The Extreme Stratification of American Society is in Our Blood

But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it.

Photo by Mandy Henry on Unsplash

An overview of human nature

Humans are hardwired to seek status and power. We want control over our lives. Often, we see having power, control, and advantage over our fellow humans as a way to have control over our own circumstances.

Nineteen-Eighty-Four doesn’t have to come true.

It doesn’t mean that human society is inevitably destined to be unequal, competitive, and uncooperative. We don’t have to embrace the horror predicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen-Eighty-Four: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever.”

Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

Canada versus America

The society I’m talking about is America. Canada, my home country, for lots of historical and socio-political reasons, is less fear-based and more cooperative than America (if you are interested in why this is so, see Reflections of a Siamese Twin: Canada at the End of the Twentieth Century by Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul). We are far from perfect. But we Canadians look at extreme American behaviour with astonishment. We’re racist, we’re violent, we’re riddled with inequalities. But the American version of our societal problems is, to us, well, breathtaking.

Faces of the enemy

Because American culture, even more than Canadian culture, teaches that “others” (other races, other genders, other language speakers, other nationalities) are dangerous. Others need othering out of fear that “they” (others) will infect “the people” (whomever is at the top of the pecking order). “They” will take the few things “the people” have for themselves.

Sam Keen got it right in the 1980s.

Sam Keen spelled it out so well in his classic study of human behaviour, Faces of the Enemy: Reflections of the Hostile Imagination (1986).

Our primate heritage comes back again and again.

Humans have a drive to compete along with a drive to cooperate. We’re both chimpanzees and bonobos. Both are part of our genetic and psychological heritage.

The storming of the capital, or Planet of the Apes

People storming the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 were embracing their chimpanzee nature.

Parodies of humanity.

They were humanity at its worst. Desperately grasping at a kind of forceful power they saw slipping away with the defeat of their proud leader.

Violence may be in our history and in our blood, but we can still change it.

Maybe it’s time to give peace and cooperation a chance. Time to live side by side in mutual support. Instead of this relentless conflict between classes, between races, between religions, between genders, between sexual orientations. Enforced by violence.

Mother, Teacher, wife, food lover, spiritual searcher.

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