But is it true? Or is it – like so many of the "truisms" we accept through the subliminal assault of constant repetition – a misguided fiction? Do men instinctively gather together in herds, or are they by nature anti-social loners who band together – uncharacteristically – only for reasons of security and convenience?
Dogs are pack animals. They can read each other's minds. They read our minds if we're part of their pack. Our Chihuahua knows when my wife is not feeling well. She also knows in advance when we're going to take her out to lunch (we live in Mexico, so we can freely take our dog into a restaurant) and she knows when we're going out and she's not going with us. This behavior is an example of what I like to call the flock effect. If you watch a flock of birds, you'll observe that they takeoff, wheel and turn, and land together as a unit. Each member of the flock is locked into a communal mentality that allows it to function as a compliant component of the group. Fish exhibit the same phenomenon. While an individual fish will follow his own inclinations, if you put several fish of the same species together, they will swim, turn, dive, and surface as though they were a single organism.
Men do not act that way. As a matter of fact, putting a group of men (or women) together invariably results in mutual animosity – invariably. Somewhere along the evolutionary trail, we humans lost our ability to flock. A typical human community is reminiscent of a school of fish in which every fish decides to go its own separate way. Humans are not herd animals. In fact, we have had to invent such stratagems as football, religion, and war to build and maintain even a tenuous group cohesiveness in our societies.
Humans are actually raving, egoistic mavericks. We chafe at the mere suggestion of authority and we actively rebel against even such weak constraints as dress codes and traffic laws. We don’t really like most of our fellow men and we tolerate them only so long as we perceive a security advantage in associating with them. We invent games to exhibit our superiority over our neighbors and we secretly relish their misfortunes.
Physical closeness, furthermore, exacerbates this natural antagonism toward our own kind. Unlike other animals, for whom contiguity triggers the flock mechanism, for humans proximity breeds conflict. A cursory look at crime statistics will reveal to the objective observer that criminal activity is concurrent with population density. The more crowded together people are, the more they engage in antisocial activities. We are, it seems, not only non-gregarious animals but anti-gregarious animals.
It is this inability to bond as a group, by the way, that gives the lie to collectivism. Socialist and Communist schemes of social organization assume that men will understand each other and work together. But man is the only animal that takes classes in empathy and studies books on body language in order to help him understand what other animals know instinctively – what the other members of their species are thinking. Mankind is a telepathic cripple, and no matter how urgently you may wish that men would live together like ants in an anthill, they will not. Because they can not.
Governments have been instituted among men to control their natural anti-social instincts. The operative mechanism of these governments has historically been the Stockholm syndrome. "I know that I am a captive of government, but there’s nothing I can do about it, and if my captor the government does not beat me today, that is an act of beneficence for which I must be grateful." In spite of the mollifying effect of this perverse response to government force, however, the history of human governance has been a history of rebellion. The fact that governments from Ceasar to Khaddafi have been toppled by popular uprisings attests to man’s rebellious and anarchistic nature. It might be said that the history of civilization has been a history of a species in constant rebellion. It might further be said that that fact explains the remarkable ascendancy of the human race.
While it’s true that human organizations are fraught with continuous strife, it’s also true that, as Heraclitus said, "Palemos pater panton" – strife is the father of all things. Strife is the source of human evolution, invention, and growth. Without the impetus of internecine strife, mankind could never have risen above the hunter/gatherer stage of social evolution. The institutions of craftsmanship and commerce arose in response to human greed, and it was human contentiousness that led to the institution of codes of laws and the concept of personal responsibility. And from the cauldron of continuous civil rebellion has been cast ever more amenable social organizations, culminating in the best form of government to date: the American Constitutional Republic.
Nor is it only social progress that has been precipitated by man’s natural anti-gregariousness. Antagonism toward one’s fellows implies individualism, and only an individual could have invented gunpowder and the steam engine and the automobile. Our natural need for personal uniqueness and individual ascendancy is what empowered our ancestors to invent and develop medicine and mathematics and music. Progress requires rebellion, and all of the Galileos and Darwins and Henry Fords and Steve Jobs of history have been rebels. No complacent member of the herd, contentedly chewing the cud of conventional wisdom, could ever have conceived of gravity or trigonometry or the periodic table of the elements.
Rather than bemoan the fact that men can’t get along, we should celebrate the fact that men have the ability to think for themselves. That is our strength. It is not our weakness! It is our greatest asset as humans. And the next time someone tells you that man is a gregarious animal, consol yourself with the fact that – thank God – they are wrong.
*Take care and enjoy every day!