Thursday, May 16, 2013

Blind faith

Blessed are the peacemakers, said Jesus. Indeed. But where are they to be found? If you believe E. O. Wilson, we are genetically programmed for conflict, universally, across all cultures. In The Social Conquest of the Earth he writes: "Our bloody nature, it can now be argued in the context of modern biology, is ingrained because group-versus-group was a principle driving force that made us what we are."

Us versus other.

Religions too have a biological origin, says Wilson. They are a way of reinforcing the "us," of creating cohesiveness. Every religious group believes it is the one true faith and all the others are wrong. Us versus them.

Blessed are the peacemakers? The Romans legions went into battle with the cry Nobiscum Deus. Deus lo volt! shouted Christian crusaders as they turned the streets of Aleppo and Damascus into rivers of blood. The belt buckles of the Wehrmacht proclaimed Gott Mit Uns. Allahu Akbar!, assert Muslim suicide bombers: There is no God but God!

Tribe, nation, ethnicity, religion. What would be do without the "other." War is humanity's curse, says Wilson, and it's hard to find reasons not to agree. (Unless you want to say war is male humanity's curse: violence is pretty much a boy's game.)

Oh, wait. Let’s skip to the end of the book. Perhaps the situation is not as grim as Wilson paints it in the earlier chapters. In the penultimate paragraph he writes:
So, now I will confess my own blind faith. Earth, by the twenty-second century, can be turned, if we so wish, into a permanent paradise for human beings, or at least to the strong beginnings of one. We will do a lot more damage to ourselves and the rest of life along the way, but out of an ethic of simple decency to one another, the unrelenting application of reason, and acceptance of what we truly are, our dreams will finally come home to stay.
It all comes down, I guess, to "what we truly are." Genetically programed for conflict, or simply decent and unrelentingly reasonable?