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For most of my life I have tried to act on the values I was raised with, to live a life of principle. In my family that meant doing my best and promoting opportunity, equality and justice for others as well. During the last 33 years I have been at various times a social worker for the elderly, a child protective services worker, an alternative education teacher for juvenile delinquents and emotionally disturbed children, a mental health and addiction counselor, and a mental health program director, consultant and trainer. I have written or co-written five books and numerous articles for professional magazines on these topics.

I have come to the conclusion that most of my efforts were spent in the wrong place. Today I am convinced I should have been trying to change a sick system to nurture people not change people to adjust to a sick system. I do believe that I assisted people in gaining needed skills and that my efforts helped people cope with their problems better. But the question I have had to face is, what is it I have helped them learn to cope with? Rarely do we stop to question the milieu that we live in or what it produces. I now believe that many times I have helped people try to adapt to an insane state of existence.

To understand the pathology of our current culture that the right is trying to sell the world under the misleading label of "liberal democracy", we have to look at how anthropology, cultural history, mythology and evolutionary biology have defined the needs of human beings. The destruction of this supportive culture, developed over millions of years by the industrial revolution in the relatively short period of two hundred years is the underlying cause of individual, family and community ills.

Our Mental and Emotional Evolution

Before the industrial revolution families spent almost all of their time in close contact with each other and their neighbors. Whether farmers or craftsman, families worked together in their fields, homes or shops with each other. Most meals were taken together throughout the day. Families, who had neither land nor craft, worked for others mostly as family units. Families lived together in small villages or neighborhoods in large towns. Historically, houses would be clustered with fields surrounding them many times, pasturage and other lands were held in common.

People lived in extended families, clans and groups. Intermarriage with the neighbors was the norm. Children were raised by communities. These communities were positive in their clear peer expectations, a hierarchy in the community usually based on skill and respect (without great economic disparity) and their need for mutual support to accomplish day to day tasks impacting survival and living conditions. Even the mentally ill and infirm had roles within the community and in most cases were looked on as a collective responsibility. When they moved, they generally moved as a whole community. This could happen because of seasonal changes for pasture, nomadic lifestyle or changing political or environmental conditions.

The counsel of elders or respected members of the community was usually sought out when information came in from the outside or things happened outside the norm that needed interpretation. The collective discussion and wisdom of the community was sought out to decide how to deal with this information. In many cultures women had an equal role in this, in some matriarchal societies a leading one.

People's lives revolved around the seasons, the time of day and other things that kept them inseparable from their environment. Their livelihood and survival were dependent on their knowledge and respect for that environment. They felt a part (and sometimes victim of) of the larger world and universe and held it in a sense of awe. New information was rare and change was slow, maybe not even observable within one lifetime. Things that were not understood were relegated by superstition to the mythology embedded in the culture.

Whether living in a village or as nomadic groups, these communities functioned basically the same. When these norms broke down it was generally because of war, famine or natural disaster. In those times whole communities were destroyed with the survivors incorporated by conquerors or scattered to the wind to join other groups.

Before nation states there were empires. They usually revolved around a specific personality after whose death things reverted to the norm. Empires also generally incorporated all of the people conquered under one ruler or group. Many times they had the same privileges and obligations regardless of culture or language but life at the village or neighborhood level stayed unchanged.

It was this successful functioning of humans in group life that allowed them to become the earth's dominant species. While much time is spent talking about the success of humans being dependent on their creation of tools and ability to alter their environment to their own needs, less credit is given to the communal nature of humans that success depended on. No matter where you go in the world the jungle, the desert, the arctic people lived in family groups, clans, communities. Individual satisfaction was based on accepting your role in the family and community; in return you were given what security there was. Survival and prosperity was a mutual exercise that applied to all.

This group interaction, decision making, nurturance, establishment of norms were the processes that maintained the cultures that insured group and individual emotional and physical survival. The family and community social units came under steady attack as the accumulation of capital and power by self entitled institutions were able to exploit them for gain while at the same time shed themselves of group responsibility. The vehicles for this process were religion, the nation-state and industrial capitalism.

Religions and Nation States

Religion came first as non-institutional tribal culture and incorporated philosophy, mythology and common law. Philosophy is a belief in the nature of man and his relation to the larger world. Mythology is the use of metaphors and stories to explain phenomena outside of objective knowledge and to lend supernatural authority to mere men. Community common law evolved from experience to regulate behavior and settle disputes that threatened the survival of the group. In the group life philosophy, mythology and common law all reflected the common good and those who were seen as being appointed reflected those concerns as well.

The Ten Commandments are rules for the survival and cohesiveness of a nomadic tribe, not a philosophy of life. Jesus' teachings, a philosophy, the creation story, the virgin birth, the resurrection and the deification, the mythology invented to explain and legitimize the authority of the institutional church. While church and state had worked hand in hand for a few thousand years off and on, the merger of the Roman empire and Christianity laid the groundwork for the institutional church of today. Religion levied taxes in the form of enforced tithing, used the mythology of damnation as a recruitment method and enforced obedience through the system of excommunication for believers and exclusion and physical punishment for heretics.

One promised defense while the other a solution to superstitious fear both were organs designed to generate capital and power for their leaders. The formation of nation-states and their geographical boundaries along cultural and language lines allowed leaders to consolidate the feudal system, reducing wasteful internal skirmishes. It also allowed the standardization of currency and regulation, the ability to levy taxes, conscript armies and enforce laws to control the population.

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John Kelley is the Managing Editor of a monthly progressive newsmagazine, "We the People News", in Corpus Christi, Texas
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