“The truly unique trait of ‘Sapiens’ is our ability to create and believe fiction. All other animals use their communication system to describe reality. We use our communication system to create new realities.” – Yuval Noah Harari
If you look at a NASA photograph of the earth taken from space, you’ll notice it doesn’t have a bunch of rectangles and lines all over it.
We, as human beings, draw the boundaries of our nations using our minds.
Nations are not something that “exists” in the physical world. Yet at the same time, when enough people get together and say that a nation exists, those people will help each other grow food and trade resources together. A “fiction” such as a “nation” existing in enough imaginations is a great thing that helps us survive.
Unfortunately, people who imagine this fiction together – may also work together to kill anyone on the other side of the imaginary line.
In the same way and with the same wonderful and terrible consequences, all sorts of things that people imagine become real.
Pick an “ism” and somebody out there believes it is the one and only thing that exists – or should exist. Capital-ism, Scientific material-ism, national-ism, and even the zeroes and ones in a computer we call “money” all “exist” in the human-created environment of belief systems. Get an earthful of people together who imagine “money” exists and you get worldwide commercial-ism.
All of these “isms” bring gifts and disadvantages when people apply their principles. Capitalism probably brings overall growth (Yay!) but only helps a tiny sliver of people (Boo!) In a reality outside the human imagination, an “ism” cannot be “good” or “bad” but only produce a complex set of results. It’s up to human beings to determine which tradeoffs we’d prefer.
Yuval Noah Harari suggests that our capacity to create “fictions” is the reason we find ourselves at the top of the food chain. We’re a co-operative species like no other. Wolf packs grow up to a few dozen wolves, mostly bonded by blood ties. Humans grow packs in the millions because we can copy and paste ideas of “capitalism” or “nationalism” into our brains and bond through ideology.
Let’s say we run with his ideas as to the nature and origin of homo sapiens cultures and civilization.
If we then consider that:
1) Human beings are born with the capacity to see people as part of an “in-group” or “out-group.”
2) Empathy and compassion occur naturally for those we PERCEIVE as part of our in-group. And…
3) The in-group is formed through a perception of “who is similar to us,” and who we conceptualize as having physical or mental traits in common (including our fictions, ideologies and -isms)
It follows that all human subcultures can also feel empathy and compassion for one another by discovering similarities in our abilities.
Perhaps all we need to see is that we all have a CAPACITY in common. When we make other people wrong and stupid because of what they believe, we are forgetting that those beliefs are created by the same process we used to create our own. But other people have had other experiences by which they confirmed their “fictions.”
Everyone forms their own “Theory of Everything.” Every brain makes a belief system inside a truth inside a model of reality.
When we recognize that all of us are questioning “Who are my loved ones?” and coming up with answers that include “people who believe in my favorite -ism,” and all of us are questioning “What is best for my loved ones” and applying one fiction or another – we see that beneath all the contradictions of cultures – everyone wants the best for the people we care about.
This is a beautiful thing for all humanity to have in common.