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Number 3

Recognizing the biological remnants of our past is essential to our survival as a species. In a study of territorial behavior, birds of a particular species were transplanted to a neighboring village where the same species thrived. The new location was only a few hundred miles away, but much further than the birds would ever have traveled of their own volition. The "outsider" birds were then released in the new village and quickly settled into the trees. Almost immediately, these outsiders were recognized as such by their foreign song and were set upon by the local birds. Vigorous squabbles erupted.

In similar circumstances of confronting outsiders, humans tend to apply a template of race, religion, national pride, and other rationalizations to justify feelings of animosity and aggression motivated by xenophobia. But at their core, most ethnic, religious, and territorial battles are little different, in origin or execution, from the squabbling of those birds in the trees. Such behaviors ultimately stem from hardwired biology that is directed toward ensuring access to resources, territory, and mating privileges.

These primitive tribal strategies are part of the evolutionary framework of animal behavior. But they are not beneficial for modern humans. We have the ability to feed everyone on earth. We have the means to solve disputes, justly and fairly, through world courts. And most importantly, we have the higher-brain functions necessary to subvert the primitive and counterproductive remnants of our animal heritage. The only missing ingredient is a willingness to rise above our biological baggage and foster respect for every individual.

Millions of people around the globe are oppressed by ethnic, tribal, religious, or nationalistic conflict. Political action is required to protect the innocent in such situations. But these conflicts are symptoms of a greater malaise. The better we understand root causes, the better we can become at solving the problems. While it is indisputable that economic disparity and racial or religious discrimination breed conflict, these inequities are the end result of our primitive impulses. The willingness to subjugate others, based on economics, politics, or religion, is predicated on viewing that group as fundamentally different and apart from one’s own tribe.


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