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

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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