This series is reprinted with permission from my friend and fellow mental health nurse Felicity Stockwell. Her complete writings can be found on her website at http://www.felicitystockwell.com/
I’m grateful to Felicity for agreeing to let me publish her work here.
The necessity for the community to co-operate in ensuring the safety and nourishment of mothers and their babies, and for the passing on of the gene pool to future generations, requires many complex neuro-chemical processes, in the cortex of the brain, that will enable communication and enhance social cohesion.
Language and speech are fundamental to communal existence, and alongside these, the capacity for conceptual thinking and imagination allow for singing, dancing, story-telling, painting, sculpting and playing. These serve two main purposes, in that language and narrative conserve the accumulated wisdom that ensures survival, and the sharing of the cultural activities enhance the pleasure and the essential cohesion of the members of the tribe. Through daily living and over time, experience leads these two threads intermingle to generate safe and rewarding patterns of behaviour in the relationships with each other, and in the relationship with the world around.
It is possible that in good times the reassurance and pleasure of mutual support, and in the bad times the relief of overcoming difficulties, can lead to an emotional experience for all the members, that is greater than that felt as an individual. This could be the root of what has come to be termed spirituality. Alongside this there are the practical rewards of the behaviours that result from the imprinted altruism and cooperation for ensuring survival. These are now the behaviours that are termed ‘moral’.
In the beginning, perhaps some two million years ago, human life evolved on this planet and was lived in self-sufficient nomadic tribes. As numbers increased the tribes proliferated and spread across the world, but the numbers in any one tribe remained constant. By our standards life was hard, but with the Bonding Process as the engine of their egalitarian communities, they thrived through many millenia, living lives of contentment, humour and joy. Perhaps ten thousand years ago, possibly because the planet became more fertile, the nomadic tribes were able to find sufficient sustenance in given areas, and were able to develop farming methods and establish settled communities.
With easier living there was a large increase the numbers of people, which generated spare time. This allowed for thinking and experimentation and and the development of tools and artifacts, with the result that they produced an excess of food and, eventually, surplus goods. It is generally recognised, that from that time onwards, many socially destructive behaviours emerged, such as greed, envy and pride, that continue to defy human remedy.
“My guess, is that the reason for this, is because the Bonding Process is only fully effective in ‘small group’ situations, where every member knows and is known by all the others. The genetic drive to conform and cooperate eliminates any deviancy or selfishness in such a situation, but with easier living and the distractions provided by increased intelligence, the powerful ‘boundaries’ of the ‘small group’ can soon be circumvented without the punishment of rejection.
It is tempting to suggest that with the increase in numbers, spare time and goods and escaping the friendly but coercive ‘eyes’ of the community, a vacuum was generated that came to be filled by experimental ways of behaving which became ‘self’ rewarding’. These have since been labelled as the ‘sins’ of pride, greed, envy etc. and gaining wealth, status and fame have, in large part, become acceptable motivators of our social behavior. However, these ‘rewards’ do not meet the Bonding Social Needs, which are still being monitored and generate anxiety if not met. It is, for example, recognised that being wealthy in the absence of having a loving family, belonging to rewarding social groups and sharing the money, does not bring contentment. What does happen is that ego-centric ‘wants’ do afford some pleasure, but they do not meet Social Needs, and if these are not fully met through the person’s social life, then ‘wants’ become the motivators and more and more are needed and become addictive.
It is also tempting to suggest that it is these essentially selfish behaviours that are leading to the pollution, waste and depletion of resources (minerals and oil, food and water), climate warming, over-population and conflict that threaten to make the planet unfit for human habitation.“
If this should be the case, then research would need to focus on changing human behaviour in the direction of finding contentment in sufficiency and eschewing growth, profit and competition, and encouraging population control, for starters.