Tällberg Forum 2005. “How on earth can we live together?”
A Vision from the Present
When our view of man and fellowman is inspired by our pre-language (or reptilian) brain, any community seems founded on murders, massacres, and rapes. Cain clubs Abel to death, Romulus kills Remus. Zeus rapes Europa. In this view, the key elements in the social order are to identify enemies, to celebrate the in-group, to exercise sexual appetites, and to defend and extend territories.
When our view of a society is inspired by our language brain the situation is different. Now we see man and fellowman exploring and persuading one another about their relations, their environment, and the mutual development and survival. In this view, the social order begins when people gather in the commons to discuss mutual problems and decide how to cope with them.
Societies have four options in using the non-language brain and the language brain:
1. Let the non-language brains battle non-language brains, e.g. violence against violence, one person’s sexual urge against another's.
2. Let the non-language brains battle language brains, i.e., use violence to suppress opinions.
3. Let the language brains battle with the non-language brains, e.g. in non-violent resistance.
4. Let the language brains battle other language brains, e.g. settle arguments by words as is done in disputations, mediations, or assemblies.
A society is civilized when its main line of coping with conflicts meets words with words, and I mean with words alone (Option 4 above). However, to use words to entice violence is not civilized. Non-violent resistance to an enemy using violence (Option 3 advocated, for example, by Mahatma Gandhi) is also a civilized design. It is never civilized, however, when words are met with violence (Option 2).
It may seem self-evident that Option 1 with raw power against raw power is inherently uncivilized. And so it is, and so it has been in most instances. However, it is a civilized duty to meet violence with violence when, and only when, it is necessary for the survival of civility. Then the civilized part of mankind must have the ultimate resource: use of force to fight the uncivilized who threaten human dignity and the rights of man.
The most powerful forces in society come into play when the pre-language brain and the language brain pull in the same direction. This happens, for example, when the language brains organize a collective into the building of shelters and monuments – most dramatically illustrated when mankind builds its pyramids. Or, it happens when language brains organize collectives of people to use concerted violence – that is, organize for mankind's wars. Like it or not, most of what lay people call "societies" have evolved within borders set by wars.
Organized violence is a far graver problem than spontaneous acts of violence. A small group or network that does not shirk from using violence can subdue a whole society that has lived peacefully and has learned to avoid violence as far as possible. The Chinese civilization had its Great Wall to keep out violent invaders. It was originally about 5 000 kilometer long, built of stone, wood, grass and dirt. The Wall was renovated and extended under the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to some 6 400 kilometer. Now bricks were produced in kilns set up along the wall. The bricks were transported by men, donkeys, mules, carrying them on their backs. Also by goats with a brick tied to the head before being driven to the construction project in the mountains.
Organized violence today – by states or terrorist networks – has at its disposal cheap technical, chemical, and biological weapons, that can be transported anywhere on earth. It can effectively kill, paralyze, and subjugate civilized people. Prevention is both difficult and extremely expensive – as was the Great Wall of China.
Hans L Zetterberg