NPJ Book Review: The Parable Of The Tribes, The Problem of Power In Social Evolution, Andrew Bard Schmookler


The Parable Of The Tribes, The Problem Of Power In Social Evolution by Andrew Bard Schmookler (1984)  An intellectual tour de force. My take: Human history may be viewed as a history of tribal consciousness where it takes one war like tribe “to disrupt the peace seeking nature of other surrounding tribes.”

Given that we all exist on one planet we are all connected on this one planet. We’re all neighbors. We inhabit this one fragile planet where the effect of our existence has both short-term and long-term effects on our Earth bound neighbors and environment. A misplaced word or words and actions can create upheaval. “If all but one of the tribes choose peace, there are four possibilities for the threatened neighbors: destruction; absorption and enslavement; withdrawal to a less desirable place and imitation of the aggressive behavior.”

In a retooled nuclear age where technology has changed to an increasingly nationalistic nature of how tribes of humans relate to each other, while standing on the precipice of human exacerbated climate change –  the future is uncertain at best. “The optimism that has propelled technology has faded….there has accumulated simply too much evidence of the destructive effects and still more destructive possibilities of man’s harnessing the forces of nature for human purposes. Technology has made possible the unprecedented repression of the totalitarian state; it has created a means of waging war of total annihilation; it threatens the biosphere with gradual poisoning and deterioration.” Have we become technology’s servant or master?

And, “the question is whether we can discover within ourselves the understanding and the will to contain the rule of power.…the parable of the tribes serves not condemn but to challenge: can we change systems that channel vital energies to serve power into systems that channel power to serve the needs of human and other life?”

The very nature of human resistance is being transformed from the political to a psychological/existential conflict.