I’m surprised each year at how fast autumn falls, how dark the evenings get, how dim the days. To us, this consistent and progressive loss of sunlight and warmth can feel like doom. Our ancestors felt so uncertain of this time that they went to enormous superstitious lengths to attempt to bring back the sun.
And yet to the flowers, trees, animals and bushes it’s known that this time will come. The pattern is part of their being. As a one-off event it may look like death, but to nature, who knows the pattern, it is just a time to acquiesce, part of a known cycle. The sun will return.
What separates us from nature is our consciousness, the ‘me’ inside that identifies me and you as being separate from each other, separate from the bees, the table, the ground and the water. Without this internal self we would be separate only in the way a cog is separate from the machine; it is an individual part of the whole and without the whole and its part to play, it is worthless.
It’s our individuality that makes us separate from nature, that makes us think that a cog has worth on its own without the machine and that creates uncertainty and self-doubt. The story of this realisation that we’re separate from nature is documented in many ancient philosophical and religious writings, most famously perhaps in the story of Genesis and the Fall. The Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were evicted from was the state of being intrinsically part of nature and in constant communion with it in that personification of it, God. By gaining self-awareness, humanity gained consciousness and self-determination but lost that direct link to God. All human societies since that awakening, wherever and whenever it happened, have spawned cultural devices, called religions, to try to get back to oneness with nature and, or, our creator gods.
Religions have two purposes. One is to aim to explain the complex world and add meaning to people’s lives, attempting to answer philosophical questions such as ‘who am I?’ and ‘what happens when I die?’. The other is to maintain a stable community through some mode of control system. Religion is therefore just a shared model and set of beliefs that can create a mode of behaviour that can glue people together to make a society. It doesn’t require gods or God, just a set of shared beliefs in anything. This is why talk of ‘getting rid of religion’ is a pointless and impossible task as even agreeing on that task is itself a religion. This also why a ‘religion verses science’ is a pointless debate, you might as well debate which is better ‘Oranges or Tuesdays’. Science is a method of attaining knowledge through testing and measuring. Religion is a shared model for behaviour. The two naturally compliment each other.
I believe all religions (or models for society if you prefer) want peace (although they may differ on how to get it). By peace we want not to be interfered with so we can go about our business. But we also want a piece, a piece of the action. We want what we can get. We have these two modes, of collaboration and antagonism. They’re have been referred to as hawks and doves. It’s a model that shows simplistically why we have war and peace and why one needs the other.
If you have a society of doves, that is a collection of creatures whose nature is to collaborate, have community, but never fight to either attack or defend, you have a model of a utopian peaceful society where every individual is equal.
If you have a group of hawks, a collection of individual aggressive fighting creatures, who will kill to get what they want, you’ll have a hierarchical society, a pyramid of power, with the most successful fighter at the top and everyone else in their place. Here too you will have a model of a utopian peaceful society, this time where every individual knows their level. As soon as weakness is perceived in a level above, that individual will be removed, everyone jostles for position before a stability is reached again.
But if you put just one hawk into the society of doves, you have disaster. The doves, who will never fight back are wiped out, enslaved or, are transformed into hawks just to stay alive. This is the story of conquest and invasion, from Barbarians, Vandals, Vikings and Romans to the Third Reich and beyond.
If you put one dove into a hawk society, he will most likely be destroyed. But if you continually put in a dove, eventually, some hawks will transform into doves, a dove mentality will sweep through the community. This is the story of Moses, Jesus, Ghandi and others.
In the hawks and doves model, neither of the pure societies are stable, both are easily overturned into chaos.
The answer to this paradox is found in nature where we see hawks and doves, spiders and flies, lions and gazelles, all co-existing in equilibrium. There is always just the right amount to balance societies of each other alongside the available natural resources they both need.
But we are individuals. We don’t want to be the one who has to die for the good of society. We’re far too selfish for that. But neither do we want to willingly sacrifice the most vulnerable within our society; the young, the old, the sick and the lame for the greater good. We’re selfless enough to care about the weak. What makes us human, and unique is that we are both selfish and selfless at the same time. We are both hawk and dove in one creature.
This is the paradox of the human condition which lifts us up above function and survival. We want to win, but we don’t want others to lose. We want to conquer, but we have mercy. We want freedom from dominion and judgement and yet we seek out our creator God. We plan for the future and yet we waste resources today.
Our human dilemma is that we feel comfortable in the extremes, which is unnatural and which is where danger lies. We want the ultimate society – but that requires sacrifice and the loss of individuality. We want to be individually free – but that means the breakdown of shared values.
What we need is equilibrium. Just as in the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ‘to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven’ (you may know this entire passage as the lyrics to the 1965 hit, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ by the Byrds).
Now we have our consciousness, I don’t believe we should surrender it to ‘get back to nature’ to lose free will, to lose self determinism and dissolve the ego, as some systems promote.
Neither do I think we should abandon the search for oneness, meaning and the deep questions of the universe, as other systems suggest.
We need, what is to us, an unnatural equilibrium, to embrace these paradoxes, to live within art and science, with logic and chaos, with strength and meekness; at the same time. We need to have a greater knowledge of patterns, to work with and within nature, to accept and reject power and to strive for a balance in all things.
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