Democracy Is More Than Just A Political Thing

Humans have two basic strategies for survival; Competition and Cooperation. 

Currently, both instincts are easily visible within societies and individuals. Humans will do amazing things to help each other. They will also do amazing things to harm each other. It is worth taking a moment to think about this so as to be very conscious of these two instinctive traits and how common both are, even though they seem quite opposed and in conflict. 

Keep in mind that both are survival strategies. It's just a question of how well each will function and where they will lead. Only the cooperation strategy will take us to the future and only democracy can make that strategy work

My long-term study is because we are in a changing world. I work on making a systematic study of how humans can adapt to a new ecology to replace the hunter-gatherer ecology we left when we created the farms and cities of civilization. When examined in terms of ecology, the degree of change involved in that is amazing.

The commonest instinctive strategy in nature is for the blind, endless competition that led Alfred Lord Tennyson to call nature "red of tooth and claw". It is a simple strategy that slowly and inefficiently drives evolution, but it does work. Many times it involves violence. When violencematters most is when it is within a species, known as dominance behavior. In mammals, it is reproductive behavior including aggression between males. There is another strategy that is less common though and that is cooperation.
About the time of Lucy (Australopithecus, say 3 million years ago), when humans started walking upright to enter the hunter-gatherer-scavenger ecology, they were poorly adapted to their new ecology. The big cats loved eating them. They were much like us, but small-brained. To survive, they needed to develop more social skills and better skills of cooperation. That is shown by the rapid brain evolution that followed. They had to get along and work together in order to survive. Violence in a tribe endangered the whole tribe. About 70,000 years ago was something of an evolutionary event. Partly it could be said that the parietal lobe evolved or perhaps it could be said that the brain re-organized. It changed humans as can be seen in their art, tools, funerals, social customs, and other behaviors changed. Humans became efficeinet enough and well enough adapted that they were then dominant in the ecology. We started killing all those pesky cats and everything else. Violence, the most natural evolutionary competitive behavior, again became a useful strategy because we were efficient enough as a species that conflict within the tribe was less dangerous and we were more and more coming into conflicts outside the tribe. No other species competed with us. We grew and spread out very successfully. In the West, this type of violent "competitive behavior" sort of peaked with Rome. The violence was so bad that various philosophies and religions arose to try to deal with it or promote peace, such as Buddhism, Stoicism, and Christianity. So here we are now, with instincts for both cooperation and violence. We can see it every day. The future, human survival, will be decided by which instinct we choose to follow.

Civilization is a very efficient ecology and can support far more people and their development than the tribal society can. Like any species' ecology, civilization is our life support system. It doesn't exist in nature though. It must be built and maintained. A problem is that not only is it dependent on cooperation, but it also can be damaged by violence and war. In history, when civilizations have been destroyed, what remains can only support at most about 5% of the population of the civilization. Often the civilization cannot really recover, such as happened when the Mongols sacked Bagdhad in 1245. 

The point is that democracy ultimately is more than just a political system and rules of law. It is an essential part of the strategy of civilization based on its ability to make compromises and solve the problems we need to solve. Nature does not compromise. There will need to be a balance between competition and cooperation within a society. That is how human things work, but not how nature does it. Democracy is like civilization. It is a work in progress. It has to be built over time and we will get better at it, if allowed to. It enables essential balances in civilization and societies. Violence endangers it though and one of the greatest powers is the power to kill. I have studied violence for a long time, looking for a strategy to deal with it. "Turn the other cheek" and passive resistance are strategies from history but were more appropriate for a conquered people. We have all heard of "fight or flight" but in reality the only effective way to deal with violence is deterrence. That is the threat of injury from the person or nation being attacked. This happens at every level from the individual to the Mutual Assured Destruction strategy of nations. Violence is to be avoided, but to protect oneself, one's family, nation and civilization that holds their children's future, they need to be capable of it.

One of the great politicians of history, Machiavelli talked about this problem. He said that if you are a good ruler, you are at a disadvantage to others that are not good and will take immoral actions to defeat you. He said that you would have to stoop to their level. It is hard to do that in a democracy like in the USA because our authority is the Constitution which is both a legal document and a moral one. A different strategy is needed. The strength of democracy is the ability to work together. In the past, military empires have managed to work together but usually, it was based on family relationships. That is not practical just now. What seems to work is cooperation based on ideology but it only works for democracies. Any society based on natural competition will naturally turn on its allies, often even if there is realistic deterrence. You can see this in many political and social systems, but school politics seems the easiest place to observe it. It is just an instinctive thing and people following natural competitive instincts have no stop button so they turn on each other.

Democracy is messy and will be hard to maintain. Civilization will be hard to maintain but that is a different story. In both cases though, we will get better at it over time as we develop and both will be essential to continued development in the future. We are in a position such that if we don't continue to develop to the next ecology, we will not become more than animals because the only other ecology we have is tribal, the most advanced of which is feudalism with its ignorance, disease, warfare, and starvation. If we want a good future for humanity, we will have to choose to use our cooperative instincts and strategies. There is no other way to be more than animals. If we do choose to use cooperation, we can achieve our aspirations. Democracy is more than a political system. It is part of our survival strategy