How Religion and Politics Exploits Our Primal Urges
Our primal instinct to form tribes will be our very undoing.
Religion, throughout history, has been used as a tool to dominate, keep the masses in check and exert control over vast kingdoms. But with the advent of technology and the new pseudo-gods of the modern age, the belief in the old Gods seems to be fading away. Unless you’re a religious diehard, it’s pretty hard to believe there’s a supreme power out there constantly watching and protecting you from all the evil in the world, especially with all the madness and mayhem that was let loose by the pandemic.
Incidents of racism, crimes large and small, theft, burglary, financial fraud, rape, and murder all saw a massive rise during and after the two waves of the pandemic. Videos of hate crimes towards Asians living in the US were circulating on social media during the first unlocking, as was gun violence when the world didn’t even know a second wave was coming.
The pandemic left many people destitute, homeless, and insecure, so quite a bit of that paranoia managed to spill out onto the streets. Here in India, there was a phenomenal rise in instances of domestic violence and crimes against women and children due to the triple whammy of lockdowns, jobs losses, and the unavailability of alcohol.
It seems that the tight knot of religion and politics that kept people in check, which further allowed the 1% to hoard all the wealth at the cost of the bottom half of humanity, is slowly slipping out of the grasp of politicians, bureaucrats, religious and world leaders. People are starting to realize that no amount of “thoughts and prayers” can get them out of their predicaments, and that they’ve silently been taken for a ride all along.
The In-group Out-group bias
In his bestselling book, ‘Sapiens’, the popular historian Yuval Noah Harari talks about the in-group bias that afflicts religious people. And that it is one of the main reasons why extremists exist. That is the reason every religion believes that its God is the one true god, and that the rest of the Gods are either pseudo-Gods or mere angels. Apparently there are around 4000 religions and somewhere around 12000 Gods in the world.
But try making a theist doubt the legitimacy and validity of the religion that he/she follows. You’ll be met with sharp consternation and contempt, if not threatened with physical harm and more.
Don’t be taken aback. This is pretty normal.
After all, they’ve been indoctrinated since childhood into believing their God is the one and only true God, and it is quite unlikely that you can undo years of brainwashing in just a single conversation. But it is exactly the undoing we need if we ever want to see an inclusive world free from bloodshed and violence.
It is this in-group bias that is at the root of all the communal violence in the world.
The primeval connection
Psychologists say 150 is the maximum number of people one can get to know and keep in touch with. And that an inner circle can consist of 5 to 15 people at most, without links breaking and things starting to fall apart. It’s because of these psychological limitations that humankind will constantly need a much bigger purpose to connect to and find common ground with the rest of civilization. That connection used to be religion and politics. Now that we know that those two cause more harm than good, we’ll need new ideologies and philosophies in the future for people to connect, find common ground, and peacefully co-exist with one another.
“We can only maintain a total of 150 friendships, says Dr Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford, but we do not invest time or emotional closeness across them equally. In fact, his research has shown that about 60% of our total social effort goes to just 15 people, with 40% devoted to the five most important.”
The Similarity to politics
It comes as absolutely no surprise that like-minded religious groups come together to form political parties. After all, the strong belief in an imaginary being already exists, so there is no need to hunt for common ground all over again. This very thought process, the naivety, and gullibility of religious folks, then enables politicians and their henchmen to commit heinous crimes against humanity, all for personal gain.
As long as our actions are directed by our primal urges, we’ll always be cannon fodder for religion and political groups. We, as a species, have to evolve beyond our petty squabbles and look out for humanity as a whole, regardless of the others’ skin colour, religion, or political affiliation. There has to be a cognitive revolution. Only when we voluntarily agree to get out of the matrix and see the world from a neutral standpoint, will we be able to affect significant change in the society. Until then, the Uber rich will keep hoarding all the wealth for themselves as we’re busy engaged in petty squabbles with our neighbours over who wore what, who ate what, or whose community is better, flames that were fanned by the elites themselves through their politicians and religious leader puppets.
Theists are quick to point out the efficacy of religion and politics in keeping unrest at bay and preventing the poor from murdering the rich. But they conveniently forget that it can go the other way as well. In fact, if you look around, you’ll notice that that’s exactly what’s happening in today’s world.
What is the biggest motivator for widespread social unrest, religious fanaticism, and large scale violence erupting in most democratic nations of the world? It’s politics and religion, isn’t it?
I couldn’t care less whether my neighbour is Hindu or Muslim, but fanatical political parties and religious extremists are hell-bent on pitting one against the other and widening the gap of peaceful cooperation that has been existing since decades. There’s been a massive surge in intolerance and nationalist fascism in the past year in India.
Extremist elements, with the support of local political leaders, have brazenly taken it upon themselves to be the custodians and gatekeepers of nationalism and religious identity in the country:
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Politicians know all damn too well that any populist move (and that usually means religious, pro-life, and conservative) placates the majority, and sentimentalism and sensationalism are the two fingers of the giant political hand fingering the emotional G-spot of the public. After all, how many contrarians or atheists actually exist among a crowd of political supporters?
And due to such widespread support for politicians with ulterior motives, there will always be people in both camps, for and against. Also, one must not fail to notice the profile of supporters within a political camp. Most, if not all, are there for purely selfish reasons, and stand to gain immensely by supporting the logic and standpoint taken by the politician, whether those gains happen to be financial or otherwise.
As a voter, you’re supporting someone who doesn’t even take a firm stance on anything, forget the issue that’s close to your heart. Everyone knows what chameleons politicians are. They’re only in the limelight for a short period of time to cash in on all the temporary fame and short term success without actually doing any work that has long term ramifications or something that works for the greater good. Climate change, pandemics, and war wouldn’t be such pressing issues if that weren’t the case.
Twitter is rife with posts revealing what hypocrites politicians and their workers are. They aren’t even trying to conceal their hypocrisy these days. That’s how bad it is.