Think back to your early childhood and the joy of building walls from lego. Bases built from twigs, or an empty cardboard box. Hiding under a bed of blankets and pillows. Walling ourselves away from our foes — real or imaginary — to wage heroic mêlées until dinner was ready.
Even into adulthood, we pledge undying loyalty to our sports teams and despise their competitors. Though the players themselves go from one side to another in pursuit of more lucrative pay days, we are certain our home club is special. We are over-zealous, possibly even to the extreme of violence, even though we recognize it’s only a game.
We build fantasy divisions universally: Conservative and Liberal, black and white, Christian and Muslim. Even those who are opposed to the building of walls find themselves accusatory towards the wall-builders.
A trait of being human means there’s a wall-builder inside all of us. Our thoughts indeed divide the planet into; me and not-me, ‘our lot’ against ‘their lot’. History has taught us that we’re all one, yet we still set up divisions everywhere we go.
Why are we programmed like this, what is the price of being like this — and what can we do about it?
Why are we like this?
We evolved as a species to endure unforgiving environments. For millennia, our capability to group together against a mutual adversary (weather conditions, wild animals, rival tribes) was life dependent. Those who saw the benefit of joining powers were more likely to stay alive and keep their bloodline going. Confronting a common danger together makes us feel close. This feeling can be so exciting that soldiers may well miss war when their tour has finished.
Our perception of who we are makes us feel safe.
As we grow, we’re continuously outlining ourselves. Mentally we build a creation we call ‘me!’ There isn’t an emotion of being alive devoid of a sense of one’s self created identity. It’s easy to disregard traits you don’t like about yourself and even easier to find faults in others
False opinion about others is comforting.
Inserting labels on entire groups of people makes it a lot easier. If all Parisians are rude, or all Brexiters are racists, we don’t have to perform the demanding tasks of fathoming who’s who. George Orwell’s 1984 portrays this with startling exactitude, defining nationalism as “the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’.”
This price we pay for living like this?
As soon as we have labelled someone, it prevents us from taking a closer look, and our reservations grow. With social mixers such as the national service long gone, media outlets developing more and more partisan views, and the rise of fake news, it’s easy to confine ourselves (completely unwittingly) to like minded people and to viewpoints in which we have agreement. The consequence is that we’re perplexed by the opinions of those on the opposing side of the social and economic boundaries: “racist Trumpites”; “weak Hillary voters”; “un-educated Brexiters.” Our uncertainties about others escalate, with zero chance in which to see how much of basic human nature we share.
We end up feeling more isolated. Classifying entire sections of society as good people or bad people is not beneficial, as in the end we accidentally end up making some good people seem bad, and some bad people seem good. For example, if all Muslims are terrorists, we neglect to be wary of exactly who it is who may be on the path towards extremism — whether Muslim, Budhist, bully, or bullied. And accusing billions of people of being terrorists isolates them further away just as we need them most.
What should we do about it?
Accept that we instinctively build walls. If we are aware about our own instincts to find adversaries, the faster we’ll identify it when people are trying to influence us for their egotistical means.
Channel your inner fears and suspicions and give it space to breath. Whether it’s rooting for vehementlyfor your team, or throwing your support behind your local MP, we can channel the need to turn heroes and villains into healthy competition.
Select our villains intelligently. We could mark dirty players or archaic laws, in place of the dangerous lure of painting entire groups of society with the same brush. This would result in targeting terrorists, not Muslims. Poverty, not the poor.
Try to integrate with completely different thinking people than yourself. This can be challenging. After Donald Trump was elected POTUS the map of states which favoured him was obvious, and it’s quite possible that should somebody live in california for example, they may have never stepped foot into a red state. Likewise a Trump voter living in a wealthy area may know next to nothing about the people sat on the opposite end of the growing social and economic void.
Maybe another great social mixer like the last one we experienced during the second world war (not war) is what’s required, a sort of all-embracing national draft in which young women and men from all areas of society work in unison against our common enemies, homelessness, pain, suffering. Whilst simultaneously becoming aware of our shared humanness.
The world, and human kind is longing for change. We can continue to build walls and segregate ourselves even further, or tear down the walls and make us feel more together. We still have the freedom of choice. And right now, our choices couldn’t matter more.