Taking Stock Philosophically: Overcoming Primitive Group Dynamics is the Solution

Here is another outstanding, thoughtful, well-written comment on our previous posts about social evolution that I decided should run as a featured post.

By Mike Nichols

The great scientific and technological advances of the twentieth century have enabled an unprecedented quality of life for many in the more developed nations of the world. But at the same time they have provided tools of destruction and mayhem that abet and even encourage humans’ tendencies to move from zealotry to irrational nationalism to warfare to genocide.

Evolutionary psychology, a relatively new field, has done much to explain why we humans behave as we do. Concepts such as altruism, reciprocity, kin selection and group selection are theorized to be characteristics that were evolved in humans to ensure both individual and group survival.

However, the most worrisome feature of the discoveries of evolutionary psychology is that they seem to present the social traits evolved in humans as an immutable fate, something so imbedded in each of us that it is a near-futile task to sublimate them.

Standing in opposition to this Darwinian determinism are those who point to the many aspects of our primitive nature, such as the urge for men to impregnate as many women as possible, that have been largely overcome in many societies. The ability to accept another group, work peaceably with them, and even meld with them is not uncommon in modern history, though these arrangements sometimes fall apart.

And almost all of the world religions have as their foundation the belief that humans can rise above their flawed nature toward better actions and attitudes. However, the continual crimes against humanity done in the name of religion seem to make the good effects of religion doubtful to some. (I must insert here GK Chesterton’s famous statement that “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”)

The main problem, as I see it, is that humans are still trapped in the group dynamics of our forebears fifty or even one hundred thousand years ago. My group is good, righteous, upholders of Truth, superior, while the other group is radically opposite. The other group is demonized, accused of egregious acts, and made subhuman – justifying violence against them. These group dynamics are observable in everything from local government and race relations, to the current petty politics in Washington to the animosity and violence between nations and religious groups.

Whatever the final solution to the problem, it will take the universal recognition that humans have these primitive destructive tendencies working against the common good, coupled with a universal societal commitment to overcoming them. This need not and should not be imposed by government, but through our many institutions, religious groups, social groups and political groups – primarily and most importantly on the local level.

This may seem like pie-in-the-sky thinking, but it – or something like it – seems to be the only solution for breaking free of our evolutionary bonds to enjoy a world where war is unheard of and the good of all humans in all places is a primary virtue.

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One Response to “Taking Stock Philosophically: Overcoming Primitive Group Dynamics is the Solution”

  1. Firepower Says:

    I guess I’ll start with “I agree with the poster”.

    “Pie in the sky”? Naw, I don’t think so. We can never stop attempting to have peace and understanding in our world. However, that being said, the battle is constant.

    Mike, you speak of the psychology of various areas, but I wonder how much of the psychology of anything actually gets down to the average individual AND sticks.

    Government, as you say, can never correct the problems of humanity; it can only make it worse.

    “My group is good, righteous, upholders of Truth, superior, while the other group is radically opposite. The other group is demonized, accused of egregious acts, and made subhuman – justifying violence against them.” It happens on a much more simplistic level than commiting violence. I, being a Baptist, have seen it in my religion on a very mild (I think) basis on dang near a daily level. Friends and neighbors constantly refer to some incorrect something that they heard or were taught in church. Everything from race to sexual orientation to even being of the wrong faith. These people actually believe what they are saying and practice that belief in their associations with other people.

    My faith and what I was taught does not teach that. However, a few preachers from time to time have taught some things that are contrary to my beliefs. As you indicate, some things are overcome with time.

    What I see also is a lack of experience. I call it horizons (since I flew for 30 years for a living). While flying, we see different horizons and what’s close for one is distant for another. If people never leave their little environment, they never get a chance to see what happens in another environment. We as Americans will make all sorts of judgements about a very different culture, say Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam and (where I am now) Colombia, South America. These judgements about these peoples more often than not are wrong.

    If a Baptist never gets around a Methodist or a Catholic or a Muslim, they can never actually understand that religion….they can only make assumptions based on what they read, hear or are taught.

    Race relations in the South (and denied in the North) got better, believe it or not, from integration. Southerners will proobly never agree with that, but it’s true. Once the whites and blacks had no choice but to open up to living together as an equal people, they began to accept each other as human beings. However, very similar to polarization of cultures in the Mid East, this only works as long as one culture doesn’t try to dominate the other.

    Mentors in black or poor neighborhoods that encourage youth AND adults to improve themselves with education and training operate very much the same way, only in reverse. The horizon comes to the individual.

    One problem as I see it is that the cultural and differences are so large, few can control them. Look at the OWS movement (if one wishes to call it that). It’s a group of angry people and basically it’s a mob. No one has taken control of the mob, so without fuel it will eventually die….mainly because there is no unified objective.

    I remain true to my post on another thread….it has something to do with a lack of education or even illiteracy. Educated people can rarely be sold a “bill of goods”. Poor, uneducated or undereducated people can be led down a very bad road.

    I’ll give an examples: Sharia law. What person in his right mind would want to live under that? A person that doesn’t know there is something out there that is better.
    How did those people come to the conclusion that Sharia law is good…..they’ve been sold a “bill of goods” from Muslim clerics. How did that happen? The people are illiterate and depend on clerics for guidance…..because, remember, the clerics are MEN OF GOD.

    I’ll stop for now, I’m being way too long winded.


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