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The Parable Of The Tribes 2016-08-28


There is this fellah named Andy Schmookler who wrote a book called The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution back in the 80's. I actually first heard about it [sort of indirectly] when I saw Timothy S. Bennett's 2007 documentary What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire. In the film, Ran Prieur provides a brief summary of a primary point in Schmookler's book. You can see the kickass full two hour documentary here on YouTube.

image A screenshot of Ran explaining the story.

The general idea is that if the world were completely inhabited by peaceful tribes of people, then everyone could just live peacefully. However, if just one of the planet's tribes were to become violent and warring, then the entire world becomes violent and warring. Here's how it happens... The newly violent tribe decides to attack their closest neighbouring tribe. There are then four possible outcomes for the [currently still peaceful] neighbouring tribe:

  1. They can fight and be defeated.
  2. They can fight and be victorious.
  3. They can surrender and become slaves.
  4. Or they can flee.

The important thing to note, is that all four of those possible outcomes are essentially the same, because the previously peaceful territory is now dominated by a violent and warring tribe.

This is really quite a depressing thought, since obviously there is at least one violent and warring tribe in this world right now. It certainly gives me the impression we are doomed and the planet would be better off swallowing us all in to the Mariana Trench. It kind of reminds me of this "hope crushing" lecture by Derrick Jensen... which by the way, you should also watch. Having said that, I think the parable of the tribes is a somewhat simplified yet accurate description of how we behave. I also think that there is a serious lack of people who have taken a moment to think about it.

Having said that... I don't think most people will bother to think about it. I believe that most people will carry on doing whatever it is they do until something comes along to change it. This gives me the impresion that as humans, we are significantly less intelligent than the rest of the animals we share this place with. Things like New York, wars, and so on are not really a sign of intellect, but a sign of stupidity. Our general inability to admit this is an even more convincing sign of our stupidity. I really hope that more people will take the time to consider the corner we have painted ourselves in to.

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