I (almost) have a BA in Anthropology. (All but two classes passed. Senioritis after 5 years in undergrad is a powerful force on a 22 year-old.) This colors my view of human beings because I look at a lot of the strife and politics happening all the time and blame it on the animal side of humanity wreaking havoc. Where we find nations fighting I see generally speaking a few troops of hominids battling over food and mates. We’ve rationalized it into other reasons, but the primary motivation of warlike behavior I personally find in the inability of humanity to rise above instinctual impulses of the biological nature… organization into hierarchies, aggression against neighboring hominids. We’ve moved past the point at which the color of skin or general appearance of the rival troops of hominids is the defining characteristic. Now we’ve invented religion and culture to serve as unifying and identifying marks. But we’re still fighting each other because the animal Homo sapiens sapiens comes hard wired to organize into social hierarchies of some kind and to react violently to intrusions or invasions into whichever arena of society any particular band of Homo sapiens sapiens happens to feel ownership toward.
It’s why team sports have played such crucial roles in societies of every kind. It’s an outlet for the hard-wired aggressive behavior, it triggers the identification with a particular tribe or troop, and it sublimates the instinctual desire to kill interlopers or competitors into socially sanctioned controlled emotional release.
I don’t see this as a demeaning view of humanity. In fact, I find it rather liberating, because it allows us to own our own failings. It’s not so popular with the Judeo-Christian mindset of humans as somehow being separate from or above the natural realm, but I’m not Judeo-Christian.
Attempting Communication with “Other”ness
The reason that I bring that up as a preface to the actual meat of my post is because we human animals produce more than just violence and strife… we also produce communities and bonds. What is it that triggers the antagonistic/warrior violence response from a troop of hominids at any scale, as opposed to groups and individuals which instead trigger community-building instinctive responses? Not every neighbor is a target. Not every relationship between groups and organizations, political or otherwise, is antagonistic. There are certain behaviors and methods of approaching a group which can be used to diffuse the violent/interloper response and heighten the community/respect response. If we can learn what those behaviors are, then we can use them when approaching groups when our purpose is communication. Encouraging receptivity to allow for minimal barriers to communicating.
The most important step in the process requires recognition of the similarities in the Other hominids standing before you. Recognition that even our own culture and way of living is but one hominid strategy among thousands which are possible. Recognition that the concept of ‘superiority’ really only applies to how well any group’s culture deals with that culture’s environment, as opposed to some Platonic ideal of “better” or “worse”. Once the qualitative judgment is reduced to a relative status, as opposed to an absolute status, communication begins to become possible. With communication can come the shift in emphasis from the differences to the similarities.
The Writing on the Wall
There’s a website being run out of the Netherlands which attempts to use graffiti and the web as a means to help turn the wall in Palestine into a vehicle and a medium for messages of hope, support, solidarity, and the community/connectivity portion of human instincts. It’s called SendAMessage. For €30 (about $58US) peaceful Palestinian graffiti artists will spraypaint your message of humanity or community (nothing negative) on the Palestinian wall and send you a digital photo of the artwork. SendAMessage.nl seems to have done their homework in setting it up so that they are not funding weapons or insurrections, in fact they have clearance for their activities from the Israeli government agencies, according to their website.