Our species has a long history of shooting the messenger, regardless of the actual message being delivered. This is patently contra-survival behavior, but it continues to this day. This is largely due to the predominance of yet another cultural survival trait: Tribalism.
During most of human evolution, certain cultural traits have been selected for as survival-oriented. Foremost among these has been our concepts of self and other. It may be to the individual human’s benefit to think only of himself, but the survival of the species has long depended upon looking outside oneself- to recognize other humans as part of yourself.
The first phase of this manifests as the family group. Individual humans are easy prey for many of the contemporary predators, but the family group gave individual humans a better chance of survival and increased the likelihood of those individual human genes being preserved. The next step above family is the clan- essentially a hugely extended family group or a grouping of related families. With these larger organizations, individuals and the species as a whole had far better chances for survival. A tribe is loosely described as a large grouping of clans- some of which may not be related by blood to other groups. Above the tribe comes the nation, followed by the species as a whole. These are the cultural groupings which enhance human survival during our long evolutionary history.
Evolution- both cultural and physical- selected for humans who could operate- and cooperate- within these groups. For most of our evolutionary history, humans have been divided into clans and tribes. Survival for a tribe often meant conflict with other tribes for resources (flint, hunting grounds, fresh water, etc), and it therefore became imperative for tribe members to be able to identify fellow-tribesmen. Humans in your tribe were basically extensions of self, and everyone else was other.
This cultural evolution continued for thousands of years, impressing the tribalism trait deeply into human genetics. Only in the past three or four thousand years have we- as a species- started to rise above tribalism into the larger cultural organization of the nation-state. Unfortunately, the human predisposition toward tribalism all too often overwhelms the social and cultural benefits of the nation-state. Tribalism might almost be classified as an instinct, which can only be overcome by actively using the higher mental functions of reason and analysis. Humans who make the effort to understand and appreciate the benefits of belonging to a larger society and culture can leave behind the predisposition towards tribalism. Those who cannot strive to undo the underpinnings of the nation-state and revert to simple tribalism. These humans are capable of applying rational analysis toward their situation, but are unwilling to do so. Because it takes effort- mental effort. This is frequently unfamiliar and difficult to the tribalists.
Back to shooting the messenger. When a member of an individual’s higher sociocultural grouping tries to change the way that society works, the tribalists automatically revert to looking at him as other. Other has always been associated with a threat to the tribe (In many languages, the words for stranger and enemy were identical during our tribal pre-history). Regardless of whether or not the changes would be good for the larger society or even the individual human tribalist, the easy way to respond to this other has always been violence.
And so it was forty two years ago today. For all his human frailties and faults, the changes Dr. King proposed were and are better for our nation and for individual Americans. But the tribalists among us could not see beyond the simplistic “one … two… many” thought processes of the tribe and reacted violently to those changes. The fact that Dr. King was right in almost every detail only made the tribalists even angrier and more violent, and so he was shot down by one of his fellow Americans for daring to suggest that people be judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin.
In the intervening four decades, we, the People, have come a long way in many ways, but the violent, xenophobic tribesmen are still among us. They rant and rave and demand that the clock be turned back to a mythical better day. They strive- sometimes unconsciously- to break the bonds that tie us together as a nation so they can get back to a tribe of like-minded barbarians. Their lack of understanding of the consequences of their chosen path makes them no less dangerous- both to the culture as a whole and to individual Americans. They must be opposed at every turn by everyone who understands and appreciates the benefits of being Americans. We have to stop these barbarians from shooting the messenger.
Because good messengers are too valuable to waste. And their messages are worth hearing- regardless of whether or not we like them at the time.
“Early morning, April 4, a shot rings out in the Memphis sky.
Free at last, they took your life, but they could not take your pride.”
Current status: Somber
Current music: 1901 by Phoenix