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We Are Not As Evolved As We Think



David Adams • Irish Times, 15 September 2006

Lying deep within the human psyche is a belief that man's experience-driven evolutionary journey is inexorable and all-encompassing.

This leads us to assume that the self-destructive nature of conflict will eventually push us into learning how to live in peaceful co-existence with one another.

This innate conviction is of certain value as a coping mechanism: it allows us to deal with the unpalatable present by giving us hope for the future. And, undoubtedly, by encouraging us to think that our development is constant and comprehensive, it helps us to come to terms with the past.

Not least, in this respect, it elevates us to an imagined position of evolved superiority from where we can survey with relatively comfortable detachment the blood-soaked wreckage of even recent historical figures.

We are able to look downwards as well as backwards with bemusement at the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and their cronies, as though studying the antics of a primitive sub-species.

But the notion of comprehensive human development is a self-serving delusion. For, in terms of managing human relationships, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that mankind does progress. In fact, all history points to us holding a fixed position.

The chances of a bloody dictator like Hitler again coming to power and seeking to wreak international havoc are no less now than they were in the last or any other century, and they will remain the same into the future.

It can be argued with justification that, in different parts of the world at present, many such people are already in powerful positions, busy making mayhem at a local level and curtailed only by circumstance from realising their full potential on a much wider stage.

Our only progression in the field of human interaction, it appears, is in finding reasons to do battle and in developing new forms of conflict.

Wars used to be fought mainly between opposing nations. Then, during an all-too-brief lull, intra-national conflict was born, and became an ever-present. Now, without fixed allegiance to any nation-state, al-Qaeda and its various offshoots have introduced yet another variant: extra-national conflict.

That there are currently more wars happening in the world than at any time in the past is a measure of how incapable we actually are of learning certain lessons.

During the past century, we had barely emerged from the first World War before embarking on the second.

As soon as this battle between fascism and freedom was ended, it was immediately replaced by a world-encompassing struggle between communism and capitalism.

With its end, we have now reverted from a stand-off on political ideology to a pre- enlightenment-style theological confrontation between those of differing religious convictions.

That religion has again become one of the main engines driving widespread, large-scale warfare is both an indicator of lack of human progression and of how easily we unlearn lessons as soon as they become inconvenient.

In the West, we consider ourselves to have travelled a good deal further along the evolutionary road than other societies. This, too, does not stand up to a little examination.

At a macro level, it hardly needs pointing out that many of the leading western nations are once again embroiled in warfare in various parts of the world. But, even at a micro level, there is little to suggest that we have managed to evolve much further either.

As civilised as we might imagine ourselves in the West to be, in the main our centres of population are no less dangerous for inhabitants and visitors alike than most cities and towns in the "Third" World. Beneath a thin veneer of supposed sophistication, the threat and frequency of violence is at least a part of everyday life here as it ever was.

Our advancement in the fields of science, medicine and technology, aided no end by geographical position, is no proof of greater evolutionary strides either.

I believe it true that the West's liberal democratic system is the most advanced form of governance, but it is not without shortcomings.

It leaves governments, whatever their promises, with a virtual free hand to wage war during their term of office - and too often they take full advantage of the opportunity.

As Tony Benn remarked: "Democracy's greatest strength lies not in being able to vote people into office, but rather, in being able to vote them out again."

Whatever our advancements, we are still primarily motivated by base instincts such as greed, lust for power and hatred of difference. Those fixed fundamentals, more than anything else, lead us into conflict.

We are deluding ourselves in believing that we can move beyond what we have always been.


Reprinted with permission from the author.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

25 September 2006

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