, even just in recent decades.


Social breakdown

 

At times of social breakdown, a critical choice is offered: people may see strangers or change as a threat, or they may accommodate and collaborate with them. If pain or loss are involved, the threat option is often chosen. The emotional complex of Us against Them hardens and strengthens.

This breakdown of social trust is probably the greatest collective emotional trauma humanity has ever faced.

Today's civil wars, sectarian rivalry, nationalism and polarisation have their roots in this collective emotional breakdown long, long ago. Its memory is so long forgotten that it seems mutually-assured trust and sensitivity never really existed.

The worst kind of social breakdown happens within the family itself. When kinsfolk fight, pain and betrayal are perhaps the most hurtful of all – Israelis and Palestinians.

The collective pain arising from the shattering of the 'ring of power' is buried deep beneath the strata, rubble and dust of subsequent history.

Dominance and victimhood patterns derive from social pain and the resulting emotional hardening. A broken people or culture often over-reacts, fights back, attacks, dominates or at minimum ensures that others' happiness and progress are blocked.

We do need a healthy sense of national, regional and community identity. Everyone needs to identify with their own kind. Each people has a contribution to make to the global matrix, weaving its own thread into the world tapestry.

Yet we need to overcome antipathy and narrow interest: this is a major task for the 21st Century. Demeaning and demonising others demeans and dehumanises us too. We lose intimacy and security when inter-communal trust and feeling harden. Security measures increase insecurity in the longterm. We become socially underdeveloped.


Reconfiguration

Nations aren't dying. But the world's political geometry is indeed shifting.

Nowadays, many nations don't reflect real cultural, ethnic, geographical or contingent needs. Many Middle Eastern and African states were created by foreigners: their states and peoples are now incongruent.

The world needs a redesign. This is impractical in today's geopolitical context, but it would remove many causes of conflict.

But the key really lies in social choice. Conflict is a choice, and cooperation is a choice. Structures take time to change. Attitudes and beliefs can transform faster.

In the end, the passing of generations changes things. But, with a little commonsense, we can do things faster than that.

In a globalising world we need to establish common standards, yet we're faced with a need to accentuate our cultural differences too. Otherwise human diversity and culture suffer, and too much is lost.

In community, diversity and individuality are not wiped out. Possibilities increase. In the 20th C globalisation brought much standardisation but, in the 21st C, variegation and mutual respect are the name of the game.

Cramped by imperialism and then by superpower dominance, only since 1989 are the world's nations and peoples truly coming to meet. This isn't easy or comfortable.

The old superpower agenda of the 20th C is giving way to a shift in global geometry. Something to do with 'the international community'.

This is happening in the world of summits and big organisations, but it's happening on the people level too.





Insiders and Outsiders

2. Boundaries, inclusion and exclusion

 

It's all a question of boundaries – who stands inside or outside our territorial and psychological boundaries.

Periodically, the masses lay down the rules – even in dictatorships. Fired up by deep feelings, they reset the socio-political boundaries.

There's immigration, and attitudes toward victims and refugees. There's rivalry between different interest-groups within a nation. Then there are authority-figures and the privileged and powerful: their power can nowadays turn quickly against them.

These vexing questions concern a group's self-definition – what it sees itself to be and exist for. It's feelings-based, sometimes highly instinctive. Public sentiment plays a big role in shaping the 21st C, even if only at intense defining moments.


We all need to belong, to be counted in. In doing so, we usually omit to consider those excluded and counted out, or we dehumanise them, to deny their needs or rights.

The need to belong and the need to exclude are genuine. But resources are often limited, and accommodating outsiders involves input, effort, time and cost. These questions often lack objectivity. "If we take them in, there will be less for us, and our identity could be weakened – we might stop being us." The historic tendency is to close ranks against threat.

But hang on, aren't virtually all nations made up of immigrants, and don't we all live in the same world, affecting one another? If you were a refugee, how would you feel?

When a nation is genuinely threatened, there is short-term justification in closing ranks – though it hurts dissenters, foreigners and marginal cases deemed a security risk. When it becomes longterm, and there is no real threat, the matter is different. Some nations make a habit of this. Arguably, the Cold War and the War on Terror have both been a projection – us-and-them, belonging stuff.


Projection

 

When nations disapprove of, criticise and oppose other nations, there are ghosts of a similar nature in their own cupboards.

If one nation oppresses others, its insensitivity is such that it becomes fully aware of the effect of its actions only when the tables are turned. They do turn – even for strong nations. We're watching a big table-turning happening today.

'Insiders-and-outsiders' involves projection on others of a picture that justifies ill-feeling, discrimination, sanctions or aggression. This can also be levelled at those who acquiesce, disagree or stay neutral: "you're with us or you're against us".

We are the forces of light and goodness and they are the dark forces, the corrupting influences. This is a cover-up.

Projection usually has some relation to reality or history. But an extra, fatal twist and spin is injected, accentuating sins and downplaying graces in the opposing party.

Projection covers the crimes of the accuser – and it always takes two to tango. Projections are fed and nourished by guilt and fear, shadow-stuff we don't want to see or be seen. This needs to change if world peace is to prevail.

There is a contrasting tendency to project positively. A few decades ago, everything American was admired and consumed. Now, this picture has turned.

Projection is not just prejudice. It is a grasping for certainties in a tumultuous, confusing world. Habituated faith in the authority of the media and public information doesn't help: it makes us believe what we're told even against the advice of our own eyes.

Our challenge is to exercise commonsense, understand others and willingly change our perceptions. Today, an intense succession of world crises rips and tears at our feelings, stretching our perceptual boundaries and exposing our projections.

Suddenly, we see people in Mozambique, Albania and Afghanistan suffering ills that we know could befall us too. That could be my daughter getting raped. It could be my son doing it.


Retraction

 

Seeing the whole situation helps us take responsibility for our part in it. It leads to retraction or unprojection.

Society's willingness to acquiesce in the world's wrongs is diminishing: when pushed, a sudden awareness of hidden connections and a backlash of conscience can come bubbling up. It is getting more difficult to get away with shady deals and crimes, however much they once were accepted.

We are in an immense collective truth-revelation, prompted by events and poignant imagery which raise disturbing issues. The collective human soul is acutely poised.

Or perhaps the 'force of circumstance', charged up with pain and sheer weight of consequences from the past, has adopted an agenda of its own, regardless of what humanity thinks.

What with the wars and arguments of today, and a world riddled with armaments, the present time doesn't look too spiritual, and humanity doesn't look like it's on a path of reconciliation.

Yet we're getting faced with our 'stuff'. Events are forcing matters, squeezing awareness out of our dulled human sensitivities. We cannot get away with things like we did before. We're all in this together. It's no one else's fault.

Hence, 'them and us' must be resolved. Bertrand Russell: "War isn't about who is right, but who is left". Nations need to see themselves as others see them. International frictions are a tragic way by which nations become more aware.

We all have our differences and need 'safe space'. But we hang together or we hang separately. Your tribe and my tribe are part of the human tribe. This is our home.

For the first time in history, there really are no 'others' – they are all us. This isn't idealism, religious zeal or pie-in-the-sky. It's a pragmatic fact of the next few decades. We'd better get used to it.

 





3. Continents of the Mind

Cultural exchange and conflict

Cultures are substantial at the centre and vague round the edges. They are made of shared ideas, perceptions, beliefs, arts and styles, languages, conventions, judgements, mores and history. This is humanity's software. Culture and race, ethnicity, language and nationality are involved, but this is multi-faceted, and few people sit in a clearly-defined cultural box.

Subcultures exist within cultures, cultures cross boundaries, and cultures and subcultures coexist within countries or even on one street. Our character is affected by our originating culture, yet foreign, exotic and mixed influences are important, particularly amongst the young, and have been so for centuries. Cultural attributes shift surreptitiously, and cross-fertilisation over the millennia has been intricate and enormous.


Cultural change percolates mostly through cosmopolitan groupings: city populations, travellers, traders, sailors, conquerors and migrants. Cultural shifts often arise amongst younger generations. Mixed marriages are important cultural interfaces.

Xenophobes tend to forget that all cultures and ethnic groups are mongrel, dependent on taking in new blood and interacting with foreigners to generate dynamism. Cultural identity changes, but it is never weakened if it is vibrant.

Cultural voids can be traumatic. Many cultures have been undermined or wiped out by Western imperialism, yet a void is also a birthplace for a new cultural spark. Cultural regeneration could be one of the strong points of the 21st C. Inter-cultural friction is a sign of fermentation – as long as we don't take things too far.

In the human aspect of the globalisation process, we are embracing other cultures' ideas and ways, yet there is an equal and opposite accentuation of cultural uniqueness too. When a culture is alive, creative and confident, openness and protection don't conflict.

 


Cultural immune systems

 

Ideas and perspectives are like viruses, with a life of their own. They seek ever new host populations – or they die.

Through carriers they transplant, mutate and propagate. If a host body doesn't tolerate or successfully resist a virus, it gets a fever.

Immunity to infection is strengthened in a healthy 'body social' if it enjoys life. Antibiotic cultural preservation measures work short-term, treating symptoms only. Longterm they disincentivise cultural experimentation and expression.

The best pro-biotics are meaning-in-life, creativity, innovation, celebration and encouragement.

A healthy, florescent culture has little to fear from new influences. They mirror a culture back to itself, revealing facets no one noticed before. A healthy culture takes the best and forgets the rest – it is too busy creating.

Every culture has characteristics which, when mirrored by other cultures, reveal a need for reform and change. Some characteristics show up to be sound and good. This mirroring is one of the big processes of the 21st C.

Damage has been wrought for 300 years by Western cultural imposition. Here we stand, and the balance is now shifting.

It is incumbent on formerly subject and client cultures to regenerate, and on the West to get out of the way and assist only when invited. Its capability, clarity and ideas are valuable, but the West's right to define world trade, culture, morals and geopolitics is now under serious review.

A monocultural world is inherently sterile and unsound. Cultural diversity strengthens human survival capacity. Reduction of diversity provokes a mass response which re-creates diversity anew – especially in today's big cities and amongst the young. Culture is increasingly a matter of identification, not of birth.

Each culture is challenged to cross gulfs and find points of creative contact. Longterm, cultural imposition is shifting toward to intercultural exchange and collaboration. By necessity. This shift can hurt.

 





4. The Rationality of Nationality

Identity, Tribalism & Nationalism

Nationalism and globalism appear to be at odds, but they don't have to be. Both are integral to international community-building.

To join or leave a community or make a new deal, one must know where one stands and develop a sense of boundaries. These thresholds shift over time, in response to situations.

To configure to international laws, agreements and institutions, a nation must have its people's backing and be accepted by other nations. This involves transparency, negotiation and a reduction of idiosyncrasies.

This is an identity and legitimacy issue, and identity-formation is multifarious, different for each nation.


Ideally, inherent identity moulds a nation by dint of ethnic or geographical factors. Egypt has had consistent nationhood for 5,000 years. But identity can be built up too – France's unity and identity were hammered out in medieval times.

Some peoples could be unified but they are not – Irish, Kurds, Armenians, Koreans and the descendants of Mayans. Others are held together by geopolitical sellotape, inertia or grace – Afghans, Iraqis, Swiss, Nigerians, Turks, Brazilians, Mexicans, Americans, Canadians and Indonesians – and stress could divide any of them.

As globalisation stirs up our perspectives, identities and interests, some peoples feel a need to pull closer together while others wish to loosen their sovereign autonomy.

By the late 20th C national interests could no longer be defined in isolation. Nations each affect all others as a result of travel, trade, pollution, migration, leaky borders and cultural interdependence.


Sovereignty

 

During the 20th C sovereignty, stable borders and non-intervention were the norm, though periodically broken. The 'pre-emptive' US invasion of Iraq in 2003 pretty much ended this.

People hold on to sovereignty, but it has already been lost to trade, economics, crime, pop, media and organisational border-hopping. Ordinary people have weakened borders through travel, consumption, migration, pan-national ideas and movements.

This has left a mess, kept clamped and under wraps. It's acceptable to those who profit and unacceptable to those who don't. Were it not for nationalism, vested interests, the scale of the problem and difficult borderline cases, a full redesign of nations and borders would be sensible. But this is a hornet's nest.

Nations are being quietly eroded from above and below. Both unpopular and sought after, globalisation proceeds apace without full discussion.

The issue isn't whether or not globalisation should happen, but how it happens and how it impacts on humans and nature.

Globalisation has a standardising aspect which fires up an equal and opposite counterforce, localisation. Local governance and emotional identification are finding new relevance and distinction.

Globalism and localism aren't contradictory. Globalising forces have bulldozed local obstructions and pushed hard at human tolerance, provoking a localist and nationalist gut-reaction. The scale of globalisation is enormous, and yet 'one size fits all' is not succeeding.

Societies are cleaving and splintering along new sectoral, generational, regional and belief-oriented lines. This is humanity's communal tendency at work.

This new tribalism is experience-based. Nowadays we separate out less by clan than by interest-group.


Are nations relevant nowadays?

 

Nations are emotionally valid because we humans need locational and identificational anchorages. Something in us craves a landscape and social matrix in which to feel at home. This urge, when under assault, becomes rigid, conservative and nationalistic.

For the future, we don't really know what needs reinventing and what needs preserving. Preservation is fine as long as things are not just freeze-dried but alive and developing. If the creative life-spark inherent in tradition withers, we lose our way.

Reinvention or 'modernisation' has problems too - old errors are repeated or costly lessons are re-learned that we already knew.

Nations act as containers of identity and culture. They have relevance, but that relevance is changing.

States are valuable as political and administrative entities and holders of regalia. But they vary so drastically in size and have evolved in such haphazard ways that they only sometimes reflect the de facto needs and life-patterns of people, geography and nature today. Today's states are frozen as entities unless crises forcefully re-shape them.

The status of states is shifting. Regions are in the ascendant while nation-states are weakening. If you want to have an influence in a global world, you need to be a big guy: EU, USA, India and China demonstrate this.

Who knows how, but we are likely to see states change massively in coming years. Some could break up, some might transfer or exchange territory and some might merge or federate. New states might appear.

The overall trend is for nation-states to melt surreptitiously in significance - even though a lot of fus is still made about them. A conglomeration of continental and cultural blocs is forming.


Blocs, federations and unions

 

Some blocs are obvious, such as Latin America, North America and sub-Saharan Africa. Others have a core with unclear edges, such as South East Asia and the Middle East.

Does Europe include Turkey, Ukraine or Russia? Will Russia and Siberia remain united?

Some blocs are possible but not inevitable: Central Asia, Meso-America and the Caribbean.

Would Israel join a Middle Eastern union? Would India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh federate? The global community-building process drags up these tricky issues.

The pressure to form cultural blocs comes from above and below. Global decision-making with today's 186 sovereign nations is complex. It is dominated by the big players. Some nations don't even have a million people.

Cultural identifications are shifting in response to this re-grouping. Britain and France, once great powers, are now just nations, part of the same union, and their status as Security Council members is anachronistic – EU should replace them at the table and pass on the spare vote.

Both EU and USA serve as valuable models of unions, with their successes and failings. The EU evolved over five decades, consensually and by accretion. USA was born suddenly, by declaration. The both behave like that.

A model cultural bloc is the Muslim sphere where one faith and system of law and customs binds its nations together over time. Kind of.

In the 'clash of civilisations' of 2001 the distinction of Islam and the West came starkly clear. The West no longer had the final answer. But the Islamic world has begun slowly to realise that if it is to provide new answers, they had better be good. Fundamentalism doesn't persuade majorities.

A pan-African cultural consciousness simmers fitfully, seeking vision and expression. Coming decades will see Africa enter happier times, a home-spun revival coupled with reduced outside interference. Two of our time's top leaders have been African – Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela. This is a sign.


Geopolitical chess

 

Collective identity is a big source of geopolitical angst. Identity becomes a prison when fixed and inward-turning. International relations conducted by 'playing to a home audience' also blocks necessary global change and priorities.

Yet identity is still important. Debates and arguments can help if they are handled maturely, as a community-building exercise. But when hands move to sword-hilts or delegates walk out, it is necessary to pause, step back, start again and stay with the process. Otherwise, no 'international community', only delayed solutions.

Too often, when the heat rises, negotiations break down. Yet hurt egos and harsh words mean that breakthrough is close. This is a therapeutic catharsis, where the ugly stuff comes out. Things need to be said, even if not entirely true. But good procedures must be followed to prevent damage being done.


Nations need to work through their anxieties, to reach a point of mutually-assured peace. Past positions then ease, arguments subside and the picture changes. Participants in peace often need to be braver than they are in war.

Conflicts triangulate around specific issues which often are deflections from the real issue, but nevertheless they carry emotional charge. This draws us into facing unthinkable and unspeakable questions. Big issues come up, forcing resolution.

Behind this a larger global chess-game is being acted out. Afghanistan and Iraq have recently fallen victim of global issues concerning superpower control, oil, terrorism, arms, culture-clash and international cooperation-deficiency. They were prone, yet it fell on them.

Conflicts put global issues on the table. This is a cop-out, since many conflicts would be unnecessary if things had been sorted out earlier.

Antagonism raises undiscussed questions, putting us all on edge, hurting a lot of people and costing the Earth. We now need to move on from this. We can't afford it.


Identity and nationalism

 

National identity-formation is not a fully conscious, intentional process. International relations are highly fictionalised, causing nations' self-images and their international relationships to grate.

Today, the main action is not really national, but regional, generational, ethnic, cultural and belief-oriented. Yet these dynamics still evolve within static political boundaries. Nationalism often has more to do with other things - power, maleness, inadequacy, insecurity or social stress, projected outwards.

National feeling is natural for peoples who have lived long in a landscape. But antipathy to others is a cover-up - something is wrong on the domestic front and few are facing it.

A successful culture is vibrant, relevant and open to change. It encourages the young, the creative and the enterprising. It welcomes strangers to its hearth.


Narrow nationalism demonises others. Some is propaganda and some is cultural conditioning. Many myths are believed because few question them. This makes prejudice difficult to root out. Animosity becomes a safe option, a default pattern.

Each nation has a web of relationships largely dominated by political and business establishments. They call their private interests 'the national interest'.

They fix things, pump the economy, demonise subgroups, pick fights, exploit and corrupt. Vested interests seek to keep society atomised, patriotic and compliant. Today this is slowly eroding as the public sees through it, but it's taking a long time.

Patriotism and fear cover over a multitude of sins, eating at a country's culture and self-esteem. Domestic power-battles triangulate onto scapegoats – immigrants, rebels, workers, women, gays... This keeps the powerful in power, skewing the picture, dehumanising decent people and polarising society. It justifies discrimination, atrocity, expulsion, invasion and genocide.

Negative qualities projected onto others describe in detail what the accusing country itself does or has done.


Clean-up time

 

There is always shared responsibility between dominators and victims in geopolitical chess-games. Anti-American feeling since 9/11 demonstrate this.

"America should change". Underneath this was: "The international community will no longer go along with a superpower agenda". Beneath that: "It's time for the international community to shape up".

The world had to start making big decisions and carry them out, with or without USA. Otherwise, it invites USA to be its 'global policeman'.

The world should have dealt with Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. One reason it didn't was arms proliferation, a subject no one wished to raise. Dealing with Saddam meant a global clean-up process. The international community would have to 'walk its talk'. Nations would have to raise their standards. Instead, they let Saddam and other dictators get away with it.

Globalisation is obliging an inevitable clean-up. Secrecy and no-go areas are being disentangled.

Here the wider world has a transforming influence within nations. Nations big and small are being obliged to get to grips with many issues because of pressures from outside or simply the mirroring effect of intensifying international relations.

This concerns each country's relationship with itself, the state of its society and the standards by which it lives. It concerns national spirit and aspirations, self-respect and the quality of its culture.

Within the formation of continental and cultural blocs new regional identifications are forming. The small and the local – our homes, families, people and landscape – are highly relevant too.

Resolving the contradiction between global and local issues is a psychological and emotional, irrational process. Yet to move forward, we must be exceptionally rational. Without clear-headed behaviour, it's war and crisis.






5. Same Planet, Different Worlds

Social solidarity and how it breaks down

 

Long ago, population was sparser, further-flung. Many historic precedents had not yet happened. Roman legionnaires and Nazi panzers hadn't been unleashed on history.

Life was not perfect, and we shouldn't be romantic, yet humans once had more intimate, quality relationships and greater social trust. People looked each other in the eyes – nowadays we share our societies but don't know each other. Children are taught not to talk to strangers.

This alienation and dehumanisation did not exist at one time. People knew roughly who everyone else was and, if they didn't, they would originally have assumed friendship or decency unless proven otherwise. Something has now been lost – basic trust.

This loss has been one of humanity's greatest traumas.

Here's a big paradox: buried memory of loss comes up whenever people open up to each other and engage in community-building.



In the history of nations, formative collective memories have a large influence on future actions, judgements and relations. They imprint on the inner experience of a people.

Key ingredients are collective triumph and failure, fulfilment and poverty, triumph and tragedy – especially when a nation is vulnerable. Much depends on how a people responds to its circumstances.

Two key factors affect the health and character of a nation: the way natural social innocence and intimacy have been lost, and the way social spirits are revived after social tragedies or hardships. It depends how these experiences are felt, processed and healed – how a nation makes something good of a bad situation.

Issues and complexes get buried in a nation's psyche, remembered or forgotten. They sit there unresolved until a constellation of events reactivates memories, informing current responses to situations. Unresolved issues can stunt social and political growth. In the life of a nation, blessings and hardships can impact variously.


Optional supplement:
National character-formation

There is a developmental psychology of nations. They are born and go through their growth stages, just like individuals. The story is different for each nation, as with individuals, but there is a generalised sequence of growth characterising the formation of a nation. It goes something like this.

The birth of a tribe or first-nation comes with its establishment. For the Uighurs of Central Asia it was around four millennia ago, and for the early white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans landing in Virginia and Massachusetts it was in the early 1600s. The tribe stakes out its patch, setting about making it home. They live a simple, quiet life in their corner of the world, nurtured by the landscape and each other, attending to their own business. It is a pottering existence where the main issue is to feed their people and be happy. Such a community can easily be mown down but, if it finds its feet, it starts exploring the wider possibilities available in its patch. It starts crawling around.

Such a tribe develops life-ways, culture and mythologies, unique environmental adaptations and its first strokes of genius and initiative. Language, farming, domestic and architectural styles come into being, and outlying villages are founded. First contact is made with other tribes - spare items, specialist services and people are exchanged. If trade and interchange don't work, it doesn't matter greatly. If there is serious difficulty, such as territorial disputes or crop-failure, tribal confidence takes a hit, and the tribe might retreat into a safe valley or forest fastness, or adopt a fight-back strategy. The crisis forces the tribal society to get more organised, building precautionary structures or reserves. Perhaps it becomes more hierarchical, to quicken responses to challenges. Yet the first signs of dissension arise too, over strategy, rights and power. The men develop response systems in their own model, discounting the reservations of the women.

Tribal security, imaginativeness and contentment are now more disturbed than at first, introducing stresses which can spread virally. If one household expands its food-stores or stock of weapons, others must too. Antipathies might grow, and some people walk out or introduce the possibility. Loyalties are tested and relationships stretched. This might result in growing social atomisation or tribal unravelment, or perhaps it is sublimated into shamanistic and religious developments engaging the tribal gods and ancestors, or it might be externalised into conquest, construction or expansion, or, with luck, a benign chief contains the situation, guaranteeing security under his auspices - but this survives only as long as the chief does.

Social specialisation and differentiation expand as members gain experience in crafts, agriculture, homemaking, warriorship and artistry. Relations with other tribes get more serious, and inclusion-exclusion issues, equity and justice, resource management and governance all get weightier. Internal and external tribal politics demand growing skills, stimulating stronger leadership structures. The tribe has transited to a new stage - some ripping and tearing has occurred but vestiges of the traditional structure hold firm. The quality of these transitions influences subsequent trends and events. Some things have been gained and some lost: what matters most is what the tribe has made of the experience. Loss might not be negative in the end, and gain might not be positive. Most likely it's a mixed bag.

What is important is the capacity of a tribe to hold together, understand and organise its reality, master technical, environmental and social issues and form arrangements with other peoples. This is roughly equivalent to an individual's development around age seven to nine - and, like such children, excesses can occur as the boundaries are felt out and increasingly complex lessons are discovered and learned. Horizons are widening: the world's response to the tribe's initiatives and the tribe's response to the world's pressures and enticements strongly affect that tribe's future. Some tribes come out strong while others are weakened, subsumed, overwhelmed or retreat. The Lapps and Finns, once Siberian, were squeezed west and north to escape pressures, while Germanic peoples moved south from Sweden in search of new pastures, pressurising others and eventually taking on the Roman Empire.

Internal political arrangements - leadership, resource distribution, rights and power - must be clearly established because they affect the capacity of the tribe to function, up against peoples who might be more advanced or graced with advantages. Inter-tribal space and resource allocation gets thrashed out - here comes the beginning of statecraft, diplomacy or the habit of war. At this stage, war is a failure of relationship which can disadvantage or kill a tribe or, in some cases, make it a dominator.

Here we come to tribal puberty and youth. The tribe is becoming a proto-nation, feeling its boundaries, laying in stocks and fallback resources, building trading centres, agreeing treaties, sorting out allies and sources of risk, merging or confederating with other tribes, thinking about its future and carving its place in a more complex world. Increasingly, this is men's domain, since the women tend to hold the hearth and maintain the community's essential functions while the men range around the peripheries, establishing their domain in newly-developing areas. These start out as insignificant and marginal, becoming important as time goes on. Such impulses might arise within the tribe, perhaps amongst a restless, visionary or pragmatic subgroup, or they might constitute a response to challenges from further afield. Something more calculating, ambitious or defensive comes into play. There is trade specialisation, artisanry, infrastructure investment, attention to the trappings, traditions and symbols of tribal life, a fore-arming against eventuality and a development of richer, deeper traditions, histories and lore. Beliefs consolidate and complexify as shamanic nature religion gives way to more ritualistic or doctrinal faiths.

Here comes another crucial divide, equivalent to teenage years. The tribe or proto-nation hardens itself, undermining clan trust and intimacy. This can happen from top down: perhaps the chief and his followers are usurped by disgruntled power-contenders, or they grow big for their boots or lose touch with the people, or power is seized from outside, or a need develops to ally with a larger power. Once tribal elders, rulers are now power-mongers with henchmen and warriors or possessing the most booty or sense of strategy. Cruel things can be done to develop, maintain or take power: women are raped, villages burned, heads roll and people bolt their doors. Sons are conscripted and heavy tithes charged. Big precedents happen. The tribe retains its shamans, healers, grandmothers and village heads, but no longer at the centre of society - they now patch up social fallout. Chancellors and priests crowd around the monarch, and strength matters more than wisdom. Some women are traditionalists holding the 'circle of power' and others cleave to 'progress' and change. Personal audiences with the chief are no longer available: scribes submit missives or ministers must be influenced or bribed. This is not necessarily negative or violent, but for ordinary people something is lost - there is less belonging and more obedience. Or families leave, heading into the forest or wilderness to get away.

This transition from tribe to nation is crucial in a people's development. It defines relations between rulers and ruled, affecting society's warmth and inclusivity, impacting on the landscape through land-ownership and land-use patterns, crystallising economies and the tax system and fundamentally influencing the spirit of the nation. In Europe, the early-medieval Vikings played a surprisingly large formative role in this hardening process. First they assaulted coastal areas, forcing victims to absorb the impact or to militarise. Culture centres were raided, looted and burned. Later they founded warrior aristocracies such as the Normans in France or the Rus in Russia, setting tough new precedents of rule, military activity, wealth-generation through trade and feudal land-ownership. Their treatment of people and land upped the stakes of social disdain. The Normans gained lands across France, England and Italy, nudging their way into royal courts as knights and political manoeuvrers. The Rus founded Russia, centred at first in Kiev (Ukraine). The Normans later formed the backbone of the Crusades, Europeans' first imperialist adventure. Their legacy lives on today in Britain's 'establishment', with good old fox-hunting, pinstripe-suited, Oxbridge-educated 'toffs' who still populate the nation's boardrooms.

By now, a nation has established its boundaries and capital, laws, currencies and systems, mythology and religion, trade and foreign relations. Its fortunes depend greatly on choices made and strategies enacted, and less on its inherent wealth, people, land or culture. Cathedrals, colleges, castles, armies, institutions, bureaucracies, trade fairs and courts are established. This stage is accompanied by political jostling, debate and manipulation. Here, the nation has become like a young adult - feisty, knows it all, on a roll, in control. But the serious stuff is yet to come. Having reached this stage, the evolving state seeks a purpose.

The egos of different nations - their leaders - can clash. England and France, in the Hundred Years War (a long series of wars from the 1330s to the 1450s), fought over Norman and French land inheritances in France. The French nobility was wiped out, then the English lost their French possessions and finally ended up fighting between themselves (the Wars of the Roses, 1455-85). This hardly concerned the majority of people, but greatly affected them - sons were lost, taxes levied, communities burned, atrocities were committed. Rape introduces warrior genes into otherwise quiet localities - 60% of Europeans carry a genetic trace from Alexander the Great, a very busy man! The people are by now more than ever at the mercy of their leaders. Earlier on, suffering at the hands of leaders would have been short-term, but this was now becoming a permanent condition of society, with a war in every generation.

Following this breakdown of social trust and intimacy comes a loosening of morals too. In medieval times many societies underwent periods of ribaldry and wastage, counterbalanced by a growing monastic movement, as a consequence of the loss of the containing moral integrity of earlier traditional societies. This brought loss of mutual trust, honour and respect: natural justice becomes codified law, easily broken and favouring the strong. Then come corrupt regimes, oppressive feudal lords, persecutions and other horrors, staining collective memory - unless such trends are somehow redeemed during phases of good governance and cultural upswing.


Social breakdown

 

The global sumtotal of humanity's pain has led to a hardening of societies and a teeth-gritting acceptance of estrangement and adversity. Periods of social breakdown have defined this - threshold times where trust between people is betrayed and mutually retracted, never to be restored.

Breakdowns can happen as a result of 'bad fortune': plagues, droughts, migrations or disasters. Or as a result of human error or badness: totalitarian regimes, political betrayals, pogroms and failed initiatives. These events hit many of society's best people. They affecting the mood, feelings and self-respect of societies for generations.

When social solidarity fails, the feeling is devastating. People are suddenly on their own, and legitimate expectations of fairness, good relations and mutual care collapse. This leaves a permanent mark.

Contrary to expectation, the rich and powerful are the most alienated people in our day. Think about it.


What is the effect of these betrayal shadows today? One effect: since much of humanity has had its history forced on it by others, there is a natural reluctance to let go of national self-determination in favour of a wider, international order. Another: since we have become used to war, armies and weapons, there is a tendency to resort to war because they're there and it's a habit.

Yet there's a positive side too. People's separation from their natural and communal roots is fuelling a tide of environmental, cultural and community concern. And people's historic weariness of insensitivity and grief fuels a growing intolerance toward injustice and human rights atrocities, despite the indifference of our time.

The world is changing, and a new hidden wisdom and emotional solidarity is emerging from the rubble of human experience. This is now a strong force in geopolitics, even if fitful and reactive.

It's a powerful force, like a searchlight that lights up when vexing crises take place, revealing uncomfortable truths. Questions get asked, lies are seen through, perpetrators and colluders are nakedly exposed. It can fell regimes and turn tides.

An example: hurricane Katrina in 2005 exposed uncomfortable truths about poverty and race. There is no logical connection between weather extremes and race, but the storm gods sure did say something, and it was heard.


The Great Accounting

 

When the psychological load on people's shoulders lightens, awkward issues can come up. Relief brings a relaxation of psychological defences, allowing irksome truths and tensions to emerge. Sometimes the peace can be worse than the war. This is a transitional 'healing crisis' where we're forced to face hard realities.

The 21st Century is one which necessitates our pulling together as a planetary race. Cooperation, collaboration and coexistence are no longer an ideal, more a pragmatic survival mechanism.

Crossing this threshold brings up deep, hidden memories of early human experience and community, of the breakdown of tribes and the emotional devastation that resulted, long ago.

It raises profound questions of identity, justice and trust. As the world globalises, nationalism, ethnic conflict, racism, sexism and raw injustice jump out, demanding attention. Stored pain acts as the dynamite to loosen it up. The purgation of humanity's heart and soul emerges painfully. Terrorism is an extreme example.

Global integration raises deep shadows. We must establish a global contract guaranteeing everyone's safety and wellbeing. Each nation, ethnic and cultural grouping is obliged to renegotiate its place in the scheme of things. This is difficult. But global priorities now increasingly override national and personal self-interest.

This isn't just about pollution filters, fair trade and organic farming. It demands a fundamental transformation of society and humanity. Nervousness about crossing the threshold jiggles and dredges the collective unconscious, bringing up indistinct memories of painful far-off times when the 'ring of power' was broken.

We're all rather vulnerable. Humanity has learned lessons, developed strong points, taken life in its hands, made a mess – and here we stand, facing Enormous Questions.

The temptation is to run back to our knowns, even if they hurt. We like to sit in our sovereign nations, surveying other nations from our perches, preserving our interests in case it all goes wrong.

Everyone wants change as long as nothing really changes.

This is where the confused, accumulated pain of humanity leaves us today. Yet it provides us with a way forward too.


NEXT: Part Two | What's Underneath


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