Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hive Mind

I can't help but be amazed at insects like bees--a cluster is united at one single purpose. In many ways, I think human civilization has attempted such a goal, whether through natural or artificial means.

For example, when I speak of natural, I'd go with our innate tendencies. For example, there's family. Now we tend to take the side of our family in any conflict and support them. We're not the only ones who exhibit this trait. Animals have it to such as wolves who consider their family a pack. Of course the family unit isn't perfect: siblings quarrel, child rebels against the parent, husband divorces the spouse, etc. But it is a starting point and is perhaps the most long-lived institution that has managed to unite people, even if it's in small numbers.

Artificially, I can think up of several institutions. The most obvious one is government and the nation. For me a nation is simply artificial boundaries and culture. That's not to say those boundaries and culture aren't valid, but at the end of the day it's something we created. And in many ways, it's effective. We respond to cries of nationalism and patriotism. We think of our neighbor, who has no blood relation to us, as part of the same group, the same side. And perhaps more importantly, what makes the concept of a nation bigger than that of the family is its scope: one can identify with millions and perhaps even billions of people when we're talking of ourselves as a nation. Ruling or leading the nation, of course, is the government, even if it is democratic. Much like the family unit, the nation isn't any less susceptible to internal strife. There will be civil wars, coups, impeachments, etc. Perhaps the only time a nation is truly effective is when it is in direct conflict with another nation: all the aggressive energies are united against a common foe.

The other, prevalent institution that I can think of is religion. Unlike the nation, religion has no physical borders. Each religion is easily a nation of its own although it draws its followers from something more abstract. A person from one continent can share the same faith as a person from half a world away. What unites them is a common belief, a common philosophy. And in many ways, it's more successful than the concept of the nation as far as uniting people is concerned. Right now there are fewer popular religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) than there are powerful or influential countries. Unfortunately, this big centralization is also the institution's weakness. While internal strife is similarly a problem, a bigger threat is the other religions, and much of each religion's resources is devoted to combating the other one way or another (either through propaganda or conversion or actual bloodshed). I mean it's easy to imagine that the next World War will not be a battle between nations and alliances but a conflict between religions (and in many ways, a war that will end with one religion remaining is a "war that will end all wars", at least until a new religion appears or breaks off from the surviving one).

It seems like I'm touting all these "failed" attempts at unification but I think it is possible. I just find it ironic that humanity's best attempt at cooperation isn't rooted in human will but in sheer emotion. I mean look at the phenomenon of mob mentality. For those brief moments, human beings achieve a hive mind. They're united at a common goal and frequently attempt to crush their opposition as one. Fanaticism and is another example: it's contagious and represents the extremes of religion. Is it smart? No. Is it effective in getting people to do what you want? Yes. What I find disturbing about all this is that in order to achieve "perfect unity", the answer seems to lie not in thinking but in switching off our intellect, giving in to our more baser instincts. It also leads to the loss of individuality, but I'm more concerned that in order for humanity to strive for a common goal, we must give up a portion of our humanity (in this case, the part of our brain that causes us to think critically).

Maybe mankind was meant to forever fight with each other.

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