Friday Free-for-All #9

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

If all humans want the same basic things, why is there so much violence and strife between people?

And away we go, then… this is one of the more interesting questions that’s come up so far, and probably also one of the most meaningful and important.

Well, the short answer is in my favorite film right here:

And yes, that bone-toss and cut to: satellite shot is quite intentional, because Kubrick and Clarke were geniuses, but especially Kubrick, because in one single cut he explained everything that I’m about to do with a bunch of words.

As you can see in the clip (and you really need to watch it), the proto-humans involved all want the same basic things — food, water, shelter, etc. Two groups of them have come upon one pond. Now, realistically, there’s more than enough water in there for all of them. Kubrick even emphasizes this point earlier in the opening “Dawn of Man” sequence of the film, when we see various beasts (all of them potential prey for humans and big cats alike) sharing the same body of water to drink from.

What changes the dynamic is when one of those proto-humans (known as Moonwatcher in the book, nameless in the movie) suddenly gets an idea while toying with the femur of a long-since dead and predated tapir type creature.

It becomes at first a tool, and then a weapon — first to kill for food by taking down another tapir-beast (no different than what we’ve seen a proto-leopard do already), next to kill for resources and territory by taking down another member of his own species — something that had not occurred previously in the film.

But here’s the nice hidden ditty in this one. Moonwatcher gets the idea to use this bone in the first place from a mysterious black monolith that just appears one day. On the one hand, and canonically, it was a benign artifact placed long before by an alien race passing through, basically meant to give a little nudge to the local populace at such point that they were able to receive it.

Note that in this world, none of the other beasties on view showed any interest, but Moonwatcher and his tribe did — and, as it turned out, it was really, really unfortunate that the monolith showed itself at first to very tribal animals.

Intent of the alien race: Probably to teach whatever sentient species encountered by their drones (Clarks’s name for them: sentinels) how to make and use tools. Context: At the time that Clarke and Kubrick created 2001, the prevailing idea was that only humans used tools. Yeah… wrong. And even more wrong when the attempted definition was “only humans use tools to make tools.” Sigh.

But… the salient point is that the sentinels accidentally shared advanced knowledge with a species that was not ready for it because it wasn’t ready to share. Ironically, if they had hit up the tapirs or zebras first, the planet might be more successful now. Instead, nope. They enlightened assholes, and in a bad way.

Why? Well, reason number one: Moonwatcher and his bunch — probably immediate extended family — were not willing to share shit that they didn’t even own — i.e., water — with that other tribe over there that, honestly, were probably already his second or third cousins, but nobody was keeping records, and great grandma ran off with that dude, and… whatever…

Not that other animals are immune to this. Mammals are particularly bad at sharing, and birds can be territorial assholes. I can vouch for that one from personal experience with geese and swans. At least in the case of the former, the asshole geese in chief — who actually bit me — wound up as Thanksgiving dinner a couple of days later, so I was vindicated.

What? I was visiting my grandparents on their farm. They grew the goose for food. It’s not like they shot an elephant. And, anyway, see above. That goose was a major asshole.

But, particularly among humans there’s an Us and Them thing going on for no good reason at all, perpetuated only because we are the one species that labels things because we have language and names and insults and so on. One ram facing off another only knows, “Hey, this mine, yours not. Go away!” With humans, though, it gets more complicated. “Here is Mydonia. You are from Theristan. None of you can come here.”

And then let’s complicate it more once humans go into full-on hallucination mode and start making up invisible friends and then declaring that their side gets special favor from some supernatural or imagined entity as long as they do stupid things that make that entity happy, and bingo. There is the formula for creating endless violence and strife.

One imagined entity is a border, and the other is a god.

This creates the two flavors of separation, but they frequently combine into one swirly cone of stupid: Religion and Nationalism.

The thing that causes strife in humanity is the absolute illusion that we are a bunch of separate tribes, each of us battling over resources, and divided by utterly arbitrary and artificial things like religion, nationality, borders, and languages.

But if you look at the Earth from above, you’ll see that the only natural divisions are, well, just that… natural. Oceans, mountain ranges, and deserts are probably the big three things that naturally separate one group of people from another. But… if you go back far enough, the geographic divisions don’t matter, because genetically, there are no divisions.

All of humanity has a common ancestor, and one which pre-dates our humanity and makes us cousins of chimpanzees. Or, in other words, all of us are related, period. We are all one tribe.

Let me repeat that part: We are all one tribe. What we call “races” are just different expressions of genes which were created by accidents of location — i.e., colder climate with less Sun would favor people with paler skin, while hotter climates with a lot of Sun would favor people with darker skin, etc.

And one other thing: It is a big, big planet, so there’s plenty of room for people on it if we divide it up. Eliminating borders and just letting people have their own plot of land to live on, we’d each get half an acre, maybe… although it’s not clear whether that calculation of people over arable land allows room for all of the public stuff, like roads, streets, libraries, fire stations, etc.

Although if we cut that down to half an acre, it’s still a space that’s 104 feet on a side, and that is already a lot bigger than most of the apartments that people, couples, thruples, and beyond already jam themselves into. Hell, cut it down to 52 by 52, you’re still bigger than the typical urban apartment by a longshot — 52 by 52 is a house.

So… if we decided to share the entire planet equitably, everyone would get more than enough. Also keep in mind that a lot of these lots would go to families, and would be based on number of household members, but that the addition of a family member does not necessitate the addition of space equal to the original. I.E., a couple with that 52 x 52 house doesn’t need to add that amount to their square footage to accommodate a child living at home. Rather, their add-on might be more likely in the vicinity of a 10 x 12 or 12 x 12.

So, we have plenty of room, we’re all related, there are no borders, All of that should be obvious and self-evident, and yet we still fight each other, but this comes back to the other brilliant message Kubrick hid in his movie, because his opening sequence was nothing more than the secular version of original sin — the thing that divides us today.

And in the beginning, was not-human, but not-human listened to a not-god, got the message wrong, and committed the first murder, then never stopped doing it.

Yes, there are shades of Cain and Abel in the first act of 2001 as well. Or is that story our collective cultural memory of that first murder by that first proto-human, backed up by the mistaken belief that some higher power had commanded it?

Or, in other words, the biggest creator of violence and strife between humans in the present day — and the thing that must be wiped out — is organized religion. Period.

It’s everything Kubrick warned us about in the first thirty minutes of that film. Start with a group of creatures who think that they are different from another group of the same species, and then they discover a precious resource. Meanwhile, one of them hallucinates or has a major insight and attributes it to a deity, rally ‘round the flag, and Bam! Cain kills Abel; the first murder happens; this occurs across cultures, and the justification becomes, “I was doing it for my god.”

Down through the years, the worst terrorist acts have been perpetrated in the name of religion — any religion. And there’s the crux of the biscuit. If we want to take the next step, get off of this planet, and evolve beyond being just a bunch of silly monkeys, then we need to start.

So my short answer to the question “Why is there so much violence and strife between people?” is: religion and nationalism. Get rid of those, solve a lot of problems.

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