Cooperative Living Versus Competitive Barbarism: What Comes Naturally to Humans?

Cooperative Living Versus Competitive Barbarism: What Comes Naturally to Humans?

Our culture tells us that our Paleolithic ancestors lived crude, violent, brutish lives. We presume that without the high degree of enforced structure which characterizes civilization, humans revert back to the barbaric conditions we associate with “tribalism”. In our culture, tribalism and barbarism are assumed to be one in the same. Yet it need not be so. It is only when people value possessions and power more than people that the excessive cruelty and violence of barbarism flourishes. Many stories from people raised in cooperative cultures describe their life as a pleasant, abundant, and nurturing lifestyle (see examples at In a cooperative community, people live together in an interdependent unit of kinship and this provides a great deal of security and joy as well as opportunity for personal development. People who have been raised in well-established cultures which support the kindest and most generous aspects of human potential have thousands of years of teachings to draw upon for guidance and wisdom in the face of adversity.

It is important that we recognize the skill required to live in interdependence. Cooperative living is no more innate to us than the vast hierarchies and inequalities of civilization. It requires years of training and support to develop the necessary social and emotional skills. Whether living as hunter-gatherers or agriculturalists, when resources become depleted – herds of elk disappear, crops fail, or water sources dry up – the group has the teamwork, communication, and emotional skills to gracefully work together in times of transition.

It is unrealistic to assume that in the event of civilization’s collapse that people of this culture would live peaceful, cooperative lives without a great deal of cultural reprogramming. Civilized people have for the most part learned to be told what to do and to fight against each other for resources. We are exhausted and bitter from overwork and laden with haunting emotional burdens. If the policing and military structures which enforce private ownership and laws disappeared suddenly and all of us were left to fend for ourselves with our competitive belief system, his-story shows it is likely that the kind of barbaric conditions we falsely associate with Paleolithic and cooperative peoples would indeed emerge. Brutal warfare, cutthroat competition for resources, and unsanitary conditions would likely become even more common than they already are. Look at Rome for an example. After it collapsed, Europe fell into the Dark Ages when warlords fought bitterly for control of resources and most common people were enslaved. We cannot expect that the destruction of civilization will free humans to live in cooperative peace and harmony without tremendous support for changing our beliefs and way of life. It is possible, however, especially if we as individuals work to change our values and support others in making that shift as well.

That is the purpose of the Bridge: to facilitate a values shift that will enable people to create a different way of being, before we fall back into the pattern of rising and falling civilizations which has characterized the past 10,000 years. Now, as the last of the “frontiers” are disappearing and the illusion of ever-increasing economic growth is crashing, we are poised at a moment ripe for the kind of cultural change that could transport us into a more harmonious way of living.

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