Humans can come close to reading each other’s minds. We see a form of that in teamwork, in which a group organizes to become more effective than any individual can be.
On the very primitive level an example of this is slime molds. When there’s plenty around to eat, the individual cells eat independently. When conditions aren’t so good, the cells congregate to form a mold, and go into a state of suspended animation, until food is available again.
This might be an analogy of what people say happened during the Great Depression: people helped each other out more than now. When the country became wealthy again, community started to become lost.
On a higher level of teamwork, are other living creatures: insects, reptiles, mammals and humans, each a conglomeration of cells working together for the benefit of the whole organism.
Teamwork exists on the human level too. Ideally, every marriage and family is a team, though some are dysfunctional. Some people prefer to watch or play individual sports like tennis—more people watch tennis singles matches than doubles, but the most popular sports in this country, and maybe around the world, are team sports.
Many focus on individual stars in baseball, basketball, football, hockey or soccer, but I think watching teams work together can be fascinating. In basketball, a game of almost perpetual motion, when one player moves, so do the others. If the players have been well-coached, they move to complement each other, either to help their team score, or to prevent the other team from scoring. Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, perhaps the two greatest scorers in the history of basketball, couldn’t score enough alone to win games. They needed teammates to help them, and never won championships until they realized that.
And almost all of us are involved in teams of some sort. Besides family, most of us are parts of teams wherever we work, and (again ideally) help direct our government on every level. Since we each are individuals too, there’s always a tension there. The group can over-restrain the individual, but individuals can do things to the detriment of the group, too. We see that in politics now, where politicians demand that one societal group be rewarded at the expense of another. Of course all politicians claim to have the interests of the whole society at heart, but most people have their own selfish agendas at heart, whether they admit it or not.
At their best, religions promote the primacy of community, especially when they demand that all the community’s members be supported, and model how this should be done. But communities, like individuals, can be exclusive, as well as inclusive. So some religions forcibly convert, and may refuse to allow members to leave, if they wish. Each religion has a belief system which says what works, and these systems can become dogmatic. And many religious people refuse to recognize the similarities in other belief systems, and consider them enemies. So humans always have forces dividing as well as uniting them. When the balance between individual and society is lost, that society is in trouble.
Jesus is famously alleged to have said to his disciples to love one another, and to have preached to society in general to love their neighbors as themselves. Successfully following these admonitions would lead us to balance between ourselves and the groups we belong to. But few feel able to do so, and the easier ways of making groups work; authoritarianism and and manipulation, in all their various forms, eventually fail.
And so does anything else, unless we have internal guides to keep us adjusting to the changing realities in which we participate. All of that is demanding, so we frequently allow ourselves to fall short of the ideal, often with drastic consequences. Nothing comes with an absolute guarantee, so we take the cheap way out, and lose a lot of possible benefits.
So let’s talk about our country, which is also supposed to be a team. Of course it has a lot of teams competing in and with it. Not only are there other races and classes, but other economic interests.American corporations have become international, both manufacturing and selling in other countries besides ours. They may have decided they no longer need ordinary Americans on their teams, since they’ve found ways to manufacture without them. They may also have decided they don’t need ordinary Americans as buyers, since many are making great profits without the unemployment rate getting significantly better. Economics may be a competitive sport, but it’s also a team sport, especially on the national level. If many Americans can’t find jobs, they also can’t buy much. Necessities, if that. That’s no way to make a national economy grow.
Then there are the political teams. Conservatives are the ones who promote individualism, but also have the most team spirit. Hatred is passionate, and teams need passion to succeed. Liberals are less passionate, and also less effective. That doesn’t make for a very rosy picture of the future. We seem to be in the midst of a civil war, even if the actual fighting hasn’t yet begun. Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. Hatred and madness synergize very well, and there’s plenty of both to go around right now.
It would be nice to see liberals get as aggressive as conservatives without descending to the hateful level. Of course conservatives argue that they already have, what with “death panels” and such. Many can’t see beyond the buzzwords, let alone see others in any rational light.
So although humans have the capablity to work together on a high level, sometimes in almost an intuitive dance, they also have the capability to blind themselves to others humanity, particularly in dangerously uncertain times, as these are. With worry and fear come paranoia, and there are plenty of people around to feed it. When the tension gets to the brealomg point, then will come the blood. Are Americans exceptional? In some ways we have been, but we seem determined to prove that we no longer are.