Saturday, May 1, 2010

Human Society in Ethics and Politics, Part Two, Chapter V

Part Two, Chapter V (pp. 199-207), “Cohesion and Rivalry”

Cohesive and combative impulses shape the relationships among different human groups, like dominant and submissive impulses shape within-group hierarchies. The continuation of the species requires some family cohesiveness, which extends outwards to tribes. Tribes are rivals, however, except when they can maintain a precarious alliance to combat a common enemy. More populous groups have a military advantage: “…self-interest tends to enlarge the size of the social group [p. 200].” Common beliefs, common fears, and other sources of solidarity will develop, unifying large groups to the same extent as small tribes.

Conquest is the source of most states, with necessity, not shared beliefs or genealogy, securing the loyalty of the ruled. Extensive empire-building through military conquest characterized the approximately 1000 years between Cyrus and the end of Rome. “Throughout this time, it might have seemed that conquering armies were irresistible and that there was no limit to the extent of territory that a great military leader could bring under his sway [p. 201].” Rome provides a good example of how social cohesion can evolve from origins in military might. After the fall of Rome European history is dominated by highly decentralized rivalry among countless small powers, until authority was established in modern nation states. The Muslim world also has moved from unity to rivalry and back. “It is difficult in the history of the world hitherto to discern any long-term movement either towards more cohesion or towards more rivalry [p. 202].” But that is with respect to political cohesion – in terms of economic relations (and in culture), there has been a marked movement towards globalization. Commerce promotes civilization.

Western culture blossomed with the Renaissance and then spread widely. “There was every reason to expect that this process would continue until all the world was culturally unified, and the ideas of Jefferson and Macaulay could be preached without contradiction not only in India but in the plateaus of Tibet and the darkest recesses of African forests [pp. 204-205].” The First World War, an intra-west civil war, undermined the force of the western example. Now there is upheaval, with Russian Communism joining Islam as a militant faith, and China, Africa, and India all culturally unsettled. The centrifugal forces moving cultures apart also are spurring a dedication to economic autarchy and industrialization for the sake of military might; the long-term consequences include famine and war. “These evil consequences can only be avoided if mankind decide to conduct their affairs in a manner less insane than that now prevalent [p. 205].” Science, however, remains as a globally unifying force – bomb-making scientists can operate without missing a step when they move from the Soviet Union to the West, or in the opposite direction.

Information, previously held only locally and perhaps only by literate elites, now is available on a much wider scale. Unfortunately, the information about rival countries that is made available generally is filtered to stoke fear and hatred.

Recently, nations have begun to cohere within two large and opposed military blocs. “Cohesion and rivalry working together from the first clash of savage tribes to the present day, have gradually, by a process which has a terrible inevitability, come to the point where each reaches the greatest development that is compatible with the existence of the other [p. 207].” As technology advances, this process threatens human annihilation. Our only hope is that people can learn to be content with rivalry in milder forms, in sports, art, science, and quality of life.

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