A Dilemma of We

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”
― sydney j. harris

“I hate violence, yes I do. It's kind of a dilemma, huh?.”
― jackie chan

A brief but meaningful conversation accompanied by white wine spritzers and the comfortable 34 degree centigrade setting sun in the grown up sandpit of hyper-consumption (Dubai), raised ‘a problem’ in my mind that I am still struggling to crack. Not typically one to bring my personal experience to the fore in my social assessments, I will stray on this occasion in the hope of receiving alternative perspectives that may reveal the illusive answers I seek.

Let’s call him Jeff… from New Zealand. “After living and working here for the past three years, I am bewildered, impressed and at times saddened by how the locals follow a belief system so fervently… in this day and age.”

True to form, I have a lot of fast answers on the subject. “ Well Jeff, it’s not all that astonishing really. It plays directly into some of our base human drivers from thousands of years of evolution. We are a social species with high neural brain density that makes sense of its world through mental compartmentalization.”

The Social Animal -

We know that we are primate. We know that primates are intensely social animals. We are so socially inclined in fact, that a child raised without close social interaction between a parental figure and community, will have problems with brain development. A child not touched from birth will perish. All our early learning is social. All our future interactions need to be social in order to maintain both physical and mental health.

Complex Cognitive Ability -

Our neurally dense brain means that we are able to absorb, both consciously and subconsciously, a vast amount of information. Most of our learning of the world is not remembered. It happens intensely in the first 18 months following birth, then continues at an increasingly slower pace as we age.

Compartmentalization for Fast Information Access -

Due to the vast amount of information absorbed by our brain, we have created subconscious methods of accessing information for fast reference. We can say that we make rules from ‘proven’ evidence that provides us with a conclusion within milliseconds of receiving similar information again in the future. For instance, an apple is green, it has a shape, it is on a tree… it can be eaten. Language evolved from compartmentalisation as a reverse method of inspiring an image in fellow persons mind by way of a verbal construct. Although this may occur in other species, we understand our communication to be exponentially more complex that all other species.

“What has this to do with deeply religious practices?” he asked, taking an apprehensive sip of his fizzy diluted grape ferment.

I was less eloquent at the time but, “It was not long ago that our cultures had all the same ritualistic behaviours and fears that maintained a desired or directed standard of social behaviour. You could say we still have those controls, but rather than being based on superstition, they are based on something considered more scientific - our socioeconomic system. The truth in that should be debated.”

My understanding here is that a religious belief is not much different from a belief in a system. The goals are certainly the same. They intend for the population operating within them to reduce the time required to assertion trust between individuals or groups through compartmentalization. In the case of religion and ritual, these very visible attributes result in faster trusted interactions. Less obvious visible cues will mean more time required to ascertain, but potentially a manageable level will be achieved between a devout or less devout person of the same belief. A money system removes the human element, but offers the same basic level of trust for interaction or cooperation. A money system like ours today guarantees a ‘fair’ space for basic cooperation, without the need for trust in the individual.

“ok,” he concedes, “but religion is divisive on a personal level between cultures, the financial system connects different cultures.”

“That is true in part, but trust is not guaranteed in this system. And Inequality, well that breaks trust between people in a common culture, fracturing the people that have the most in common.”

This is where I come undone. We know that we are social, so community is vital. We have constructed the nuclear family unit as a way of trust guarantee, which has been utilized by both religion and capitalism to expand itself. To become the dominant space for trust to manifest. For this reason, I have a personal aversion to family and orthodoxy, as it perpetuates trust, but only within strict parameters. Trust some to the exclusion of others…

…but we thrive within community. What is the balance between community and individuality? how do we create broad trust but wonderful diversity of perspective and thought? I believe that both religion and our current finical system have failed in this regard. Any hope of achieving a seemingly utopian world would need to rethink all our historic meanderings. Values would need to be based on the latest available truths of our physical existence to the exclusion of areas we do not yet have the answers. Customs based on tradition are not enough to form the foundations of values. Our communities can’t be so orthodox that they divide us. Our systems of social organization need to be fair. Fairness is the propagator of trust, tapping deeply into our social nature. This system would need to hold our living environment to highest status. We know now, and really should have known for millennia, that an uninhabitable environment will end a population. In the global village of today, we will need to forget bad history or part from it. Be present for a reconsidered future.

I was reminded of a personal dilemma in this conversation. As an individual, I wish to be this future and inspire it. My family are very intrenched in a belief system very counter to my own. I know that I need to remove myself from influence, but the result may be in forming a community of similar thinkers that will once again be a small group of like minds. Will that breed yet another divided group or will we be smarter than our history?