Bear with me, this started as an idle curiosity and then spiraled out of control…
I’m already convinced that, as a race, we’re doomed. You’d think I’d just stick my head in a hole and start ignoring the idiocy of my fellow man, blissfully unaware, secure in my happiness knowing I can’t do a thing to change it.
I am, however, still fascinated by the things people do to each other. Browsing Old New Thing I came across something quite new to me: people in India are declaring their relatives dead in order to claim property or insurance. This may seem like a humane alternative to hiring a hit man but being dead makes life a little difficult, esp. when dealing with the government.
Is there an answer? I’m not sure, but it gets me thinking. Let’s start with the bad stuff, people killing each other. Why? Can it be narrowed down to a simple matter of having what you need? Animals will instinctively fight when backed into a corner: fight or flee. If threatened with death, the stakes are high. Kill or be killed.
Okay, so fight or flight makes sense when the situation is immediate (a person is being attacked) but it’s not so immediate in the case of the article above. Or is it? In a country where some people are attempting to farm a plot of land as small as many houses in America, not having enough land could literally kill you. It could be rationalized as instinctual to kill for land.
So, what about the rest of the killing going on? Can that be boiled down to the same need? I don’t think so, but it makes me wonder if it has roots in the same place.
Religion is, for many people, a very real need. The church, synagogue, mosque, temple, etc provides people with hope, guidance and community. For a religion to survive there has to be a strong belief in what is being taught. There seem to be two main things which will threaten a religion: oppression and reason. Oppression needs little explanation, someone stronger than you (your government, another religion, etc.) comes in and tells you to stop believing what you believe. The other, reason, needs a little more explanation: reason shouldn’t be construed as correct reasoning, just being enough arguments to make a believer start to doubt. Reason is what breeds religious zealots, they have so little faith in their beliefs they fear their followers will abandon in droves when presented with any rational alternative. Why destroy ancient Buddhist relics? Because people might find Buddhism more rational. If your beliefs are forcefully taken away this removes your emotional support structure. Aggression results. If people are leaving your ministry this takes money out of your pocket as well as calls to question your emotional support structure. Aggression results.
Some people kill their spouse, this isn’t religion, right? No, it’s one of two things jealousy or imprisonment. Jealousy results from having something that you are positive cannot be replaced. Being jealous of attention paid to your spouse is a self-confidence issue, you are convinced if your spouse leaves you that you cannot replace the emotional attachment. A significant emotional attachment will cause significant pain if broken. Pain drives the same fight or flight response. Aggression results. Being trapped in a relationship with no way out similarly causes pain. Aggression results.
What about killing for money? Muggers, mafia, etc. One of the things that makes the free market system work is competition, people want to have more than their neighbor. The Soviet Union seemed to illustrate that aiming for absolute equality will do more to beat people down than solve man’s built-in aggressive streak (this isn’t universally true, of course, otherwise there wouldn’t be communes). Being wealthier and more powerful than the next person is a matter of self image. The greater the stakes, the higher the risk, the more aggressive the response.
Sure, rational people don’t resort to killing. I’m sure you would never kill anyone. You’re rational, right?
How do you know?