The recent TIME magazine, December 3, 2007 ran a cover story, ‘What Makes Us Good/Evil. It is well worth reading. Essentially, it covers one of the greatest mysteries of human behavior–the exteme divergence in mankind’s treatment of fellow humans.
How could both the Dalai Lama and Adolph Hitler be part of the same race of beings? Of course, to a less dramatic degree, we see the extremes of personalities and behaviors among our colleagues and friends.
Since much inherent human behavior seems to exist as a consequence of evolutionary adaptation, how can we possibly reconcile such divergent behavior?
The bottom line seems to be our species innate tribal mentality. Survival could never possibly have occurred to our ancestors as ‘rugged’ individuals. Only through group cooperation and identification could we have lived on to reproduce and pass along those genes which promoted tribal identification and behavior.
Altruism, cooperation, self-sacrifice only makes sense from a Darwinian perspective if it helps our tribe survive. We willingly sacrifice ourselves because we innately understand that our ‘kin’ based tribesmen will allow our genetic material to be passed down to future generations.
The problem arises, however, when this same tribal identification necessarily excludes other tribes. As ferociously as we defend ‘our own’, we are capable of de-humanizing the ‘other’. This innate human capacity allows to wars, genocides, holocausts, slaughters, pogroms…etc. to occur. The military understands how necessary it is to de-humanize the enemy in times of war.
Jihadists understand the exact same thing. In order to generate a homicide bomber, that individual must be taught to regard the victims as subhuman, devil-worshippers, evil beings.
It explains how concentration camp guards who led Jewish children to their deaths could be loving, caring parents to their own.
This truth about human nature should be the source of much frustrations and sadness. But in this knowledge lies the seeds of healing and repair.
First acknowledge the truth, then strive to remind each other that we are all the SAME! There is no difference between any of us. Peace and healing will only begin to emerge when we comprehend that truth.