Since pop culture seems to generate page views, I’m going to make a reference to a graphic novel that is almost 30 years old, but don’t worry because it has a film adaptation from only six years ago. I am nothing if not topical and relevant here at Blog for Chumps. I refer of course to Watchmen. If you haven’t read/watched it in the time that it has been around, then I sincerely doubt you care that I’m about to spoil it for you.

Anyway, the premise is that humanity is about to kill itself. It’s set during the Cold War era, and it is assumed that America and Russia are going to nuke the shit out of one another. This story is actually super philosophical in its telling, and each character represents a different outlook on human nature. However, the unifying principle is that mankind is a savage beast, and the characters can only act with that principle to guide them. The Comedian embraces the savagery, and revels in the chaos and violence that naturally occurs in society. Rorschach uses the savagery against itself, hoping to use fire to quell the flames. Ozymandias realizes that nothing can actually stop the barbarity of humanity, and so he devises a plot to use it to secure peace: he utilizes the Us vs. Them conflict mentality and creates an outside hostile force (how he personifies that force depends on your medium) that unites humanity against it. Hilariously, the character representing God is only ever a puppet of the government or the ego-maniacal power monger.

Must we accept this basic premise, though? Are we naught but savages? There is a theory that says that life is not based upon conflict but on symbiosis. Natural ecosystems function because each individual species plays a specific and significant role in its upkeep. Predators and prey can never overwhelmingly succeed over the other because of a mutual need to survive, and so when life is in balance, they don’t. Even human beings are covered in tiny microorganisms which call us their home, without whom we would perish pretty much instantly. If life is based on symbiosis, then interdependence would be our natural modus operandi instead of conflict. Human beings today, and throughout history, attempt to reject this natural way of life, and this is why we live in conflict both with the world and ourselves. The basic premise of Taoism teaches similar ideology of not straying into discord by maintaining our natural selves. There are also many examples of pre-civilization humans and aboriginal tribes who lived in harmony with nature and were able to function on egalitarian basis, and it was only with the advent of agriculture, and therefore the accumulation of wealth, that humanity began its downward spiral into jackassery.

I mean, this might make it seem obvious that a communist revolution would ultimately lead to peace and goodwill among men. Get rid of accumulated wealth, and the discord will disappear. However, I don’t think it’s as easy as that. As early as Plato’s Republic have people been aware that material wealth leads to corruption and oppression. Possibly even earlier, I don’t know. That’s just the earliest book I’ve read that mentions it. If we knew of the problem over 2500 years ago and it still seems to be around, perhaps it hints at our natural disposition towards it.

I was once told that capitalism was a relatively recent construction, and therefore its hold over society was not as tenable as our one percenters would try to assure us that it is. It’s true enough; Wealth of Nations only came out in 1776, and deregulated Capitalism 2.0 was only as recent as Reaganomics. But if you recognize capitalism as the relationship between politicians, wealthy business owners, and everyone else, you would realize there have been rulers, aristocrats, and plebeians since the dawn of civilization, and the only differences throughout history have been how those three groups interact.

Capitalism is power over others gained by the acquisition of monetary wealth. In Soviet Russia, power was gained by political clout. In medieval Catholicism it was measured in spirituality. Throughout most of history it has been measured in the quantity of land. Hell, even in high school power over others is based on popularity; the accumulation of social status. We seem to create hierarchies in all aspects of our social culture, at every period in time, which lends credence to the argument that there will always be some form of oppression in our midst. Even if we somehow manage to create an egalitarian, harmonious society, all it would take would be one individual to disrupt and fracture it and the cycle would begin anew. As much social progress as Shah Akbar created as the ruler of India or Caesar Augustus in Rome, it was only a few generations before it all went to shit.

Niccolò Machiavelli points out that the goals of the aristocracy are always to increase their lot in life, and the goals of the people are simply not to be oppressed, to live out their lives unencumbered by the machinations of the elite. It is up to the rulers to decide how that dichotomy will play out, and rulers are not always good ones.

Is human existence as simple as a dualism between two factions to be refereed by an overseeing body? The proletariat and the bourgeoisie is but one example, but there are many. Criminals versus law enforcement. Men versus women. Young versus old. Black versus white.

In Ancient Greece, we coined the word ‘barbarian’ which meant someone who wasn’t Greek. ‘Barbarian’ comes from the strange ‘bar-bar’ language that outsiders would speak. This xenophobic blanket term carries on even today, when we have words like the pejorative Yid to denote someone of Yiddish descent, or Chink to ridicule the speech of the Chinese with their strange ‘bar-bar’ language. Nigger simply means black, making something as trivial as the tint of one’s skin to be one of the most significant aspects of their lives. Even my titular ‘savage’ comes from a slur for the “uncivilized” natives that European explorers found in the new world.

This Us versus Them dualistic conflict is of course overly simplistic. There are always players on the fringes that choose not to be involved, or barter for cooperation, or switch teams, or whatever, but it seems that majority of people in one group with their own culture, mores and beliefs will inherently reject or oppress those in another. These groups could be class, race, religion, gender, sports team, gaming console, favourite Quentin Tarantino movie…

Gay marriage was just legalized in the United States, and yet, the acceptance of Muslims is decreasing at an alarming rate. From my own experience, I saw this:

The views expressed in this image are not necessarily shared by the author of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

about a month ago walking down the street. We can all think that love will conquer all until we realize that that puts us into conflict with those who disagree, and there will always be those who disagree. Even relativism assumes absolutely that relativism is the proper method of thought.

This… this is why I’m cynical. Do we really need a Them to unify us as an Us? Machiavelli tells us that the quickest way to unite warring factions within a city is to attack it. Well, warns us, really; this is told in the context of whether or not it would be a good time to invade. Does that make Ozymandias correct? Is world peace only achievable by some outside, imminently hostile and powerful force? Bertrand Russell in his book The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism points out that a discrepancy in wealth is tolerable so long as everyone has enough. Is that really the best we can hope for if no egalitarian society is possible? Must we be satisfied with “good enough” if the perfect utopia is truly unattainable outside of more conflict?

Charles Eisenstein is a contemporary thinker that is a proponent of the “life as symbiosis” argument that I explained earlier. He argues that we don’t rape and pillage our neighbour not because of the laws in place that tell us we shouldn’t, but because we naturally are against that type of practice. Which again is true, for most people, but there will always be exceptions and it is those exceptions that have to be regulated in order for society to function as best as it can; be it a rapist, a capitalist, or an inquisitor. Life may be symbiotic and interdependent in nature, as the example of a functioning ecosystem clearly shows, but that does not mean that the species within that ecosystem will necessarily exude that characteristic. Typical prey animals without a predator will without fail over-consume to the point of self-caused extinction (you could argue that humans getting rid of the predators would make it our fault, but we didn’t force the deer into overpopulation once all the wolves were gone), and that could just be the perfect metaphor for our human achievement. Maybe the reason early tribes were equitable societies was because they had predators to keep them in line, and now we’re just unhunted squirrels hoarding our nuts because we’re biologically-inclined to think that the winter frost is on its way.

I am not one to endorse biotruths of any kind, so please keep in mind that my last few examples are conjecture at best.

Nietzsche describes human nature as the Will to Power; Freud describes it as the Will to Eros/Thanatos; Sartre, the Will to Freedom; Frankl’s Will to Meaning; and Schopenhauer’s Will. Each thinker in their observations of humanity makes valid points towards the disposition of our being, and in all likelihood a single Will to Anything is probably untrue. Human beings are complex, if nothing else, and an amalgamation of many of their ideas is probably closest to the truth. Even if one drive is stronger in one individual than another, those drives will always exist. Is it possible to overcome them, however? Could we potentially evolve, if not biologically, then socially to the point where regulatory bodies keep our less desirable natures at bay? Is it even a worthwhile goal to stymie ourselves in such a way?

I’m not really sure this post has much of a point outside of venting my cynicism to hopefully subjugate it to my Sisyphean idealism. It’s not really working. We are naught but savages, and I think the best we can do is recognize that aspect of ourselves, and work it into whatever world peace plans we come up with. Anarchy is clearly out.

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