"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Why Can’t We All Get Along? Because We Don’t Want To

The United States seems to be splitting apart at the seams.  Civil discourse is at a premium, compromise old-fashioned, manners and gentility out the window, and nothing but rancor, incivility, and intemperance in their place.

The recent (2016) election of Donald Trump completed the rending.  The country is no longer one nation but fractured along social, political, cultural, and religious lines. The progressive Left has been singled out for promoting racial, ethnic, and gender identity at the expense of national integration; but while liberals certainly have helped to pull the country apart, the roots of factionalism go much deeper.

In Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, the Broadway 50s musical based on Romeo and Juliet, a boy and girl from two opposing gangs, one white and the other Puerto Rican, fall in love. Anita, a friend of Maria, warns her against getting involved with someone from a different community.  She sings:
A boy like that
Who'd kill your brother
Forget that boy
And find another
One of your own kind
Stick to your own kind
A boy like that
Will give you sorrow
You'll meet another boy tomorrow
One of your own kind
Stick to your own kind
“Stick to your own kind” is her refrain. If you don’t, you’re asking for trouble.  Of course Maria does not listen, bad turns to worse, and the final scene is a melodramatic replay of the end of the star-crossed lovers.
Wandering onto the playground, Tony sees Maria, at first thinking that it is only in his mind, then realizing it really is her, but as they run towards each other, Chino appears out of nowhere and shoots Tony. As the Jets and Sharks appear, Maria and Tony reaffirm their love ("Somewhere"), but Tony dies in her arms. Maria takes the gun from Chino and accuses everybody in sight of the deaths of Tony, Bernardo, and Riff. The police and gang members arrive. When they see Tony dead, some of the Jets lift him, and the Sharks join them, while Chino is taken away by the police. As in Romeo and Juliet, tragedy has brought the feuding between the two gangs to an end (IMDb)
In short, the story is about diversity.

In other words we are all programmed to act individually but have found that we need to stick together for survival.  Societies are reflections of the individuals within them and as expressive of human nature as they are.

In a million years of human evolution, the human race is no different than it ever was – conservative, self-interested, territorial, ambitious, and self-protective.  We are just as suspicious, intolerant, and fearful of outsiders today as our primate ancestors were in the Paleolithic.  We may agree to get along, but on our terms.

Image result for images paleolithic man

Society has not evolved except in very superficial ways.  The genius and vitality of human enterprise may have greater expression today, but what is that diversity compared to the fundamental, permanent, and insistent force of human nature?

After tragedies – school shootings, acts of vengeance and retribution, terrorism, and serial slaughter carried out in the name of an individual cause – the country comes together; but only momentarily.  There may be unity in grief but no such thing when it comes to cause and effect.  The shootings at Columbine, Sandy Hook, North Carolina, and most recently in Alexandria are fact, but the reasons why they occurred and what is to do about them could not be more different.

What should be an event that draws Americans together pulls us farther apart.

This is not surprising.  Darwin still lives.  The more complex a society becomes and the greater the population pressure on resources and opportunity, the harder the sectarian, factional lines become drawn.  Savvy activists and politicians understand this and make hay from division.  Advocacy is a multi-billion dollar industry not even counting K Street lobbying.  The coffers of groups promoting the interests of gay men, lesbians, every sub-category of LGBT; every subdivision of Asian, Latino, Pacific Islander, Native American, and Roma ethnicities; and every combination of the above are filled to overflowing.

Image result for images darwin

Diversity is a big business; and the combination of a hard-wired, self-interested and aggressive human nature, a Darwinian evolutionary imperative, population pressures, and the incitement of calculating ‘facilitators’ can only produce limitless cash cows.

Ecumenism has been spoken about for decades if not longer; but we are still waiting for accords between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches let alone between Christians and Jews.  There are more divisions than unity among Orthodox patriarchs who vie for primacy, money, and authority; between charismatic, Pentecostal, and traditional Protestantism who all claim the right way to Jesus; between Vatican hardliners and spiritual progressives.

The only periods of history which have not been beset by civil disturbance have totalitarian.  Tito kept the Balkans quiet but once he was gone, the entire region broke apart and erupted into ethnic and sectarian violence that had been on hold for decades and had its origin millennia before.  The Soviet politburo kept a lid on the demands of ethnic minorities, but once that regime had had its day, every minority wanted their own, and depending on their size, natural resources, and will, got it.

Image result for images tito

Many Western European and American liberal intellectuals saw Communism as the answer to the nativism, and oligarchic elitism of empire and laissez-faire capitalism.  They overlooked the gulags, mass murder, and tyranny of Stalin and justified the means by the long-sought after ends of social harmony and universal justice.

Finally disillusioned, they looked in vain for some – any – society which was harmonious, inclusive, and just.  Just when they thought hey had one – Margaret Mead’s Samoa (Coming of Age in Samoa) – she was discredited.  A disciple of Marxist anthropologist Frank Boas, father of cultural relativism, Mead was accused of the same bias as her mentor.  Both were looking for examples of high culture in low places.

If even pacific Samoa was no different in aggressive, self-serving human ambition and nature as anywhere else, where could progressive intellectuals hang their hat?

Still unreconstructed, these academics turned to process instead of substance.  The world might be still warlike, greedy, and factional; but only because we had not tried hard enough to reform it.  Progressive interventionism today is based on the assumption than man – despite his long and violent history – can be reformed.  Human nature is not ineluctable.  With a strong, unified, collective will, we can overcome our past and free the better angels of our nature.

Image result for images dna

The only answer is to give into Darwin and the innate competitiveness which weeds out the weak, infirm, and less capable and rewards the strong, the ambitious, and the talented.  Engineered pseudo-equality only results in perpetual entitlement, resentment, and suspicion.   Perhaps we do not want to return to the free-for-all of Adam Smith and the Robber Barons of the Twentieth Century; but at least we would finally come to accept the obvious, the persistent, and the inevitable. 

Image result for images adam smith economist

Societies and individuals will always be unequal, but inequality will be mitigated by ambition.  In a society which values, promotes, and encourages individual enterprise, responsibility and will, more people will rise out of the social purgatory.

In such a system divisions, antagonisms, and conflict will continue to occur; but as a natural by-product of free competition, not the result of frustration of a perpetual life on the margins.

Why can’t we all get along? Although we may say we want to, we do not; and more importantly we cannot.  The sooner we face our difficult, problematic, but immutable human nature squarely, the better off we will be.

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