Humans are social creatures. We crave and thrive on contact with each other. Contradictorily, we also have an extreme streak of tribalism which forces us to be hostile toward people who are different from us. Simply put, as a species we are inherently selfish. In terms of survival, that was a useful feature during those long-ago days when we were hunter-gatherers, and it was detrimental to the well-being of a clan to have strangers encroach on its territory, taking resources needed for its members. Nowadays, few people in developed countries take to the woods with a spear on a routine basis to feed themselves and their families. Yet we remain quite tribal in our dealings with each other.
Nowhere is that more evident today than right here in in the United States, where Americans are so politically polarized that representatives of our two major political parties can’t even meet and have a civil discussion over the issues the country faces. Compromise is a dirty word. A politician who even suggests the idea of compromising with the other side risks being vilified and run out of town in the next election. We pour millions of dollars and tremendous effort into demonizing the other side and channel considerable social media capital into spreading disinformation about those we don’t like. “Political correctness” is viewed as some horrific sin instead of simply a way for us to be considerate and respectful of each other’s differences. Tribalism was on display during the campaign that led to Great Britain’s decision to cut ties with the European Union. It is on display in the conflicts currently raging across Africa and throughout the Middle East.
I often get the impression that cooperation is a dirty word to many of us. “I don’t want my tax dollars going to pay for somebody else’s healthcare.” That is one of the arguments I hear frequently raised against creating a single-payer system to ensure all citizens receive medical care in the USA. Yet we’ve seen that approach work quite successfully when taxes are used to provide police and fire protection to all members of a community. Just imagine a system where each citizen had to pay out of pocket for assistance from the police or from the fire department. Crimes would go uninvestigated, leaving criminals free to prey on others, and houses would burn out of control, setting fire to other houses, if the victim couldn’t pay. There are definitely situations where it is more beneficial to pool our resources and take care of each other than to go the every-man-for-himself route.
Consider how much more it would benefit American society if the millions poured into campaign attack ads were instead given to the Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, or AIDs research. We are a rich and powerful nation today, but we could be even more advanced than we are now if our country had lived up to its constitutional guarantee of equality and banned slavery at the outset, encouraging all citizens toward acceptance and cooperation.
If I may shamelessly borrow from Hillary Clinton’s recent presidential bid, we truly are “stronger together.” That’s one of the themes touched on in my new novella In Time I Dream About You. I was motivated in part to write the story by news of gang activity in various cities around the country. At least on the surface, a gang seems to be the very definition of cooperation: a group of individuals working together toward the common good. But members often wind up hurting and betraying their comrades, and you also have gangs warring with each other. Gavin is forced into joining a street gang after members see his willingness to fight for a friend and consider that an asset. He loses his one-of-us status and becomes “the other” when Apache, the gang’s leader, discovers he is gay and begins a vendetta to make Gavin’s life a complete hell. Despite the love Cato offers him and the benefits that love would bring, Gavin goes it alone in his effort to get Apache out of his life for good. That decision leads to horrific consequences. Working together with Cato is the only chance Gavin has at resolving the problems his decision creates.
Humanity today faces a global crisis in climate change. It can only be addressed through the cooperation of people across the planet. We have to put aside the political interests of individual nations and work together to ensure the continued survival of all people in the world, as well as future generations. Millions of species have risen up and gone extinct on this earth. It’s time we realized that we are just another species, and that we are subject to go the way of the dinosaurs. We essentially guarantee ourselves that fate if we don’t overcome our instincts and cooperate.