I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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“One Nation, Indivisible” features excerpts from The Sun’s archives that speak to the current political moment.
We call it “human nature,” but really it’s animal nature. Just like a mockingbird has a mockingbird nature and a gray squirrel has a gray-squirrel nature, we have a nature that served us well when we lived in little groups and survived only if we were quick to spot an outsider and dispatch him. Cooperation was an important part of our evolution, but cooperation within strict limits. Altruism was also part of our evolution, but, again, it was a very constrained altruism that would benefit our own descendants and nobody else’s. That’s the wiring we’ve inherited. And on this razor-thin leading edge of history, we’ve developed a civilization in which we generally acknowledge the benefits of cooperation beyond our immediate group. So we have charitable organizations and adoptions and nonprofits, and also international trade and NAFTA. But our nature is still pulling us back.
“The Moral Universe,” Barbara Kingsolver, interviewed by Jeanne Supin, March 2014
The highest meaning of the social group is to foster the development of individual potential, for the community’s own well-being depends on it. When the goal of the group ceases to be the individual, that group goes into decline.
The very best citizens have also been the most evolved individuals. Groups, nations, classes, clans, and families tend toward narrowness, meanness toward other groups, nations, etc. It has always been the individual who calls the group to a larger vision, who insists on compassion and fair play. It is always the community that is ready to stone the witch.
Correspondence, Jim Ralston, July 1991
We crossed the border at Nuevo Laredo. One of the first things that struck me, having been out of the U.S. for a while, was how many people were dressed like bikers, with earrings, ponytails, death-themed tattoos, and Harley-Davidson T-shirts. . . . I figured this must be the urban-tribalism counterculture anthropologists had predicted: a nation organized against itself, a society almost entirely composed of would-be rebels and outsiders whose plaintive cry is “I don’t belong!”
“Things I Like about America,” Poe Ballantine, July 2001
I used to think of the self’s borders as tight and secure, with a clear division between inside and outside. As a result I felt threatened by the great unknown of strangers, as if I were a walled medieval village under siege by barbarians. . . . Nations seal their borders and stockpile arms against outsiders, but the outsider is inside us. To build walls against others is useless, for the self is a mosaic of otherness.
“The Communion of Strangers,” Brian Jay Stanley, April 2012
Modern thought control is primarily dependent not on crude, conscious planning, but on the human capacity for self-deception. One of the biggest obstacles to social change is the propaganda system working undetected inside our own heads — mine included.
Last spring, our prime minister, Tony Blair, was talking about New Labour’s “ethical” foreign policy. Now, everyone who’s given the matter any thought knows that the foreign (and domestic) policy in the West is based on the quest for profit, not on ethics. Yet, just because someone said the exact opposite with great sincerity, and many other people took him seriously when he said it, his statement seemed almost plausible.
I often feel a strange internal conflict between what I know is true — what every cell in my body tells me is true — and what I am told is true in the media and elsewhere. It’s almost as if we hypnotize ourselves into believing these absurdities. The key, I suspect, is that everyone around us appears to accept what might otherwise be considered absurd. Then that small, lonely, insecure part of us that likes to belong, that is terrified of being alone, thinks, Well, that must be right — not out of reason, but out of fear of isolation. Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that our greatest physical fear is of death, but our greatest psychological fear is of social exclusion, rejection, aloneness.
“Nothing to Lose But Our Illusions,” David Edwards, interviewed by Derrick Jensen, June 2000
Human beings are meant to be in groups. For the majority of the time we’ve been on this planet, we’ve lived in relatively small tribes or clans, and our major competitors have been other human beings. So our species’ great gift for relationships is a double-edged sword: it has enabled us to join together, but it’s also given us the instinct to create an “us” and a “them,” often with toxic consequences. If someone is unfamiliar, our default response is defensive. Our tendency to view novelty as potentially threatening leads to hateful beliefs about people who have, say, a different skin color. In the U.S. white people have labeled many cultures as “them”: immigrants, African Americans, Native Americans . . .
Fear shuts down the reasoning and reflective part of our brain. We’re less likely to be open to those new experiences when we’re afraid. We’re also much more compliant toward authority. We’re more easily led and apt to act in ways that violate our own values. We see this at play in our politics and our communities and our schools when there’s an in-group and an out-group. The desire to stay in the in-group will cause some of us to follow a bully and do things we’d never have done on our own.
“The Long Shadow,” Bruce Perry, interviewed by Jeanne Supin, November 2016
My outlook changed very consciously ten years ago in reaction to the Reagan revolution, which popularized the notion that the free market will be our salvation. . . .
If one believes human beings are essentially isolated, self-seeking “atoms,” then relying on the market to determine outcomes makes a lot of sense, because it requires nothing of us but narrow self-interest. But if one sees human nature as profoundly social — as seeking community and looking for meaning beyond ourselves, however clumsily — then the market is woefully inadequate. As social creatures striving to create communities that address our need for connection and meaning, we might use the market as a tool. Now, though, the market uses us.
“The Broken Promise of Democracy,” Frances Moore Lappé, interviewed by Derrick Jensen, November 1999
The Sun: You’ve written that in old times those “who endangered the community by taking too much for themselves were first counseled, then ostracized, and if the greed continued, they were eventually banished.” Can we do anything like that today, or has our world changed too much?
Robin Wall Kimmerer: I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that hierarchy of escalating punishment. First it says, “How can we help you? How can we make it clear to you that what you’re doing is not right?” Then comes the public shaming, which interests me the most. This is not some soft admonishment but an attack: “Even with the support of your community, you haven’t changed your ways. Your values are harmful to us all. You should be ashamed of yourself.” But it’s hard to shame people today, because our value system is turned upside down. Someone can take a pristine piece of land and build a McMansion on it, and we’re taught to applaud the person’s money and power. The ones who are made to feel ashamed are those with less money, smaller houses, older cars. Until the collective sentiment is that greed really does deserve to be punished, it’s as if we’re stuck.
“Two Ways of Knowing,” Robin Wall Kimmerer, interviewed by Leath Tonino, April 2016
Humans are the animal who embodies the most extremes. We can give ourselves credit for being the most technologically talented, the most compassionate, and the most creative, but we also must own that we’re the most destructive, the cruelest, and the most violent. We are all those things simultaneously. We’re the only creature capable of creating global problems, but there is little evidence that we have the collective will to solve the global problems we create. We have developed a huge agricultural enterprise. We have conquered certain diseases. We have changed the course of rivers to suit our needs. But we don’t seem to have gained mastery over our own worst impulses. We continue to fight and kill one another. And what do we fight and kill one another over? Small differences. We hate each other for being different races. And if we live in a place where there’s only one race, we hate each other for belonging to different religions. If we live in a place with only one race and one religion, we kill each other for belonging to different denominations.
“Signs of Intelligent Life,” Carl Safina, interviewed by Sam Mowe, August 2016
Society is an abstraction like “loving mankind.” I can only affect those around me, love them as they are, meet them where they are. Hopefully I can touch their hearts with love and then, perhaps, they will change within themselves.
“How to Really Change Society” (Readers Write), Helga E. Tetzlaff, December 1981