Number 53, August 15, 1999
"Cletus Berserker"

Rain, Kropotkin and Y2K -- Reel Human Nature

by L. Reichard White

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

           My son Adam and his family were in a record downpour yesterday. It reminded me of Kropotkin.
           Adam and family live in Castle Shannon, Pennsylvania, which received more than four inches of rain, pretty much all at once. It knocked out the electricity, and as a result, water service as well. Adam told me he felt he'd just been through a rehearsal for Y2K. He said it was an eye-opener in more ways than one.
           The teenagers across the way, who'd been partying (conservatively) for the whole week -- their parents were on vacation -- complained to Adam that they couldn't take a shower. His mother-in-law, unable to fix food at home, went out to eat -- but couldn't find anything open. She skipped a meal. Getting along without electricity and water pointed out how dependent we Americans have gotten, and how ill prepared we are for dealing with the world when we lack outside connections.
           But more of an eye-opener was how the neighborhood dealt with the situation. One guy had a large cooler complete with beer, and, rather than letting it get warm and skunky, he said, everyone should drink some. Another neighbor with steaks in a freezer, which might well thaw and spoil, threw some on another neighbor's propane barbecue and shared them with everyone. No one knew the electricity would only be off for four hours.
           Adam is gregarious, but this was the first time he'd ever met many of his neighbors -- and he's lived at his present address for more than five years. The "emergency" turned out to be more like a block party. This wasn't a fluke but rather a natural occurrence with its basis built into the human genome. That Castle Shannon "block party" was the beginning of a process that causes us humans to pull together, especially in times of emergency. This effect is well documented.
           A similar experience turned privileged Russian nobleman Petr Alexeivich Kropotkin into the "Anarchist Prince." During a geographical mapping trip to Eastern Siberia, he discovered that especially under the harshest of conditions, people naturally pulled together, cooperated, and kept each other alive. This was in sharp contrast to the Hobbsian "war of all against all" he'd been taught to expect. As a result of his experience, he became a life-long anarchist, eschewing authority of any sort.
           In real life, and especially in the anthropologically small groups in which our ancestors evolved, things had to get really serious for cooperation to turn into "every man for himself," let alone "all against all," and such a situation, if not fatal, was only very temporary. We inherited our genes from these ancestors, and even today survivors regroup and continue pretty much as before.
           Like most of us, Kropotkin had uncritically accepted Darwinian distortions depicting human nature as destructive and violent when actually, especially in times of emergency, the opposite is true. These distorted notions are exacerbated by the fact that intergroup violence sometimes results from hierarchist leadership ego clashes, but even these happen only when groups are, anthropologically speaking, quite large -- say larger than 50. Perhaps not coincidentally, these notions of a destructive "human nature" are used to buttress the notion of the necessity of "government."
           However there's a problem unique to the so-called "modern" age: Peaceful, cooperative individuals aren't often dramatic enough to be the basis of novels, TV shows, or movies, which is why we invariably get a steady diet of conflict and violence of various sorts in the media. I admit it: "The Waltons" often gets boring. I'm addicted to action movies. "News," best regarded as a rather specialized entertainment medium -- especially here in America -- also counts on these sorts of things to make it interesting. We might call this economically based bias driving the entertainment business the "dramatic imperative," in that "drama" is imperative for the media to stay in business. Video games, which now produce more income than Hollywood, are another extension of this violent "dramatic imperative."
           Think about it. How many times in your life, excepting military service in time of war, have you personally witnessed or been part of an incident of serious violence? Reading about such incidents or viewing them on TV or in the movies doesn't count. So how many times? Once? Twice? Many people I've asked can't think of even one. Even most cops never shoot anyone during their whole career.
           The problem is, of course, that we subliminally begin to accept the violent, destructive model of human nature decreed by entertainment's "dramatic imperative" as the true one. Our filters get tuned to focus on those violent aspects of human nature which do exist. Life imitates art, and Clinton bombs Iraq, Algeria, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Yugoslavia. And that's just in the first half of this year. As of 25 Jul., 1999, he's still periodically bombing Iraq.
           Actually, this type of violent behavior by so-called governments is very common. Government is by far the most prevalent source of violence in human society:
           New York, NY - An early July column in the Wall Street Journal by R.J. Rummel confirmed what most libertarians already know: that government is the biggest scourge of mankind. According to Rummel's research, governments of all kinds ... have killed 119 million people in the twentieth century. The second runner up, war (also sponsored by governments, usually) has killed "only" 35.7 million. -- American Libertarian Vol. 1 no. 2, Aug. 1986, pg. 8
           This record has been "improved" since Rummel's 1986 research -- in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Bosnia, Iraq (200,000+), Guatemala, Chechnya (100,000+), Somalia, Ruwanda, Grenada, East Timor, Panama, Kosovo 1999, Yugoslavia 1999 (7000+), Waco (60+), etc. You can see Rummel's research for yourself at http://www2.hawaii.edu/~rummel/20TH.HTM. Amnesty International claims the government kill figure is now closer to 200 million (200,000,000).
           Excepting such government-caused distortions, most "natural" human violence results from so-called "clique selfishness," that is, our attempts to take care of our own small group (family, tribe, etc.) -- and territoriality. Based on social-dilemma studies, psychologist Marilynn B. Brewer of the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that if the sense of belonging and identity provided by small groups is essential to human functioning, then "clique selfishness" may well be more powerful than even the most rabid individual self-interest. [1] I would never steal or kill for myself -- but my family, my tribe is hurting.
           It's the nearly always unnecessary clashes between today's super-groups, based on our small group "selfish clique" instincts to try to take care of our own, which create the most violence in the relatively crowded modern world. I would suggest that identification with such super-groups, groups larger than the number of people you can know face-to-face, is unrealistic. I'm being kind, it's delusional. The most dysfunction of these delusional identifications are with so-called "national" and "racial" super-groups, and it is these imaginary alliances which provide governments the genetically based psychological foundation upon which to build their horrific record.
           If selfishness and altruism both emanate from humanity's evolved capacity for social navigation within small groups, "there's good reason to suspect the same psychological mechanisms account for the most inspiring intellectual achievements and the most discouraging failures of reason, the noblest of moral acts and the lowest of inhumane cruelties," [psychologist Linnda R.] Caporael says. [2]
           In many cases, the difference between the "noblest of moral acts" and "the lowest of inhumane cruelties" depends on which side of the battlefield, which government sponsored armed group, you're viewing them from.
           These days, "clique selfishness" often has economic underpinnings. Turf wars over drug territories are an example. And, speaking of drugs, the perception of human nature as violent is certainly enhanced by the American establishment's obsessive and moronic "war on drugs." Crime statistics prove that at least 60% of crimes against property -- and a large percentage of drive-by shootings and other murders as well -- are directly caused by the counter-productive anti-drug laws. That is, at least half of all so-called "crime" in American society -- and half the chance you and your family will be harmed by it -- is created out of nothing by the entirely idiotic "anti-drug laws."
           And the worst cliques -- because we can't control them by the economic means we use to control most other groups -- are government cliques.
           On the whole and by nature, people are remarkably peaceable. There are many historical pointers to this fact, but they conflict with our "dramatic imperative" government-excusing subliminal models of human nature, and so are regularly discounted as fallacious or just out-and-out ignored. For example, rather than raid their neighbors and/or the English food storehouses during the "potato famine," droves of Irish villagers instead lay down and quietly starved to death.
           American "indians" had an entirely unwarranted reputation for cruelty and violence, created almost entirely by entertainment's "dramatic imperative." Less biased research shows something else: Compared to the white man, indians were war wimps:
           New England's first Indian war, the Pequot War of 1636-37, provides a case study of the intensified warfare Europeans brought to America. Allied with the Narragansetts, traditional enemies of the Pequots, the colonists attacked at dawn. ... The slaughter shocked the Narragansetts, who had wanted merely to subjugate the Pequots, not exterminate them. The Narragansetts reproached the English for their style of warfare, crying, "It is naught, it is naught, because it is too furious, and slays too many men." In turn, Capt. John Underhill scoffed, saying that the Narragansett style of fighting was "more for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies." Underhill's analysis of the role of warfare in Narragansett society was correct, and might accurately be applied to other tribes as well. Through the centuries, whites frequently accused their Native allies of not fighting hard enough. -- James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, (New York, NY: Touchstone 1996), p. 118
           Here's a more current example from the recent NATO bombings: ABC reporters record that their first impressions are of the quiet, rather than the roar of anger you might expect [from the crowds of displaced Kosovar Albanians.] "There is no talk of revenge, and these people are incredibly gentle." -- ABC This Week, 4 Apr. 1999, 11:57:36 AM EST
           Perhaps in some cases, people are too peaceable. It may have been this perception which led Thomas Jefferson to pen: "... all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." -- Declaration of Independence [3]
           There are two models of human nature haunting our society -- the one based on entertainment's "dramatic imperative" abetted by chronic government-related violence, the other, the more peaceful one, firmly rooted in our human genetic reality. Is it reel human nature - - - - or is it real human nature?
           Which do you operate by?


[1] Bruce Bower, "Getting Out From Number One," Science News, April 28, 1990, p. 267.
[2] Ibid. pp. 266 & 267
[3] Nonetheless, the founders did right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they had become accustomed.

L. Reichard White lives six houses up from the old Black Horse Tavern, a birth place of the Whiskey Rebellion -- which explains a lot. He has supported his writing habit for over twenty years by beating casinos at their own games.

Libertarian to the Core?

"He's responsible for his behavior whether I'm there or 100 miles away -- it is their (the person's) responsibility whether it's gambling, drinking or women. Nobody can do it for you."

-- Hillary Rodham and Howe

Source: http://abcnews.go.com/sections/politics/PoliticalNation/pn_hillary990801.html

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