The principle difference that allowed humans to become the dominant species on our planet is our ability to collaborate at scale. This is closely intertwined with our story telling abilities, something no other animal can do (as far as we know). For the majority of human history this collaboration was applied only to small family based tribes.
As we moved from hunter gathering tribes to farming, a broader collaboration became necessary. Food growing could be delegated to farmers and protection could be handled by soldiers. Tribes merged into cities and new roles and collaborations evolved. Gradually as our communication and storytelling abilities improved the scale on which we were able to collaborate also expanded from tribes, to cities, to city states, to religions, to nations, to unions between nations. In each case greater interdependence ultimately won, creating the society we have today.
However this evolution has always been uneven. There have always been those motivated to greater interdependence and equally, always those motivated to greater independence. Each of these motivations have generated their own stories and their own story tellers who often ended up as leaders inspiring their followers typically to collaborate to work for greater interdependence or to collaborate to fight for greater independence.
Most wars in history can be seen through the lens of either two independent groups fighting each other for control or independent groups fighting the interdependent group that they are part of to get out. Warring city states, religions and nations in the case of the former and independence from empires the latter case.
The tension between those wanting greater independence and those wanting greater interdependence has been a defining feature of human history.
That tension continues today in the tension between nationalists, seeking greater independence, and internationalists, seeking greater interdependence. The difference today is that a by-product of the arms race between these factions, is an existential threat to humanity and many other species; the global climate, air and ocean crisis.
About 40% of the adult population operate from each of independent and interdependent levels, with a further 17% operating at a dependent level. Those at a dependent level avoid taking responsibility or initiative and they like structure and rules. They are extremely vulnerable to authoritarians who are often also narcissistic or psychopathic and tend to come from the 2% who operate from a “self” level, believing that the world exists to serve them.
At an independent level we are very strongly located in our team, tribe, nation or religion. We believe strongly in our exceptionalism and like the stories that support it. We will find it easy to trust those in our tribe and will be suspicious of those outside it. We are competing with outsiders and believe that they never act in good faith. When we are independent we see life as a competition between “us” and “them”, where the winners end up destroying the losers.
At an interdependent level we believe in collaboration, we see others as equals and are ready to enrol them or to be enrolled, whatever boundaries exist are porous and we believe in the benefits of a flow or people and ideas. The default is to trust others, even those different from ourselves to the point of vulnerability. Competition can be a win, win where both parties end up improving. Compromise and collaboration are the default starting point.
The remaining 1% operate at an integral level and take interdependence, trust and vulnerability to the next level seeing it crossing species and encompassing past and future.
The European elections this week and other elections going on around the world turn out to be a contest largely between independent and Interdependent with those at a dependent level making a difference too.
The 17% who are dependent (probably fewer than that in Europe these days) are looking to vote for a “strong man” (usually specifically a man), they want someone who will act as a father figure and save them from having to take responsibility. If there is a strong man available they will vote for him, if not they will probably not vote at all and just nurse their anger that the world is against them. Some might be taken by the independent narrative and vote for that.
The 40% who are independent (probably more than that in Europe) are intoxicated by the simplistic, nationalist solutions of the populists. They love the narrative that the blame for their woes lies with whichever out group the populist leader has selected to blame. Global problems are dismissed or denied, precisely because they cannot be solved at the national level. They do not see or comprehend interdependence at all – seeing interdependent people simply as weak because they allow others to win. They will vote for the nationalist and anti interdependence leaders and parties.
The 40% who are interdependent (probably more than that in Europe ) are horrified that the so many of the people they had sought to enrol and include reject them and their values. They are frighted of global challenges – specifically the climate crisis – and are desperately searching for ways to include everyone in the solutions. They also tend to look down on those at an independent and dependent level and fail to understand why their invitations to collaborate are so firmly rejected. They will vote for the inclusive, integrationist parties and leaders.
This election might well be a turning point which decides whether our society is to be sustained or not. Given the state of the climate crisis and the eleven years that we have to make radical changes to the way that we operate, a rebalancing of Europe towards independence and the likely reduction in progress towards climate solutions, might just turn out to be terminal, not just for Europeans but for much of human society.
By contrast a renewal of our commitment to interdependence and decisive and determined climate action and leadership in Europe, might just save us.
If you have the opportunity to vote for or to encourage others to vote for progressive and interdependent parties in the European elections please do. It might turn out to be important.
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