As humans, our collective nature is undeniable. It’s mainly why we’re the most dominant species in existence. If we were all loners, like cats, we would have never built pyramids, and eventually skyscrapers. There would be no science, as we depend on the collective sharing of ideas and discoveries to build upon, which has enabled us to smash the laws of physics and put satellites into outer space.
But history shows that our collective decisions haven’t always been aimed at the greater good. Countless wars, genocides and a long list of atrocities were the result of individuals convinced that what they were doing was right… because “everyone else” thought the same way.
One of the most common human traits is the fear of being ostracized for not succumbing to the decisions of the collective. But this fear is often subconscious, and we don’t always realize we’re doing something detrimental, either to ourselves or those around us, or the entire world.
We just do what’s perceived as “normal”, again, because “everyone else” is doing it.
Of course, collective mind frames can shift, as they have throughout history. But such changes are rarely the product of rational decisions. All too often, they’re the result of charismatic leaders who appeal to our emotions, not our intellects, and their influence can shape collective perceptions, and the path of history, for generations.
The city of Bagdad, in Iraq, was regarded as the intellectual capital of the world from the year 800 to 1100. Words like Algebra and Algorithm originated in that area, where scientific and mathematical discoveries once flourished.
According to Niel Degrasse Tyson, a pop-science icon and expert in scientific history, the “Islamic Golden Age” came to an end when the influential Imam Hamid al-Ghazali led his followers to believe mathematics was the work of the devil.
Perhaps if history had taken a different turn, Iraq would today lead the world in science, technology and innovation. Though one can only speculate. Regardless, why did so many people buy in to such nonsense about math being evil?
There are many reasons, but when a small group of influential individuals accepts something as true, that belief system can trickle down and be adopted by “everyone else”, especially if it’s psychologically comforting, or a convenient way for those in power to maintain the status quo. Religions are perhaps the most notorious examples.
Few, if any, members of ancient roman society questioned the ethics of feeding slaves to lions in the Roman Coliseum for entertainment, just as the slave trade in the Americas went unchallenged until the advent of machinery that could replace them in the 19th century.
How could most people be so indifferent to human suffering for so many generations? Because they lived in a bubble of collective perceptions, one so powerful that only a select few were strong enough to escape, and eventually guide the others out.
There is little evidence to suggest the human brain has changed much in the last 500 years or so, and even though the world has apparently become a kinder place, most of us continue to live in collective bubbles, blind to the repercussions of our actions, hesitant to question cultural norms for fear of being ostracized, and finding ourselves alone.
As of 2019, human slavery is nowhere near as pervasive as in years past, even though it still exists. But there are other forms of brutalization that continue to be part of everyday life, and are broadly accepted and perpetuated by the human collective, beginning with the normalized and industrialized breeding, torture and massacre of billions of animals on a regular basis, and ending with the obliteration of the natural world.
Unlike most global crises which are complex in nature and offer no simple solutions, the primary reason for the destruction of the world’s rainforests is a growing demand for animal protein, an element that is unnecessary and actually detrimental to human health.
Animal agriculture contributes between 14.5 and 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions regularly spewed into the atmosphere, more than the entire global transportation industry combined, and consumes over 30% of our planet’s freshwater, a resource that may soon become extremely valuable in a warming world.
In most parts of the world, animal protein is not a necessity at all. In fact, if the majority of people on Earth adopted a planet-based diet, an additional 4 billion people could be fed. That’s because it takes a lot more land to feed the 70 billion livestock animals bred, raised and slaughtered every year than it would to feed the 7.7 billion humans on Earth today.
Unfortunately, the collective bubble in which we’re in makes us indifferent to these facts, because everyone else eats animals on a regular basis. It’s the dominant system, kept firmly in place by our collective mind frame, aided by the power of industry lobby groups.
But if we can free ourselves from the collective grip, and evolve a little more than we have in the last 500 years, perhaps we can make that bubble pop, and disappear for good.