While the human race began more than six million years ago, civilization and the development of cities have only existed for around six thousand years, and thenceforth humanity has created a series of group-level conflicts. Regardless of small tribes and clan battles that have been in existence since humankind was born, the world has borne witness to at least 3000 wars in the last 3700 years, with roots often tied to ideological changes. Religions, nationalities, ethnicities, and many other categories could define the way of living of a whole society, and constitute certain groups of humans into belongings. Therefore, these people instinctively feel responsible for defending their country, religion, or race against any new or different cultures – which can be a subject of controversy and war. That being the case, nowadays almost every official army consists of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers.
The question is, why would humans be ready to sacrifice their lives or kill each other in order to protect some cultures that they have never chosen to belong to, nay that they were taught to define themselves under their names? In my opinion, humans are mainly taught to adopt their identity from the society they live in, not to think of, and look for their own. They instinctively feel safer following the herd behavior, which explains the phenomena of large numbers of people acting in the same way without using rationality.
We often hear people saying, “I am proud to be a Canadian, American, Muslim, etc..” On the other hand, belonging to any of these communities is not a personal accomplishment of which to be proud. It’s a decision that society took over one’s personal life, even before birth. You’ve been told who you are, and taught how to define yourself. I think that, in a way, the impacts of this phenomenon on a human’s behaviour vary according to the civil laws of the country they live in, and how multicultural it is.
The more a community is devoted to its own beliefs and traditions, the more it unconsciously raises its members on the ideas of refusing other populations, and fighting against any possible change. Often, therefore, people belonging to such a community think they hold the absolute truth, and transmit their thoughts and beliefs to next generations as sacred and undoubtable. Consequently, the majority of the population becomes intolerant against whoever brings in new or different ideas, and violence often consists of the first solution to prevent this from happening.
I do not really think it’s out of inhumanism that people turn violent in these cases. It is more because, when raised in devoted communities, people fear adopting a new lifestyle and losing the others’ support. What ancestors have transmitted is the only thing these humans know; they all follow the same traditions, sanctify the same values, and see the concepts of right and wrong the same way. Have they thought about having their own, individual considerations of right and wrong? Have they tried to live neutrally before deciding to what religion or community they want to proudly belong? Did they have the freedom of choosing their values, rather than adopting their parents’ ones?
I think the answer that is convenient for the majority of populations and individuals around the world would be no. On the contrary, the more they grow, the more these customs and values will be instilled in their brains, the more they will define themselves the same way, and stop looking for who they are. As a result, it is not surprising that these people fight against change. It’s the only lifestyle they have been introduced to; it’s their identity!
On the other hand, I think liberal societies suffer less from this phenomenon – especially those who welcome immigrants. Secular states’ laws are only based on human rights and not any other ideologies, which may consist of punishing whoever is harming other people physically or psychologically. Therefore, laws do not legalize honor killings, neither do they follow a religious or a political doctrine of the majority. Furthermore, when living in a society garnished with people belonging to different categories, humans learn to live equally, whether they belong to a minority or to a majority, and sometimes are able to open up and discover other lifestyles that could be more convenient for them. Nevertheless, I am not saying that people in liberal societies do not tend to follow the herd behavior most of the time, but I think violence against any modernization or renovation does not exist in them as largely as in other societies where the law allows it.
For example, a lot of people in the western world, including girls and women, do not react against the way females are being objectified in advertisements; not because they think it is the right way of promoting products, but because they have simply never thought about it! Even though this phenomenon, and plenty of other ones, have many negative impacts on our everyday life, not everybody has a tendency to make a change. Therefore, these impacts limit women’s freedom and lead them to behave in a certain way to reach an ideal physical appearance – to the society’s standard.
We are seven billion humans on Earth, but none of us have the same DNA as another person, none of us have the same face or body features as another person. Thus, it is also possible for us to have seven billion different personalities, to have seven billion different paths, and to live seven billion different journeys. Identity is not to be adopted, neither to be given. It is a whole path that we create ourselves. It is the happiness worth fighting for, and the struggle to reach it.
Written By: Zeina Maan