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"Innate, or Not"

     Is what ails humanity innately human, or is it a function of
what has come to be the dominant culture?  Warfare, for example. 
Spokespersons for our culture all say war is simply a universal
human activity, that the inclination to mass murder is in
everybody's genes, that the world is a dangerous place and that
there's nothing we can do about it except make sure we're on the
winning side henceforth.  At first glance it seems to be simply
so.  But then I find myself wondering about it.
     We know when and where war was invented, shortly after the
invention of the state, in Mesopotamia, less than ten thousand
years ago.  Fighting, and ritualized fighting, which almost all
humans do, are not the same thing.  Perhaps ruthless all-out war-
mongering is a characteristic of only those cultures which can be
traced back directly to those dim beginnings:  Sumerian,
Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Muslim, and Christian.   Our
so-called "Western" culture, the crowning glory of that
remarkable line, is now in the process of crushing all the other
     Since that's so, perhaps what we take for granted as being
innate has only the appearance of being universal and merely
human.  Not all known cultures have been like this one.  Some
have emphasized solidarity and sharing and even hospitality
toward strangers.  It was that last trait which proved fatal
whenever representatives of this now-dominant culture interfered,
for example, in Peru, Mexico or Massachusetts.  In every case
kindness toward the Christian European invaders led to disaster
for the kind ones.
     So, if the mass slaughter war thing is really a cultural
trait and not an innate one, maybe there is still hope for
humanity.  In our own time and place war has become mostly a
business, and most military maneuvers are really budget ploys. 
Also, the technology of war has reached the point where it now
threatens all other business, so perhaps business will be the
agency to shut it down.  Nations obviously cannot, probably
because nations were invented to tend to the war thing in the
first place, so they can't imagine getting along without it.  But 
business doesn't like the way war interferes with making money.
     This culture likes to conquer things and has attempted the
"conquest of nature."  It has been a total failure.  Hurricanes,
fires, floods, quickly evolving microbes and Malthus' irrefutable
arithmetic comparing population and the food supply indicate that
this irresistible predominant culture is doomed.
     The prospect is grim, but perhaps not hopeless.  Perhaps,
there is hope, after a very unpleasant massive die-off, which I
really think is now inevitable, given the massive "moral
influence" of Popes and Fundamentalists of all kinds.  After that
die-off, perhaps a new culture could arise, which is not based on
greed, self-aggrandizement, falsehood and war.  Perhaps we could
return to solidarity and respect for nature and nature's ruthless
honesty.  I believe that those things, and not our war-loving
tendencies, is what enabled this species to survive the Ice Ages. 
Maternal instincts and nurturing instincts are there, and perhaps
they are even more basic than the instinct to kill.
     There have been die-offs before, even mass-extinctions.  Our
culture is now driving many other species into extinction, but I
am coming to believe that the Biosphere Itself will perhaps find
a way to survive.  "Life will find a way," says my son, Andy, who
has studied biology carefully.  The problem is it will require
more time than our culture is capable of taking seriously.  
     We now look at the bottom line of the three-month balance
sheet, and we can't even count to 100 correctly.  In contrast,
the half-life of plutonium is 25,000 years, which means it is
still lethal after 250,000 years.  Nevertheless our culture
continues to play with it, as if our three score and ten, or four
score, or even five score, could be compared to that.
     Mark Twain said that everybody complained about the weather
but nobody did anything about it.  But we humans were all busy
making it worse, when he said that, with our various ways of
combusting carbon.  Now the culture knows enough to see that we
absolutely must do something about the weather, that is, reverse
our impact on it.  But we can't, and we can't stop the war thing, 
and can't divert the three hundred billion dollars a year to make
funds available to do what needs to be done, which is convert to
wind and solar.
     This is a remarkable species, capable of marvelous feats of
intellectual accomplishment, but the ability to set aside certain
unpleasant plain facts is also impressive and may yet prove more
basic and more fatal even than the war-mongering. 

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Copyright © 2000 Harry Willson

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