We Will Be in Big Trouble in January if We Don’t Get This Right at the Level of Our Most Dangerous Primal Instinctive Behaviors and Thoughts
October 21, 2020
We could be headed for the most dangerous months in the history of our country.
We could damage ourselves in permanent ways and we could find ourselves in very ugly and even evil places if we do not react in positive ways in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
We are all creatures of Instincts. We have very powerful instincts to divide the world into Us and Them and to act and think very differently relative to Us and Them.
Across the planet, today, we have people divided into groupings that trigger those exact sets of instincts — and that activation of those instincts gives us more than 200 armed and violent ethnic, racial, and tribal inter group conflicts right now where people kill, hate, despise, and do serious damage to the other group and feel entirely justified and even heroic for doing that damage to each other in those settings because those instincts are in gear.
We are in major danger of having those very basic and damaging instincts activated in our country and of having that activation exacerbated by the Presidential election — regardless of the outcome of the election.
The book Cusp of Chaos describes those behaviors in more than 100 settings and explains both why they happen and what they trigger when they are activated.
We do ethnic cleansing, local genocide, major harassment and damage, and various levels of both physical and sexual damage to the other groups of people — and people doing the damage far too often feel absolutely no guilt or remorse in those behaviors because we can often and very easily suspend conscience entirely when we have those instincts in control of our emotions, values, beliefs, and basic thought processes.
Each group generally feels entirely justified in protecting its own group and in doing things that they believe will keep the other group from doing damage to their own group.
We can very easily make heroes out of people who are in what we perceive to be protective roles for our group — and the people in those roles often feel like heroes and champions for doing them.
We all need to know and understand that we are heavily influenced by our instinctive behaviors. We have instincts to be part of an Us — and we feel stress, alarm, anxiety, concern, and sometimes even fear at a very direct level when we do not have an Us to be part of.
We instinctively all need to be part of at least one Us for our own peace of mind and for our own emotional security.
We also instinctively create hierarchies for every setting. We have extremely strong instincts to create hierarchies — and that causes us to have leaders, chiefs, captains, and various kinds of people with positions of power and direction in every setting. We have very strong instincts to want to be loyal and supportive of our chief and our hierarchy for each group and setting — and the people in those roles tend to have very strong sets of instincts to be Alpha and Beta and Theta in each setting in ways that are reinforced by each setting.
People in those positions have their own sets of relevant instincts to guide their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. People in Alpha positions tend to act in Alpha ways and to feel very justified in those emotions and behaviors.
We are clearly not alone in those tendencies and packages of instincts. Wolf packs, lion prides, and horse herds all have alpha leaders who have power over their settings and who will sometimes fight to the death to maintain their relative status. The number of alpha mountain goats or alpha forest elk who decide to give up their alpha status without a fight is a very low number.
We are more civilized than the elk herds, but people in alpha status in our settings also tend to feel that that being alpha is a legitimate status to be in and they also believe that is a status level that we should cling to when clinging is allowed.
Those patterns are pretty consistent and clear.
The number of kings who voluntarily retire from being king before their death in those settings where we use kings as our way of choosing our alpha person is a very short list.
We also have a very strong instinct in every setting to build cultures.
We need rules for every setting, and we generally use cultures to define those rules. People standing in line at an airport will often create a culture for the line — and people sometimes become enraged when an airport line has a culture and someone violates it.
When we understand those sets of instincts, we can use them to guide us in directions we want to go. We have actually already done that as a nation relative to a number of our strongest sets of instincts.
Because people tend instinctively to cling to Alpha status, in our American culture, we have set up terms of office that give us a chance to change leaders on a periodic basis, and we even do term limits in some settings to keep people from being alpha in those settings forever.
Because we tend to discriminate at very direct instinctive levels in favor of whoever we perceive to be our Us in any setting and because we feel instinctively good about that discriminatory behavior in favor of our own group, and because we don’t want that discrimination to continue unabated, we have been setting up a number of laws in recent years about discrimination and prejudicial behavior in some areas of our communities and lives that are intended to create broader opportunity for people from every group.
We have recently been mandating much broader inclusion by group in various work and public settings, where pure exclusion at very discriminatory levels had been the very strong pattern of behavior for a very long time.
Those laws have clearly changed some behaviors and created significantly broader inclusion at much higher levels that actually benefit us as a nation because we are stronger as a community and a nation when more of our people succeed in each setting.
Broad success creates both economic and functional strength for us as communities and as a nation.
We also have built laws that protect property in very explicit ways.
Because we have very strong instincts to acquire things, we have also chosen to set up both laws and cultural expectations about property, ownership, and acceptable transactions and transfers for buying and selling and gifting things rather than allowing the strongest and most heavily armed person in each setting to simply steal what they want and to functionally own everything they want to own.
In areas of the world and in some time frames where those laws are suspended, outright theft and levels of looting occur with depressing regularity.
On gender and sexual issues, we have strong sets of loving, respectful and consensual instinctive behaviors, and we also have some people who can drop to very aggressive, cruel, disrespectful and abusive instinct triggered behaviors with some frequency if the opportunity to exhibit the more negative behaviors presents itself — and so we need to have and enforce strong laws and cultural expectations in that area as well.
Our intellects usually serve and support both our instincts and our cultures in each setting.
We need to understand that process more clearly and we need at this point in our history to have our intellect and our basic and higher sense of morality create a set of enlightened and shared values and expectations that we all live by, and that we embed in our cultures. To achieve inter group Peace, and intergroup safety and success in America, we should now all individually and collectively agree that we will use those enlightened values in very intentional ways to steer our instincts and to shape our cultures instead of having the more primal instincts in charge and leading the process and instead of having group cultures that damage people rather than help them.
We can make that set of decisions and we can choose to go individually and collectively in that direction. We each have power over what we believe and do — and we should use that power to do the right things at a time when it could be dangerous to do things wrong.
This particular piece about Peace is being written today, because the truth is that we will be at significant risk and could be damaged if we do not do things that work in that direction today and now.
The truth is that we are at the cusp of a major and immediate potential crisis for our country, and our future as a nation will be very dependent on how well we deal with this crisis.
We have managed to tribalize ourselves to a dangerous degree.
We have allowed our politics to cause us to become very split into clear sets of Us and Them — and we are at risk of having those sets of instincts, values, and strongly held emotions shape our country very damaging ways in the months and years ahead.
We need to understand how powerful those instincts are and we each need to understand and fear how much damage they can do.
Those instincts are very ugly and powerful instincts. They are clearly very real and they define people in too many settings of the world today.
The Rohingya are being tortured, killed, imprisoned, and expelled from land they have lived on for centuries as a people purely because the majority tribe in that setting has decided that the Rohingya should die.
We see the same thing in multiple settings where the Shia and Sunni and Kurds are interacting. The Kurds are being damaged hugely with absolutely no guilt felt by the people doing the damage in every setting because the people doing damage to the Kurds have their Us and Them instincts in gear and they both treat and regard and define the Kurds to be Them.
There is also tribal killing going on in Ukraine. There is tribal killing going on in Gaza. People on both sides in those settings were born into their group. They did not choose to be born in either group — but they have those Us-Them instincts in gear today and they kill the other group and feel that the killing was justified for all of the reasons we feel when the conflict is underway.
We Americans are clearly not immune from Us-Them instinctive behaviors.
We have gone down some very dangerous paths in both our history as a nation and in the immediate past here. The Institute for InterGroup Understanding website and books describe that history and explain it at several levels.
We have had deep levels of racism as a country at multiple levels that are explained on the InterGroup Understanding website and in more detail in both Primal Pathways, Cusp of Chaos, and The Art of InterGroup Peace — and that are described even more clearly in Isabel Wilkerson’s new book, Caste.
The Caste book was reviewed on the Institute Website.
The Caste book has a wealth of historical documentation about how much damage we have allowed our Us-Them instincts to do to African Americans over the past 300 years in this country. That is a very painful book to read — and anyone who wonders why there is so much anger in some of the Black Lives Matter protests will have that question answered by reading Wilkerson’s book.
Those sets of instincts and Us-Them behaviors and beliefs affect us all — and we all need to understand both the impact that they are having on own categories of us and on the other groups of people in this country.
We have a growing number of people who feel very threatened by what is obviously an inevitable change in the majority status of White Americans in our country. When you understand how our Us-Them instincts work for each and all of us from every group, then that sense of threat and anger has clear reasons for being triggered by those events.
And that total set of instinctive responses by all groups need to be understood by all of us at this point in time and addressed directly in the interest of Peace.
Too many of our leaders have not been trying to bring us together.
We need our leaders to understand how those instincts work and we need our leaders to be committed to using them to Peace in America and not for inter group division and anger.
Those patterns exist in every country on the planet — and they are highly visible here, right now.
Leaders from all groups tend to both reflect the concerns of their groups and too many leaders choose to trigger, exacerbate, and even inflame those concerns in ways that increase their own power within their own group and that feel entirely right to the people in each group because they feel protective of the group.
InterGroup anger is a very slippery slope.
A very real level of leader triggered inter group anger is clearly happening here and it is clearly happening now, and we need to keep it from damaging us in permanent ways.
So this is a time of potential crisis and of potential opportunity for us as a nation and as a people.
We need to take a clear look at ourselves today.
We need to understand and acknowledge how much damage has been done by that long and painful history of Us-Them influenced values, emotions, beliefs and behaviors.
The situation is not hopeless. We have also done some things right as a nation and a people — and we need to build now on the things we do right and do well as foundation for our future.
As we look at the things we have done wrong, we need to also understand and acknowledge that at the same time that we did so many things that were not right — we also did do many things that were very right, and the best aspects of who we are as a nation and a people can and should now point us to an America that could give our children and our grandchildren a future of success, safety, opportunity, inclusion, and mutual support.
We need to very intentionally decide at this moment in time to rise above our worst behaviors and to very intentionally create a new American Us based on who we really should be and who we should become at this point in time because the consequences of not going down that path to being an aligned American Us are so damaging, ugly and grim.
We cannot afford to simply hate each other by group today as the easy answer to our current levels of anger, because the people outside this country who hate the best of what we are and who want us to lose and who want us to be destroyed by ourselves should not be given that victory over us.
We can decide to go down a better path. It can be a very personal decision. We can each individually choose the Better Angels of ourselves as the guide for who we will be and what we will do. We can each decide to believe that we Americans all should win and we can each personally make the commitment to ourselves and to one another to make that happen.
We need people to commit as people to that that general goal, and then we each need do things and to say things to make it real and clear that creating that support for the American Dream for us all it is what we are each and all choosing to do.
There are some things we can do to show that the commitment is real.
We need to get the right start for all of our kids. We know that support for every child born in America in the first weeks, months and years of life can have a huge impact on the learning processes for every child — and we need to make that happen for every child.
Medicaid can make that happen — and a majority of births in America this year will be in Medicaid homes.
We also need everyone to have affordable health care that continuously improves. That is also possible to do. The tool kit for health care is getting better at a very high level of improvement, and we need to extend that to everyone in the country.
It costs a lot less to get health care than it costs to get it wrong. The InterGroup Website has some clear descriptions, proposals and two books that explain how to make that happen.
One of the books deals with Ending Racial, Ethnic and Cultural Disparities In American Health Care.
On a values-based continuum at a higher level, we need democracy and voting to be supported for everyone — and we need to put systems in place everywhere to prove that we believe in that goal. We can each ask our local leaders to make that happen.
We don’t need to do everything right now — but we do need to do some things to prove to each other that we are actually united as a people and a nation at the level we all knew we were united when the Nine Eleven bombings let us all see who we were.
We need to set a win-win agenda for us all — and then we need to do some right things to start from here to make that happen.
We can’t start fresh — because a fresh and clean start is impossible and too much damage has been done for too long a time to make a completely fresh start
But we can start exactly from here and we can have this be a very good place as the starting point for next steps, and we can make this country the American Dream for everyone, that it has been for some Americans for a long time, and that it should be for all now.
If we don’t go down that path in an intentional way, we lose.
We need a Peace Movement for America.
The InterGroup books can help. They were written to help deal with these instincts in direct and useful ways — and they can be read free on the website or ordered from Amazon relatively easily.
The books are a package.
Primal Pathways describes our instinctive behaviors. Knowledge is power. We have very powerful and clear instincts. We can use those instincts for good or evil.
Let’s use them for Good.
Cusp of Chaos describes how much conflict is going on here and in the world around us. We need to understand why there are more than 200 of those conflicts going on in the world today.
When you understand the basic patterns of instincts, history both repeats itself and rhymes.
You can predict the future in a large number of settings if you look at the basic patterns that we have and if you look at the factors relative to those patterns that exist in each space.
We can create a different history when we know what those patterns are.
The Art of InterGroup Peace suggests a set of tools that we can use to create alignment in almost any intergroup setting, and it has an anchor based on very explicit and highly enlightened values that we can use to both steer us and to commit to as groups and individuals.
Those are not new goals or new values.
They are based on the core values we have now. It would be foolish and extremely unsuccessful to not build on what we already have and to enhance it instead of inventing something new at this point in our history.
We need to say that we are committed to democracy, and justice and inclusion as a nation — and then make those values the context for our interactions with one another going forward from here.
We will be in big trouble if we don’t get this right.
The next couple months are going to be very hard. A number of people are going to be angry, regardless of the outcome.
We need to rise above the conflict and we need to live through the conflict and we need to come together to become an American Us for the sake of our children and our grandchildren.
We can just go down the same Us-Them paths that we see in Lebanon and Nigeria, and Kosovo, and instead of becoming an American Us — we can echo their thoughts, emotions and consequences.
If we choose to be Lebanon or Nigeria or Kosovo instead of choosing to be an American Us, then our grandchildren will look just like their grandchildren.
Our grandchildren will live in gated cities, fully armed, and the very sad truth is that there are a number of people in our country with their most tribal instincts in full gear who really want that to happen and who will be delighted to steer us down that path.
Let’s do better.
Let’s each make the personal commitment to do better.
This post was written by Institute for InterGroup Understanding