The System: Historical Roots

Human beings are inherently compassionate, cooperative creatures. We need to care for others and be cared for. Those deep, primal, primordial instincts are derived from the bond between infant and mother, both in the womb and in the months after birth.

For two million years, humans lived in hunter-gatherer tribes whose members were equal, cooperative, playful, and peaceful. Compared to modern comforts, conditions were hard, but food and material goods were shared. No “chief” ordered others what to do and everyone participated in group decisions. Those characteristics became deeply embedded in human nature.

In lush, remote areas, tribes perpetuated that lifestyle as modern civilizations expanded elsewhere. When the Spanish began to settle the San Francisco Bay Area in 1774, for example, the region was a virtual Garden of Eden. The fish were so plentiful people just threw rocks into streams to kill them and birds would at times block the sun like an eclipse when they flew. With this abundance, around the Bay, some 40 indigenous tribes with different languages lived peacefully, with only occasional conflicts.

At an early age, children suffer frustration and experience pain, which leads to fear, another deep instinct. Fear in turn often leads to anger. As the ego develops, without proper parenting, that anger can harden into hatred and be expressed destructively. Even worse, especially in modern cultures, the ego can become addicted to the adrenalin rush associated with defeating others in competitive struggles.

That conflict between love and hate, both strong instincts, has played out through human history. But love (with the mother) comes first. It’s deepest, and if fully cultivated, it can be stronger.

Only 12,000 years ago, when the last Ice Age ended and glaciers melted, new seed-bearing plants emerged. Not long after, in various parts of the planet at more or less the same time, humans learned to plant those seeds and grow crops. Eventually, they began to store food in central locations. As control of that food became critical, a few men amassed the power to protect and distribute it. Societies became centralized and separated into classes. Those at the top used physical violence and the threat of violence to impose their will.

With that development of centralized agriculture, ever since elites have dominated class-based societies (including those that later called themselves Communist or Socialist). As the risk of being conquered by outsiders developed, fear of “the other” intensified and ruling elites promoted religious myths and rituals to legitimize their power and help persuade their subjects to obey them. The selective granting of privileges and powers to those who were loyal also encouraged submission.

Over time, fear, hate, and deception became tools of social control. Monarchies rooted in the biological inheritance of wealth and power became commonplace. Most subjects generally supported their rulers, who provided economic security and protection against outsiders.

With the growth of capitalism, the new business class challenged monarchies and pursued political power for itself. Affirming ideals such as “all men are born equal,” they argued that greed and the pursuit of economic self-interest could be harnessed to benefit the common good. The threat of poverty, they said, was necessary to motivate otherwise lazy people to work hard, which was a dark view of human nature. They used fear to support the social order.

During the initial transition to democracy, only property owners elected government officials. Black slaves, indentured servants, other poor whites, and women could not vote. Those restrictions enabled property owners to pass on their advantages to their children. Nevertheless, a somewhat more fluid social inheritance of wealth and power replaced the rigid biological inheritance associated with monarchies.  

“Levellers” and others who wanted a more complete democracy threatened to expand the right to vote and redistribute property. Faced with that threat, in the United States, the Founders who wrote the Constitution took measures to protect stability. James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” wrote:  “Divide et impera (divide and conquer), the reprobated axiom of tyranny, is under certain (some) qualifications, the only policy, by which a republic can be administered on just principles.”

With those thoughts in mind, the Founders fragmented the nation’s government, divided the federal government into three branches and Congress into two houses, and established the Electoral College to elect the President. For the country as a whole, they divided power between national, state, and local governments. Those divisions made united popular action on a national scale difficult.

Throughout this history, the instinct to love and cooperate with fellow humans remained deeply ingrained. In every major civilization, generations passed down stories of an earlier time of peace, harmony, and prosperity. In Greece and Rome, that period was called the “Golden Age.” In the Middle East, it was the “Garden of Eden.”

Some freedom-loving rebels have always resisted centralized societies based on domination and submission. They’ve often tried to establish compassionate alternatives, whether privately in their families and religious institutions, or in small, semi-autonomous alternative societies and subcultures.  Sometimes slaves and other oppressed groups have rebelled and sought freedom violently.

Every major civilization has experienced conflict between those two major forces: top-down domination rooted in hate, deception, and fear; and partnership rooted in love, honesty, and faith in the future.


NOTE: This is the first section of a forthcoming declaration.

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