Evolution, Nationalism and Peace Please
2023 has just begun, and people of the world are taking more pride in their nations and cultures than ever before. Pride is a wonderful thing until it turns into a possessive attachment to one’s borders and incessant competition with anything outside those borders. A simpler word for the above ideology, born in the 18th century, is Nationalism. While it sounds like it could mean simple enough patriotism, it is a lot more than that.
In a direct excerpt from George Orwell’s ‘Notes on Nationalism’: “By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.” But secondly – and this is much more important – I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests” (Orwell, 1945).
Of the roughly 8.7 million living species on earth, humans are perhaps solely responsible for its future. We make the decisions, take the actions, and we run the world. Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens, explains that the reason humans control the planet is that we are the only species ever that has managed to cooperate flexibly in large numbers. We can live in societies, understand, reason and empathize with each other, and coexist in harmony.
Harari explains that this is possible because of our very unique ability to build and spread fictional stories. We easily assign objective value to ideas, places, people and things that don’t already have any. Religion does this in the form of origin stories and epics, law and politics do this in the form of rights, manifestos and economics in the form of money.
While fictional stories and entities are required to make people cooperate, it is an important note-to-self that the reality we live in is entirely constructed. The ideas of superiority of one nation over another, of borders providing some sort of purity and exclusivity, of people in a single nation having more in common with each other than with those in other nations – these are unfortunate by-products of fictional constructions and have no basis in genetic truth.
A peek into human genetic history reveals interesting truths that comfortably and assertively refute carefully constructed racial beliefs. Ancient DNA teaches us a single lesson – that the human population of any particular place has repeatedly changed since the last ice age. Population mixing and continuous migrations characterize human populations in all corners of the world. We are all essentially ancient cousins; we come from one another.
David Reich, in his book ‘Who We Are and How We Got Here’ notes that there is no such thing as a pure, exclusive race. The human species itself has evolved from the mixing of multiple other species and has kept changing and mixing ever since. Modern humans still have an average of around 2% Neanderthal DNA. It is also highly likely that you share a significant portion of your DNA with someone on the other side of the globe. How then, does it make sense to hold on to divisive ideals of individuality and superiority when they go against everything we know about our evolutionary history?
Let us step back for a second and look at our world again.
Let us remember that exclusive nations, demarcated borders and specific cultures are all fictional stories, told and re-told through the ages to mould us to collaborate.
Let us remember that fictional narrative of nationalistic thought, something originally intended to bring us together is now rapidly dividing us – and we mustn’t let that happen.
Let us remember that we are one species.
The short film explores a lives of the marginalised – the people who live on the peripherals, their everyday lives and their boundaries…