The Unbearable Weight of our Nature - 3

Being without the anxiety of becoming No. 3

Human beings are survivors. Our species has been on the planet for a split second of geological time and throughout that brief history we have known feuds, vendettas and wars. From brief tribal conflicts to warring States engaged in bloody conflict lasting decades, to world conflagrations of mass destruction. And all of this is part and parcel of our nature.

Human beings are curious and creative creatures: some however, are more curious and creative than others.

Human beings experience, on a daily basis, many unconscious cognitive biases.

Human beings can be loving and kind. Human beings can also be ultra violent. It seems, at times however, that we are obsessed with violence.

And the show must go on.

The lucky ones among us can peer out through our television sets and bemoan the tragic effects of the dark side of our nature on people far away. We sit in wonder, disappointment and horror at the violent habits of humankind (or here, perhaps, it would be more correct to say mankind). We hope the turmoil will end, or we just want it to go away by some miracle; we may feel helpless, and we may believe there’s nothing we can do. These feelings are only nature after all.

Geopolitics is complex. In light of the current, most recent, “troubles” in Israel and Gaza I’d like to share some reading I’m engaged in as I try to understand the context of the conflict, and as I try to imagine that there could be an end to all of this. I’m reading papers I think are well referenced and “balanced”, and I’m trying not taking sides. I’m keeping an open mind and all that. Like most people, I think it’s simply tragic and I wish there were a way to fix it, but after watching this go on since the 1970s I’m fairly certain, that in my lifetime anyway, we’ll be seeing this conflict erupt again and again.

It's real life for Jews and Palestinians in the Mideast and Diaspora, to share a certain symbolic life.  A mosaic of tiles with an olive tree in an obviously bio-dynamic garden. So when do we plant Eden?

It's real life for Jews and Palestinians in the Mideast and Diaspora, to share a certain symbolic life. A mosaic of tiles with an olive tree in an obviously bio-dynamic garden. So when do we plant Eden?

First a quick anecdote: the other night I was sharing a drink with some friends. This group is truly international and one of my friends is an Israeli. As we talked about the violence in the Middle East my Israeli friend started throwing pebbles at me (pebbles = missiles) and being engaged in a heated discussion with another person I kept telling him to stop. “Hey buddy, quit it.” But he just kept hurling little pebbles at me. Then I turned to him, and more emphatically said, “Now stop it”! He looked at me and said, “I rest my case”.

What’s a good come back to that? Should I have just started throwing pebbles back at him until we got into a fistfight to the death? My comeback was, “I hear you man”. And that was that.

Like most people interested in history, I read my fair share of books about warfare and wars. All I know from my reading is that despite all the wars throughout history, not one, in the long run, will have lead to anything that would justify to a mother, the loss of her child. Not really. I mean for those of us left standing after the dust clears we can and mostly will justify what happened so we can live with our grief and horror – that’s human nature. But those responsible for starting and fueling conflicts never, ever really achieve their ultimate goals. With the exception of having to fend off an aggressive attack on your homeland, war is good for nothing. And you’re right, I’m not going to tell a troop of Viking raiders that. But I ask you, what kind of 21st Century do we want?

Oh sure, conflict has given us motivation for invention, innovation, and has focused resources on the development of new technologies. Competitive conflict also gives us a place to hang our pride.


However, history is not linear; it’s stochastic, fumbling, haphazard and messy and perhaps, not even real (I’m not making a post modernist quip here). When we look back with our post hoc, just so, reasoning, we’ll be compelled to make up stories, sometimes based on good evidence, that try to make sense of events; we’ll find patterns that help us understand and justify our actions, and then we’ll neatly wrap our legends in a nice shiny package that corresponds with our conventional worldview. And above all, we’ll make things fit our cultural narrative. We’ll make sure our pride stays in tact. We’ll guard our identity like it’s been written in stone by you know who. And no matter how we spin it, we’ll all be calling the kettle black.

Human beings are proud creatures.

Much has been written about the pattern-seeking ape. Michael Shermer gives a good description of our patter seeking proclivities in his books, “Why People Believe in Weird Things” and “The Science of Good and Evil”.

But I digress, just a little bit, however I’m still on the major topic of Human Nature.

Has anyone watched the series Gangland about gangs in the United States? There’s a new season for 2014. I guess it’s going to be a long running show. And there you have it, under certain circumstances people can click-up and become quite brutal, and what do you know, it’s all about territory, brotherhood, family, self defense and respect. WOW!

This kind of tribal warfare still exists in the cities of America. Heck, this exists all over the world. And, I guess, we can tolerate it, because we still haven’t found a sociocultural, sociopolitical, or human health solution to the problem of gangs. Focus on the Family hasn’t stopped it, and neither have liberal academics. The police state can’t stem the tide, special forces are impotent in the face of the onslaught, we don’t have enough prisons to house everyone we don’t like either, despite prisons being a good investment. We beg God for mercy and call him great and still it continues. We, human beings, of great and triumphant cultures, have not even had the will to get to the root causes of the problem. But there it is, tribal violence of many kinds afflict the nations of the world, and again, this despite THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE.

(And when the Cold War ended where did all the nukes go? More than enough ICBMs to do the job are still there pointing at us. My face! Not my beautiful face!)

I can’t tell you why this is. I’m simply not qualified. I’ve read books about primitive tribes in Borneo, Iwo Jima, mythology, religion, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience and science fiction and I’m still no closer to answering the question: Why do we tolerate this?

World religions and various flavors of secular humanist worldviews all stake a claim that they value morals and ethics, and still, within the tradeoffs we inevitably must make, we seem to stomach violence just enough to never get down to the real causes of violence and root them out.

And having said that, I still think we might be able to get there somehow, but I also feel that some of us are inherently more sensitive to the tragic effects of violence than others. Some people may have a genetic makeup that favors compassion and empathy just a little more than others. Such is the variety of humankind and our dichotomous nature. (I must include a whole lot of middle here too, but the good vs. evil thing is just so entrenched.) And how can you grow up to be peaceful when you've grown up in hell?

In my humble… Here are a couple of places you might find some good information about the perennial conflict in Israel and Gaza. I must emphasize that I am not wise enough, informed enough, or inclined to take sides. I have friends from all sides. The people I know are good people. I’m stuck in the middle in the maelstrom of rationalizations. I’m not religious, but it seems that all I can do is pray for it to end. I’m hoping that clever Globe Hackers will find a way to improve the systems that still allow for things like this to happen. We are adversarial creatures – I know that – and our institutions are there to temper our tendency to get into dangerous conflicts with each other.  Yes Thomas Hobbes, I know that. And yes, nothing’s perfect, I get that, I’m just saying…

Now I must beseech you to please click on all the hyperlinks and read a little bit. I know we’re all busy, but if you just have a look it might help things in some remote and mysterious way. Look at all sides of the complex issues involved and think about it a while, and then, when someone starts throwing pebbles at you, you might be able to find a solution that would benefit the hurler and the pelted. You might find a way for the tit-for-tat to end. I think all people are potential agents for good. People are our most valuable resource. If they are treated well, understood and loved they can create great things that all of humanity can appreciate. I know, I know – I’m just saying…

A pro Israel perspective:


A Joint Perspective:

PALESTINE - ISRAEL JOURNAL of Politics, Economics and Culture

And of course we always have Noam Chompsky to weigh in:

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Hub Radio

The University of the West of England, April 23, 2008

And why not include Chris Hedges:


And one more from Chris Hedges, just incase you think he doesn't have the creds to be talking about the region. 

I know where to get the party lines from; I know the conventional thinking about all of this, which amounts to not thinking about it at all really. We try to simplify complex things – that’s human nature. We try to rationalize our positions – that’s human nature. We find convenient patterns that confirm our biases – that’s human nature. We defend our group’s position – that’s human nature.

So does anyone out there have a feasible “hack” for this particular problem

There is only one way to hack our nature - know your nature.

Please do share.




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Steven Cleghorn

Steven is an autodidact, skeptic, raconteur and film producer from America who has been traveling since he was a zygote. He's a producer at The Muse Films Ltd. in Hong Kong and a constantly improving (hopefully) Globe Hacker. He's seeks the company of interesting minds.