So while we like to think there are great elements of surprise and uncertainty to the things we do, in fact we behave like every pack animal and we follow patterns, largely dictated by the interplay beteween social evolution and survival instinct.
You’ve heard the saying “it’s all been done”? Progress relies on it, because all social evolution is a move forward from a contextual baseline.
What does this have to do with writing fiction for a living? Well, probably a lot of things. But my interest is a little more selfish and simple: I rather like the romanticized British notion (I’m Canadian but was raised there as well) of retiring to a career writing fiction an hour from the Costa Tropical in Spain.(You can find my books on Kindle, here).
And right now, Spain is stuck in another cycle of damnably stupid human behavior.
In an earlier age, guys like George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway were so struck with their passion for Spain’s history and people that they fought to keep it free from the Nationalist dictator Francisco Franco.
They didn’t succeed, and Spain spent 40 years under his thumb, and under the yoke of a Catholic technocracy, plagued by repression, an absence of basic rights and death squads, even as lowered labor rates and tariff-free trade made the Catholic right-win elite wealthy and successful.
But that era was just the latest in a history of human development that is simply among the richest on Earth, rivaling in importance the development of early China and Africa.
Among the earliest travel routes for our species, moving out of the Rift Valley in Africa and into what is now Europe, some of our earliest DNA is linked to early mankind found in Spain.
Various Islamic dynasties held on until about 1500, when the current lineage of power brokers began with the conquest and unification of the nation by a coalition of Catholic local regents. From this group the Spanish monarchy and national unification was achieved and ruled with a variety of styles until the modern era, when republic fought of dictatorship, then was beaten down by it; when dictatorship gave way to democracy, socialists were elected, and the dictator’s son and cohorts promptly declared a civil war.
Franco won. As Chevy Chase was wont to note, he is still dead.
But Spain is about to cycle back to the right wing. There are a lot of smaller contributing reasons as to why this has happened, but the outcome will be that, once again, the national political scene has swung from one extreme to another. And the result won’t be pretty.
Human logistics and the process of rationalization would suggest that political systems that reduce the power of individual politicians and force dialectical debate in the development of policy will be more steady in their growth and problem management. But Spain doesn’t have that. Instead, it has a typical republic, a constitutional monarchy with two sides acting as opponents, a historical sop designed to limit the impact of ideology in governance.
In fact, it does the opposite, boiling entire systems down to one extreme versus the other, with tiny concessions towards the middle, because such systems – whether Republicanism in the U.S. and Spain or Parliamentarianism in Britain and Canada – are as much about the natural human survival dynamic for some to seek leadership and power as they are about actual voter representation.
If we wanted government to be effective, we would instead develop systems that reduce political power in lawmaking (perhaps via public fiats like Switzerland) and demand proportional representation – if not necessarily in the voting system then certainly in the establishment of all-party committees to develop national policy.
This is a “best of both worlds” solution. It allows the ideologically driven power seeker to represent the public and work for their beliefs, and to be unconstrained by a differing communal dynamic as they attempt to develop new ideas and solutions; but once elected, it limits the damage we can suffer from their intransigence with respect to existing belief. They can contribute as both individualistic right wingers and communalistic left wingers.
Over the next century or so, we’ll see such systems developed, as the social cycle in such nations continues and the rebound against authoritarian, individualistic right-wing policy develops in to a community ethic again. The left has already moderated more towards the middle thanks to the failure of Marxism.
But I don’t want to wait 20 years or more to move to Spain just because their current government is as full of ideologically-driven, narrow-minded individuals who think the obvious answer to social malaise is rampant capitalism.
Here’s the problem with the political right and the political left: by pushing for one side to unilaterally control any system, they ignore the obvious socio-biological ramifications of their beliefs. Our beliefs influence our decisions subconsciously all the time, which is why we can look at others’ religions and see them as absurd due to a lack of proof, but not criticize our own in the same manner.
Neuroscience also indicates, for example, that the more self-sufficient we become and the less we require the aid of others, the less empathy we have for them as a consequence, because empathy is part-and-parcel of our survival instinct: relating emotionally to others helps us learn from their mistakes and avoid the same problems in our lives. If we don’t need it to survive (due to acquired or inherited power or an acceptance or predatory ruthlessness) we don’t develop it or, over time, we shed it.
So while it’s admirable to pursue individualism – and by definition necessary to establishing new ideas – it’s also dangerous to push individualism too far. Greed ISN’T good. It turns us into predatory creatures because we lose empathy for our fellow man and instead start preying on them. It’s just a natural, pack animal instinct to go after the weak in the herd.
And we revert to that animal instinct when we’re taken away from civilizing factors. “Civilization”, by definition, requires group mores, and group mores, by definition, require communal agreement, not pure individualism.
What this shows us is that people who gravitate exclusively to the political right are likely not only to stay there, but to redefine their own view of others’ behavior to fit that paradigm. They may be more personally successful and powerful, but with each gain in success and power, their requirement for pack support seems less important to them.
That egocentric selfishness is a natural human trait, which is why so many right-wingers say things like “greed is good.” But LOTS of things are natural human traits and we’ve socialized ourselves away from them. There’s a fair swath of anthropological evidence, for example, that humans routinely ate each other at one point—probably before we’d evolved into mass pack interaction and developed consciences to maintain those units.
On the left, the concept of community as the absolute priority is equally dangerous, and equally likely to drive subconsciously biased behavior. For a community to remain together, it develops social and civil codes. But in early-stage community development, those codes are often adhered to because the majority wants them … not because they’re the smartest way of doing things. The group develops an ethos to act as its survival instinct as if it were a singular entity; the more rigid this ethos is with respect to its members, the more “orthodox” we see the group as being.
But that rigidity eventually causes every communal system to break down and fail – or evolve, as is usually the case, through moderation. This occurs because individuals in the group exercise a sense of self and challenge the group’s rules and preconceptions – even though they often have to fight the biologically driven anxiety known as “cognitive dissonance” that goes with holding conflicting beliefs at the same time.
Back to Spain, where a right-wing political group is using public money to bail out private banks (and one big public bank, too). It will start shedding the public sector next, followed by lowering labor controls on things such as wages, union membership and hours worked.
In truth, some degree of all of these things is probably needed to get the country into economic recovery, because for years a bloated social democracy has been corrupted by regional nepotism, bureaucratic empire building and vast public over-employment. The black market economy in Spain is so big, entire administrative regions have had to begin purges of illegally owned homes, because the paperwork was all done under the table, with discounts for the buyers. It’s still easier to get something done by taking the local official for golf once than it is by being honest.
This cronyism started under the technocrats and became part of the national economic makeup. The more money you had – whether a socialist overpaid appointee or a wealthy landowning rightwinger – the more influence you had.
But because of their ideological beliefs, the right-wingers trying to fix the economic situation have already gone too far, bailing out the banks instead of the mortgage holders, and allowing construction and development to continue at an unhealthily high pace despite the worst glut of unsellable real estate on the face of the planet. You’d have about an easy time getting market value for a villa in Murcia these days as you would of selling a nice two-bedroom apartment in southern Zimbabwe.
Spain, and other trembling, worried nations need a change alright, but it’s not to the latest edition of one political extreme or another; it’s to a system that forces the two sides to work together to get anything done. Trying to simply graft right-wing austerity and privatization onto a populace that spent four decades under Franco is a recipe not only for failure economically, but socially, as well.
my books to move to Spain in the next few years with my wife and our pets. We’d like to find our nice little house in the country – with a pool – where I could work on my fiction and my wife could rescue strays. On the weekends, we could enjoy being in Spain – because the people are the most social, gregarious and outgoing in Europe; because the strip mall is nearly non-existent there; because meals often last three hours as people talk and laugh the night away; because the beaches are some of the best in the world; because the country is covered in the archeological remnants of ancient Phoenicia, Rome, the Islamic era and the era of knights and lords.
Oh, that and 300-plus days of sun a year.
Let’s face it, if you’ve got a historical, sociological bone in your body, it’s an easy place to love.
But not right now; not with a 20% tax rate, 25% unemployment and a government about to unleash the usual ideologically driven stupidity, to the enrichment of a few and the pain of many others.
And that’s a damn shame.