Spirituality and Patriotism: Part 2
Both bands and tribes elicited a predictable political reaction when they were discovered by early explorers or ethnographers. These small local groups had no leaders with any real authority; in contrast to the societies of their discoverers, every individual seemed to come and go just as he or she pleased. It became clear that when people live in small, locally autonomous groups, they are almost always "equalitarian."
It's been a while since I added to this series, primarily because the election drew my fire for some time. But now things are back to normal it's time to pick up where we left off.
In the previous post, I called attention to an emerging spirituality in the United States—a spirituality that is appropriate to a democracy, as opposed to a dictatorship, or kingdom.
As you may recall, I had made the point that formal religion, as we know it in the West, at least, had its roots in the need of kings to create a common world-view for their subjects—both to tie their kingdom together, culturally, and to separate it from other kingdoms.
Thus, we who worship Marduk, the true God, are superior—morally, intellectually, and in terms of entitlement—to those deluded inferior people in the next kingdom who worship Atum or El with their perverse customs. Our king is ordained by Marduk, the real God, and if he calls on us to go to war with those infidels next door, it's our duty to oblige.
Also, it is our duty to obey his laws, anointed as he is by Marduk.
The hallmark of these religions were their top-down nature. God, the ultimate authority, ordains the king (and the priest class), who then tell the people what to do and think.
Thus, organized religions of this type generally attempt, more or less, to dictate two things: values and beliefs. Since these are the fundamental building blocks of any spirituality, the effect of this type of religion is to create an artificial spirituality, dictated from above.
A democratic society, however, is not a top-down proposition. Power flows upward, from the people, who anoint their own representatives. The government is not our master, but our servant.
A democratic society is, in fact, very like a much older tradition than the one based on kings. It partakes of many of the values of hunter-gatherer cultures: the natural state of human beings before we were enslaved by despots.
But at the time our democracy was created, the people of the United States were not hunter-gatherers. We had been enslaved, the subjects of kings, for thousands of years. We had come to believe what kings had taught us to believe, and to value what kings had taught us to value.
So we had a democratic form of government, but our world-view was the world-view of slaves.
The values—and the beliefs—appropriate to a democracy have taken over 200 hundred years and counting to emerge among us.
Here's a short, and almost certainly incomplete, list:
|Value or Belief||Hunter-Gatherers||Kings and Dictators||After 200 years of Democracy|
|Truth||In a hunter-gatherer culture, it's important to know the facts. I need to be clear where the nuts, or the prey is, and I need to be straight with the fellow members of my group about such things. If I'm not, we all suffer. I will not be happy with anyone who is dishonest with me or the group in general, nor will I trust them, next time.||In the complex hierarchical society of a kingdom or dictatorship, lies and deceit become standard tactics for furthering one's career. The king lies to the people and the court, the nobles lie to each other and those under their command. The constant struggle for a more powerful position makes honesty dangerous. The very idea of truth is corrupted from the top: facts are what the king and priests say they are.||More and more we are seeing a return to the valuing of truth. There's less tolerance for teaching dogma over science in the schools, less need for people to pretend they are something they're not in their personal lives, less tolerance for lies from the mouths of politicians. We are becoming a people who want to know the facts, live according to the facts, and who want to be honest with each other.|
|Fairness||In small hunter-gatherer groups, it's important to treat each other fairly. If one person does most of the work, or one person doesn't get their share of the food, the fabric of trust breaks down, and with it, the level of cooperation which is necessary to survival.||In a dictatorship under a King, fairness is at best a symbolic fiction. Wealth is distributed according to the king's pleasure. There are a great many people at the bottom of the hierarchy who do a lion's share of the hardest, dirtiest work, and who receive very little compensation, while those at the top may do little, but have enormous wealth.||We are increasingly aware of inequities in society. We have less and less tolerance for corporate welfare, for enormous executive salaries, while the poor and middle-class get poorer. We notice the growing gap between the rich and the poor, and we tend to vote for those who will address it. We are continually more aware of laws that affect some more than others.|
|Care||In a hunter-gatherer society, people take care of each other. They protect each other from harm, nurse and feed each other when they are sick or injured. They watch over their children, and watch over each other.||The amount of care anyone receives in a kingdom is proportionate to their value to the king, or to their immediate superior. The very poor receive little care, unless it is from their peers, who may risk the displeasure of the hierarchy if giving the care takes them away from work, or uses up resources.||We're moving more and more toward taking care of each other again. We have seen the value of societal safety nets, we are moving toward health care for all, we have put a social security system in place for the elderly, and provided schools for the young. In a democracy, we take care of our own.|
|Loyalty||Loyalty to each other holds the small hunter-gatherer bands together, encourages sacrifice for each other and the band as a whole, and makes survival possible.||Loyalty in a king-based society was split in two: upward loyalty and downward loyalty. Upward loyalty was absolutely required, and overruled any ill-conceived loyalty to peers. Downward loyalty was optional, and often only a symbolic claim.||We are slowly learning that our loyalty is to other human beings, to our country as a whole, and to humanity as a whole. We are waking up to the fact that upward loyalty is betrayed, more often than not, by the person who demands it: whether that person is a boss or a politician. For example, we have formed unions, in which loyalty to each other competes with loyalty to the boss.|
|Respect||In a hunter-gatherer society, people have to treat each other with respect if they are going to work together to survive.||In a king-based society, respect was mostly reserved for those above. It became "respect for authority" instead of a recognition of the inherent dignity of any other person. Those on the top didn't need to have any respect for those below, or for their rights, since they had none.||We are restoring our respect for each other as individuals, while at the same time, beginning to question the idea of some automatic "respect for authority" which gives those in power a cloak to hide behind when they choose not to respect us.|
|Purity||Hunter-gatherers know the value of staying away from things like rotting meat. They learn to distinguish between pure water and fetid water. It was a matter of health and survival.||When we moved to hierarchical societies, our normal reactions of disgust were used by the hierarchy. They were refocused on the customs of the other tribes, which became "unclean" as a way of strengthening our revulsion toward those who were different.||We are slowly returning to a more educated version of the hunter-gatherer approach to purity and disgust: reserving our disgust for things which are really dangerous to us, and no longer allowing it to distort our reactions to others who just happen to be different.|
|Equality||Hunter-gatherer societies tend toward a rough equality of power. Leaders tend to be facilitators of group process, rather than "deciders". Decisions tend to be made by group consensus.||A king-based society is absolutely opposed to equality of power, since all power is really the king's power, either used directly, or by proxy.||We are coming to value equality of power, finding multiple ways to spread power around, learning how leaders can become facilitators rather than "deciders", and increasingly rejecting those who would move our country in the opposite direction.|
|Freedom||Hunter-gatherer societies put a high priority on individual freedom and autonomy.||Autonomy and freedom are threats to the power of the king, who must have ultimate control of all. They are squashed at every opportunity.||We increasingly understand the value of freedom, and the need for it to apply to all. We are increasingly suspicious of government intrusion into our private lives, and intolerant of such invasions.|
As you can see from the chart above, these values are not merely emerging, but re-emerging. They're a return to the basic values of the human species, developed over the last five million years or so, as opposed to the values recently imposed by monarchies.
5,000,000 to 12,000 is a pretty good ratio. We've been refining and living by the above system for almost 500 times as long as we've been under the thumbs of authoritarian hierarchies.
That leads to an interesting conclusion.
The eight values and beliefs above, interpreted as hunter-gatherers and democrats (small "d") understand them, tend to be called "liberal" in our current culture. But they are much older, and much more established in human nature, than the alternatives: the values of kings.
So aren't they the really "conservative" values, compared to the Johnny-come-lately ideas of the last, brief, twelve thousand years?
What we are witnessing is the return of the human race.
At least, that's what I think today.