TUMBY BAY - Bear with me, this is a bit esoteric and complicated.
The Israeli historian, Yuval Noah Harari, in his 2011* book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’, wrote that all animals only experience major behavioural shifts when their genetics change. That is, when they experience an evolutionary change.
There is an exception however. Humans.
Humans evolved into our modern form about 300,000 years ago but for a long time we were just one of many species of animal subject to the whims of nature.
Drought, flood, fire, famine and occasionally abundance ensured that our numbers were always in balance with nature.
Then, about 70,000 years ago, there was a dramatic change in our numbers and we began to multiply exponentially.
It wasn’t genetic change or climate change that caused this. It came with our ability to tell stories.
Humans are the only organism where behaviour can radically change because of the fictions they create. Fictions so great and powerful that they bind people into larger and larger groups that can accomplish greater and greater things.
Yuval Noah Harari described these as imagined realities, social constructs and myths. Humans have the special ability to unite millions of strangers around common myths. Ideas such as freedom, human rights, gods, laws, and capitalism exist in our imagination, yet they can bind us together and motivate us to cooperate on complex tasks.
They are imagined realities because they arise in people’s minds and have no scientific basis.
The French Revolution is a good example of a myth that changed human behaviour almost overnight.
In 1789 the French people rejected the myth of the divine right of kings to rule and adopted the myth of the sovereignty of the people.
The human ability to create a social construct, imagined reality and a myth and believe in them led directly to our ability to cooperate in our thousands and then in our millions.
These constructs gave us cooperation and cooperation made us the mightiest species on earth.
For any human society to survive and progress, imagined realities, myths and social constructs need to be carefully nurtured.
This is done through stories, through literature, the telling of which lead to the imagination of new realities that contribute to new and better social constructs.
Let’s simplify this a bit.
Someone thinks of a good idea, something different and something new – a new and different way of doing something.
So what do they do with this idea? How do they tell people about it?
They write it down. Maybe as a political tract, maybe as an essay, maybe as a novel or a play.
Have you read Leonard Fong Roka’s book, ‘Bougainville Manifesto’? If you have you’ll know what I mean.
People read it, think about it and if it sounds good may adopt its arguments and premises and encourage others to do the same. That’s how the French Revolution started and progressed.
It therefore seems logical that any society interested in being progressive will encourage the diffusion of ideas through writing and literature.
A progressive society will encourage its thinkers to imagine new realities and create the conditions in which people write their ideas so other people can read them and consider them.
It is only be the most repressive or stupid societies that reject change that won’t do this.
I can think of a couple of places like that. Maybe you can too.
*Originally published in Hebrew and translated into English in 2014.