Close your eyes and try to imagine the two wolves. Imagine yourself as a terrified child. I think it helps bring to life the myth…this myth, Cherokee says, of humanity’s two choices. The wolves are engaged in a vicious fight.
The wise grandfather explains to the child that the two wolves are in each of us. One of the wolves is an arrogant narcissist – a fool, a self-centered idiot. You know, evil. The other is the embodiment of joy and empathy, kindness and love.
The trembling child asks worriedly, “Which one wins?” And Grandpa puts it on the line: “The one you feed.”
It’s morality 1.0. Do not respond to the worst in yourself. It makes sense; we all no doubt need to remind ourselves of this regularly, especially when things don’t go our way.
But here’s the problem with this myth – or at least what seems to be its oversimplified version. It is continually susceptible to turning into a tool of the worst of who we are.
I address this point in the middle of a larger research project: trying to understand the nature of war and the nature of being human. Are they inseparable? And more precisely: how do we evolve beyond war? When the two wolves appeared in the middle of this search, it sounded like an “aha!” moment. Which wolf wins? The one you feed:
“A diverse coalition of civil society groups responded with disgust after the Senate Armed Services Committee voted Thursday to add an additional $45 billion on top of President Joe Biden’s already massive military spending request, raising the budget. proposed total for the coming year at a staggering level. $857.6 billion.
Yes, the US military budget keeps growing. The same goes for the global military budget. And here’s what that eating binge looks like in a less abstract way, in the moment, in the words of Marcy Winograd Progressive Democrats of America:
“The Ministry of Defense recently announced that it would send nearly $3 billion more in arms and assistance to Ukraine… the largest Ukrainian arms package to date – rockets, drones, 350,000 cartridges… The latest announcement from the DOD brings the total in weapons, ammunition and military training to raise the war in Ukraine to at least $13.5 billion.
But when you think about it, a counter-argument, a defense of US military aid to Ukraine, immediately arises. The USA and NATO have no choice! Putin is the bad wolf here. And this is where the wise grandfather and the myth itself begin to crumble. The two wolves fight with bare claws and bare teeth; the two try to kill the other. Humanity’s wars over the past 10,000 years have evolved, it seems, from this very myth.
As the human social structure has become more complex, more rooted in ownership and wealth – and control – the concept of us versus them has hardened. There is always an enemy, and the enemy is always the bad wolf.
The war took a long time to find. As anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson wrote in Scientific American: “Simple hunting and gathering have characterized human societies for most of human existence, dating back more than 200,000 years. Basically, these groups cooperate with each other and live in small, mobile and egalitarian bands, exploiting large areas with low population density and few goods.
But life slowly became more complex for much of humanity, especially as people shifted from hunting-gathering to farming and establishing fixed settlements, homesteading, property and , ultimately, wealth (or lack thereof).
“Over the millennia,” Ferguson wrote, “preconditions for war have become more common in more places. Once established, war tends to spread, with violent peoples replacing less violent ones. States have evolved all over the world and States are able to militarize the peoples on their peripheries and on their trade routes. »
And that’s the world today. Are we stuck with war then – a war that has evolved its weapons over the years, from clubs to spears to guns… to nuclear weapons? We have pushed ourselves to the absolute edge of existence, with minimal interest at the highest levels of state power in transcending self-annihilation, whether through war or my climate collapse. When the mega-bombs start exploding, five billion of us will soon be dead. We’re stuck, right? See you soon, humanity?
Ferguson points out that some human societies, at this time of agricultural transition, avoided the emergence of war. “Many social arrangements,” he pointed out, “prevent war, such as kinship and marriage ties between groups; cooperation in hunting, farming, or sharing food; flexibility in social arrangements that allow individuals to move to other groups; norms that value peace and stigmatize murder; and recognized means of conflict resolution.
Conflict is inevitable – it will never change. But various societies over the millennia have found ways not just to minimize conflict, but to learn from and transcend it, to create what Ferguson calls “distinct preconditions for peace.”
This is not idealism! This only seems to be the case for spirits locked in the belief that they are the good wolves. Creating the preconditions for peace—negotiating with Russia, for God’s sake, and beyond, disarming the world’s nuclear weapons, bravely fighting climate collapse—is not wishful thinking. It is evolution.