We are both blessed and cursed by the genes that make us herd animals. There is no way to switch off those genes but there is a way to keep them from disuniting and destroying us. We could elevate the order and scale of our definition of tribe, for example.
Here is a fictional story. During World War II a Nordic country was occupied by a militant neighbor to its East. This neighbor had activated the tribal tropism, uniting its people to wage war based upon ethnicity and religion. The invader’s leader issued orders that all Jews in occupied territories would henceforth sew a yellow Star of David onto their coats to let everyone know they were not Christian.
Pause and consider for a moment what emotions you would have felt if you were a citizen of that country witnessing this. As a Christian you would have gone from feeling shameful, looking the other way as your Jewish neighbors passed by you with their yellow stars, to walking with pride, looking your fellow countrymen in the eye, and feeling their equal pride. Sure, the mayor would likely have been hauled out of his home and shot, but unified action by everyone could not be so easily arrested.
That is the way to get out of the red versus blue morass the United States finds itself in. It is how to get past the capitalist versus former-communist power plays. White vs. Black. Fox vs. MSNBC. It is how we end vaccine apartheid and solve for climate.
We are all earthlings. We face a common threat. We have to unite if we are going to get past this.
Millions of years ago, perhaps when our ancestors were early mammals, perhaps before, they elected the defensive strategy of grouping. It is a selection in evolutionary biology that distinguishes solitary hunters from pack animals. Consider a herd of zebras or wildebeest crossing a river full of crocodiles. A few will be picked off but the majority will make it to the far shore. That’s a pack strategy.
Humans are bound by our DNA to seek tribal affiliation. These genes are at the source of all fashion. We signal our tribe with what we wear, the car we drive, the neighborhood where we live. We put on a coat and tie to tell others we are part of the business tribe. A heavy gold chain around our neck with a medallion bearing our initials signals we are in the strong hunter pack and we will be good providers.
We use subconscious language to communicate neurolinguistically. Lipstick and blush mimic the signs of arousal in other body parts, signaling we are ready to join in the effort to propagate the tribal gene pool. We put on a miniskirt and stiletto heels to advertise our fertility. Our brains receive these signals and process them below the threshold of our thought processes.
We are ready to sacrifice for our tribal identity even to the point of giving our lives—the basis of foxhole camaraderie. Team sports both mimic and prepare for that level of sacrifice.
We select tribal identity based upon skin color or other physical features that are genetically nearly indistinguishable under a microscope. We separate ourselves by religions that are nearly philosophically identical in their acceptance of an afterlife, saviors, gurus, and prophecy.
We divide ourselves into tribes dogmatically by the biological gender assignment in the first trimester instead of the spectrum of hormone gender assignments that occur in the third trimester (7 to 12 percent of which do not match biological gender).
When we assail straw men and proclaim ourselves “white, God-fearing, native-born patriots,” our brains actually get a greater dopamine reward from speaking disparagingly about the other tribes than we get from saying or doing something for our own tribe.
The cure for all this is simple. It is a jujitsu move, bending the force of our own genes towards a better outcome. We merely elevate the order and scale of our definition of tribe. An example is the ecovillage movement. It has no ethnic, religious or geographical boundaries. While Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza might be kept from entering Israel or visiting a kibbutz—or even entering a Jewish Settlement in their own zone—and likewise Israelis are kept from most travel across the Green Line, the Green Kibbutz movement has been joined with Palestinians in permaculture and ecovillage trainings and knowledge exchange since the early ‘90s.
Likewise, when the invasion of Ukraine divided East and West, Ecovillages opened the Green Road to help migrants flee the war zone and resettle in ecovillages from Western Ukraine to Denmark and Portugal. Ecovillagers in western countries still maintain friendly communications with their counterparts in Russia. They track media that unites more than media that divides. Where they are politically active, they support unifying leaders like Estonia’s Kaja Kallas rather than divisive demagogues like Hungary’s Viktor Orban.
They sense the destructive power of tribe even while being, undeniably, a new tribe themselves. They have just shifted the scale.
Towns, villages and cities in the Ukraine are being bombed every day. As refugees pour out into the countryside, they must rest by day so they can travel by night. Ecovillages and permaculture farms have organized something like an underground railroad to shelter families fleeing the cities, either on a long-term basis or temporarily, as people wait for the best moments to cross the border to a safer place, or to return to their homes if that becomes possible. So far there are 62 sites in Ukraine and 265 around the region. They are calling their project “The Green Road.”
The Green Road also wants to address the ongoing food crisis at the local level by helping people grow their own food, and they are raising money to acquire farm machinery, seed, and to erect greenhouses. The opportunity, however, is larger than that. The majority of the migrants are children. This will be the first experience in ecovillage living for most. They will directly experience its wonders, skills, and safety. They may never want to go back. Those that do will carry the seeds within them of the better world they glimpsed through the eyes of a child.
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