How did we come to live in this particular type of society? How did this style and structure come to exist? Often, we give little thought to the how or why of it all we just do, we just exist inside the matrix of a society that we had no hand in creating. We all agree on most of the social infrastructure because it’s the story we have been told, it’s how things work, it’s the story of us. For better or worst this is how the world is. We are born into a country, to parents, and usually a religion that we did not have an opportunity to choose. We don’t get to voice our options about that type of laws or social constructs we want to be raised under. In their book The four Agreements Don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills assert the fact that we do not get to choose our race, our gender, nor our own name. We come into this world as a nearly (not totally) blank slate ready to be imprinted with the traditions and norms of our particular corner of the Matrix. If we have no say in the world around us, the question becomes, how is it possible for us to all be functioning and living in relative harmony with one another? How do we all just decide that this is the way our city, state, country, should be? We humans are special animals in that we possess an amazing aptitude for cooperation.
Cooperation is how all the great social and technical advancements that we enjoy today have come to exist. Cooperation is also how all of the horrors of humanity were able to be manifested. Humans can work to gather in ways no other species of animal can and those efforts can accomplish amazing feats like building an international space station or we can work together to create unbelievably hateful acts like the Rwandan genocide in the 90s. The type of civilization that we live in is the culmination of hundreds or thousands of years of cooperation, but why do we cooperate in such ways? How do we get thousands or millions of humans to all come together for a specific goal or purpose? Yuval Harari, the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, suggest that humans are capable of working together on such large scales due to our shared belief in stories or fictions. He identifies many fictions that we all share like the concepts of money and nations. He also believes that the religions and other social constructs are shared fictions that help us cooperate with one another. While these fictions help us cooperate, they also serve to create Us/Them categories and will limit whom we choose to cooperate with. So, in order to change a society, you have to change the stories that they all agree to. To bridge the gap between Us and Them we have to write new fictions that unite us as appose to dividing us.
I was perusing the interwebs as I often do these days and I came across a video featuring NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. In the video he basically states that the stories or fictions we are told by politicians are designed to keep the Us vs Them battles raging. He feels that by pitting us against one another they can use that as a tool to manipulate masses and to stay in power.
“I think most white people and Black people are great people. I really believe that in my heart,” Barkley said. “But I think our system is set up where our politicians, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, are designed to make us not like each other so they can keep their grasp of money and power. They divide and conquer.” Charles Barkley
I agree with him to a large degree republicans and democrats each have a set of fictions that they push and use to motivate people to join their cause. This is a powerful tool and once you have lured someone in with a juicy story, they will bend over backwards to continue believing in that fiction no matter how ridiculous the situation. One example is how Blacks for the most part support the Democratic party wholly and will even challenge your ability to be considered black should you decide not to stay in lock step with the party. The Democratic party is seen as being for the poor and impoverished and to support programs that help lift Blacks and other minorities out of such situations. Yet, in towns and cities such as Baltimore with nearly a half a century of Democratic rule Blacks and minorities have not been lifted out of poverty, many live in substandard environments, and have low performing schools. Yet nearly all the Blacks in Baltimore consistently vote for a party that has not delivered much on the promises (fictions) they are constantly sold. Republicans are the same, they create stories that make poor whites vote against programs that they would actually benefit from. They convince poor whites that they shouldn’t tax the rich because one day they themselves will be rich and then they would be taxed. I might be biased but I do believe republicans are a bit worse because zome of the stories they tell are divisive, generate fear in their supporters, and often drive acts of hate. People want a story to believe in, something to follow, a reason for why they do what they do, and politicians are more than happy to provide it.
Are these the only types of stories that people will accept? I have already mentioned in a previous post that humans have a natural proclivity for holding on to negative experiences and emotions. So, are politicians and unscrupulous leaders truly to blame or are they giving us what we want, what we crave? Humans flock to the negative propaganda like the proverbial moth to a flame. No matter how dangerous we are still lured in by the seductive glow of the fictions they provide. It’s comforting to have a story that helps you understand your place in the larger structure of a society no matter how twisted that story may be. We convince ourselves of its truth by saying things like, “ I am the downtrodden underdog that is being victimized or I am the superior class that lives in fear of being usurped by the undesirables?” Are we humans only capable of holding on to negative fictions for extended periods of time? I am not sure; I know that billions believe in a higher power and that most religions are composed of books and stories that speak to the highest good in humanity but I also know that Nearly every one of them have also weaved stories that have inspired some of the most horrendous events in human history.
I am unsure but I am also very hopeful. I know humans can pull together for a common task, but the time scale and story need to drive a major shift in compassion and empathy on a national or global scale elude me.
This article is a part of a series focused on the analysis and origins of hate:
|1. What Is Hate? Published 01.14.21||8.Love Published 03.18.21|
|2. So, What’s The Plan? Published 01.21.21||9. The exaggeration of SELF published 03.25.21|
|3. How to Make Mutant Published 01.28.21||10. Respect Published 04.01.21|
|4. Don’t Take it Personal Published 02.04.21||11. How it Should Be Published 04.15.21|
|5. Social Darwinism Published 02.25.21||12. Retaliation Published 04.22.21|
|6. Selective Breeding Published 03.04.21||13. Less Than Human Published 06.03.21|
|7. Us vs. Them Published 03.11.21||14. Agreements and Fictions Published 08.29.21|
•Beck, A. T. (2000). Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence (1st ed.). Harper Perennial. •Harari, Y. N. (2018). Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Reprint ed.). Harper Perennial. •Ruiz, D. M. (1997). The four Agreements. Amber-Allen Publishing. •Sapolsky, R. M. (2018). Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (Illustrated ed.). Penguin Books.