Tribes and Reality
December 22nd, 2016
Tribes and Reality
We've all heard that before. Many of us accept this advice as confirmed wisdom. It sounds good.
And it is good...
But woe unto those who question the wrong things!
See.., there are two types of belief.
Tribal Beliefs, and Beliefs in Reality.
When the two line up, all is well with the world. But when they do not...
Tribal belief is powerful. People love it! It soothes. It makes people part of something larger than themselves. They belong!
The cost of not belonging is severe. Survival instincts know that the good bet is to be part of a team. -To have the crowd at your back, having this security, the knowledge that the people around you are all part of the same huge organism, that your weakness is outweighed by collective strength. To be part of something is survival. To be cast out, is death.
This understanding is baked into the animal psyche, deep beneath any new cognitive mechanisms. Beneath the workings of the New Brain. -It is hardwired right at the top of the spinal column, solidly grown like a tree beneath that other bit of gray matter, that remarkable, miraculous Neo Cortex, grown like a fruit at the crest of history's great accomplishment; those brain structures which only human beings have.
"Neo" means simply "New". New, because it is new. Evolution, or whatever mechanisms bring novel biological transformations into being, in planetary terms, only very recently provided this new arrangement of grey matter for the creatures of this world to experience. And what an arrangement! These new brain structures allow us cognitive abilities which make us extraordinarily different and powerful when compared to the rest of the creatures struggling through the biosphere. Humans are new on this planet. And we rule it!
However, we remain plugged into the old system. Evolution in this case is keeping one foot planted on solid ground while probing forward. Perhaps the New Brain is just a passing fad? Maybe it will fail. Maybe in terms of survival, it will ultimately prove unworthy. It must justify itself! -But if it fails, that's okay. The old brain is still there to be fallen back upon should everything go SNAFU.
Those old brain structures are tested and true. Dependable. They work. They've kept countless species around for eons, successfully reproducing and living. We can always abandon the ability to think creatively and abstractly, to measure and question and go back to the old system. -Of tooth and claw, of killing and hiding from killers. Of the perpetual hunt. -Sure, there will be no galaxy-class starships to be had, but damn it, that old stuff works!
And we feel the presence of that system every day. We experience it as an ever-present series of choices. The old brain takes input from the world around us, does so faster by orders of magnitude than the new brain, and it instantly provides courses of action to any given situation, sometimes very strongly; "Do the thing which brings you closer to killing rather than being killed, mating rather than not mating, comfort over discomfort. Do that thing! Do it now!"
The New Brain, the Human alternative, provides us with something else, that something which other creatures do not have, (or have in very prototypical terms; Elephants and dogs and cats and primates and a few others display compassion and reason in vestiges), the ability to put a pin in the Old Brain's advice and instead, pause before acting. -To subject the incoming stimulus to an extra and more complex level of processing, allowing us to decide to do something other than bite and claw and fuck. Because maybe survival and biological success includes something more. A higher dimension of reality is granted access to us.
This is the summons from the New Brain. "Maybe there is something more. Look. Decide."
And it must win against the Old Way.
Tribalism is what we call "herding" when we are not looking at Humans. When we are counting sheep. It is called "pack mentality" when we look at groups of hunting animals.
And herds and packs survive! There is strength in the Tribe.
But the human tribe is more than a pack of dogs or a herd of sheep, we know this; a human tribe uses the old systems common in the animal kingdom, yes, but it also tries to include the new cognitive range inherent in the human animal. The concept of belief. And so the human tribe takes that advanced ability to understand reality, that fabulous new power, but mis-uses it. Tribal brains are working at a million year evolutionary disadvantage. Like a monkey using a laptop computer to crack open a walnut, the Tribal brain does the best it can with it.., but really the old brain is simply ill-equipped to use it properly. Tribalism understands first and foremost that all the members have to act as one in order to survive, and thus the members of the tribe must all carry the same beliefs. And while this can be enormously infuriating when priority is so casually given to group uniformity over factual accuracy, the tribal mind really is trying its level best to act in good faith.
The problem is that from the perspective of the modern human, the tribal mind is getting the priority levels all mixed up. It places far less importance on the factual accuracy of its beliefs than it does on it simply being collectively beleived by all members. The social binding power it understands as critical comes from differentiating between Member of the Tribe and.., Other. -And those same million years of bloody survival have proven the case. And we feel it, boy! Deep down inside? Being cast out of the group strikes a host of 'bad feels' into the gut and heart! That program is hardwired!
What about facts? What about actually being right? Surely there is value in being actually not completely wrong about something? Surely, there must!
And this is the source of friction we all experience when we question tribal beliefs.
Try it sometime:
Question climate change, human-made or no? (The Environment we live in.)
Question food, carbs or fats? (The Fuel which sustains life.)
Question medicine, vaccinations or no? (The way we deal with life-destroying disease.)
Question sexuality and reproduction. Is gay okay? (The way we keep life going.)
There is a reason these are able to create such storms of outrage. The Old Brain doesn't want to mess around with something tried and true. These are the pillars of survival! It wants solid answers, no mucking about. Mistakes can mean the end of a species!
Just considering that list, I bet some of you are feeling heat in the chest, pupils dilating in readiness to defend or attack.
Using the powers of the neo cortex, we have come to advanced understandings of these subjects. We have adopted new norms of understanding, and once settled upon, for right or wrong, our old brains seize upon them and make them iron clad. It happens faster than we might think, but once set, the mind rebels against any change, and it does so using the only system it has at its disposal. Pain and Pleasure.
Once a piece of belief has been settled upon as the Right Way, it hurts, -actually- hurts (you can measure it on brain scan equipment) to make choices which run in opposition. -To even entertain opposing ideas as possibilities. The Old Brain cries out, "NO! Have some Pain!"
And when you relent and say, "Sorry. No. Sorry. Here is a way of thinking which allows me to keep doing the thing we previously believe in," we are rewarded, again measurably, with pleasure.
New Thinking is painful. That's simply how it is.
The outcry in society over challenged notions, the protest rallies, the lynch mobs, these are expressions of this process unfolding across whole cultures. -Groups will attack the dissenting voice, spurred on by the Old Brain. Savagery is a programmed response, stemming from the survival instinct. And it is rewarded. It feels good to kill that which challenges the tribal belief. The hunger to kill the Other feels good.
We've all seen this process.
In an outraged crowd or movement, certain individuals particularly attuned to seeking this form of pleasure, become very good at the kill. The kill becomes more important than the reason for the kill. As with any form of pleasure-seeking, some people focus on certain types of pleasure more than others, seek to attain it with more skill and determination.
It is this unspoken driving force from which fascism arises, from which movements originally built from genuine concerns are redirected, re-purposed to the fulfillment of the new goal. The bloodlust to destroy becomes a primary motivational force, with the ideology itself being merely incidental. The Nazis turned on each other at the end. Who isn't Sieg Heiling with enough snap in their posture? There's the next meal.
I remember once while reading about gay rights, about the history of that grand experiment, from somewhere deep in the middle of all the arguments and activism, one member paused to voice up from a sea of anger and frustration, from the mine field of legal questions and political stances, he said.., "Do you remember, years ago, when being part of the gay community was, you know.., a lot more fun..? I remember it being a lot more fun."
That's just one example.
Now the thing I'm currently interested in questioning has been the Western stance on Russia.
What could be more tribal than War?
It is the fifth pillar! -Along with Food and Sex.
Survival isn't just eating and sleeping, it is also about not getting killed by predators, by predating first. It is about recognizing and strategizing against the Other.
It's important in the Jungle. And so doing it well is paramount in the Old Brain. So it creates a hunger for it. And, once again, it is rewarded in the only ways it knows how.
It feels good to create an other. And to kill it.
The problem is that with the expanded powers afforded to the Human animal, when we decide to create an other and to kill it as a group, the resulting scene isn't just played out in nature as it is between lions and hyenas battling on the veldt. When Humans go to war, the world literally threatens to shake apart.
Where winning meant survival in the animal kingdom, in the Human world, those same impulses can produce the opposite effects, limiting our growth as a species; anti-survival. The very systems bourn from the need to continue viability in life instead drive us to suppress the creative expression of whole nations, of entire peoples. To even risk extinction in nuclear fire.
Sure, there are winners and losers in the old system, spoils of war, and all that. Raping armies seeding their "successful" genes across new lands, while plundering resources and riches. That's the old way. And sure, it works. But it seems to me that the Human species is probably doing itself a disservice by sticking to the old ways.
The Neo Cortex, in providing all of this power to re-shape the world, also provides the solution to these problems.
Maybe we ought to trust more in the process of questioning. Maybe the pain of being wrong is one we ought to embrace rather than deny. A little pain in the brain from facing difficult questions inevitably leads to bright awakenings. New truths revealed. New possibilities. -Even if it is just to confirm existing beliefs, (it happens). -It leads to cognitive strength, as beliefs slowly fall into line with objective reality. And that is the goal. To get our beliefs to line up with objective reality. To believe in truth over lies.
The person who knows reality as it truly is can navigate successfully through it, doesn't have to run into brick walls and then pretend it was somebody else's fault. There is a reason we watch in awe the grace of those YouTube parkour runners as they dance across seas of rooftops, making even Spiderman's CGI acrobatics seem a little unimaginative by comparison. Those same human-attainable super powers can be achieved in all areas of life, but only if we learn to respect the objective reality of walls and rooftops and obstacles rather than pretend they are something different, or not there at all, -or there when they are not.
Wolfville, Nova Scotia,
Dec 22nd, 2016