It would be presumptuous to think that I am the only one noticing the world’s instability. Not one single day passes us by without staring at shocking and tragic news about savage wars and the displacement of thousands of people. I also add to this picture all other disparagingly events related to the global economic crisis that we are still immersed in, making ours an even more disturbing reality.
My 14 years old stepdaughter, understandably as a true teenager, is rather hooked up on social media with friends than watching the news and discussing it with parents. When all of a sudden, during her vacation’s days, she wanted to discuss the war in Ukraine, and to read The Economist article on Putin, my alarm bells rang. Particularly because she sharply asked me whether these events were leading to a Third World War. The only sure answer was that I don’t want one to begin now. Like her, I had more questions than answers.
We live in the so-called modern times, and theoretically, humanity has reached a stage of high level of technological and scientific advances, as well as of living standards that are far superior to those of 200 years ago. Those alone could have almost completely eradicated basic needs like hunger, disease and displacement and brought us all to other motivations, like the search for knowledge and enlightenment. Instead, we have the contrasting reality of a world where economic development and evolution has been unequal in format and speed around the globe, and we see the disparities of a primitive world coexisting alongside with a cutting edge one.
Why is all of this still happening?
Despite all science and technology advances, from an evolutionary perspective, human behavior can be still very barbaric. Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon, identified that we still use a primitive, automatic, inborn response, which prepares the body to fight-flight freeze, as a response to perceived attacks, harm, or threats to our survival.
Imagine this situation: we behave exactly like a zebra, when under attack, as we are genetically hard-wired in our responses, which are designed to protect us from tigers and bears that once attacked us in the woods threatening our survival. This response system ignores our rational mind—where our thinking processes take place —and fear bring us into “attack” mode. We perceive almost everything as a possible threat to our survival, and tend to see everyone and everything as a possible enemy.
Is that the explanation for the existence of wars in today’s modern world? That would be too simplistic. There is more to be found in history to broaden the understanding of our behavior and our reality.
What’s similar in the behavior of these people: Bankers selling sub-prime mortgages and toxic assets and fueling a global financial and economic crisis. The youngsters who triggered the Spring upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia? The ISIS leader in Iraq wanting to create a caliphate and decimating the lives of non-Muslims or Muslims from others sects. Putin invading Crimea in Ukraine, triggering the rebirth of the cold war. Israelis attacking Gaza to defend themselves against Palestinians and vice-versa.
Are they all in fear mode and fighting for survival, discounting their different circumstances, beliefs and levels of thinking? I can only say for sure that their behaviors display tremendous similarity in their irrationality, and they are all perhaps made equals in fear when searching for power to be absolutely restored or maintained.
One of my summer book’s was ‘The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs, edition of 2005, where he proposes to make it happen in our lifetime and to end extreme poverty by the year 2025. Extreme (absolute) poverty means that households cannot meet the basic needs for survival. It is defined by chronic hunger, lack of access to drinking water and sanitation, lack of rudimentary shelter, education, clothing and any means for survival.
This book has intensely drawn my attention because it provided me with some of the answers I was looking for. Understanding poverty from the lenses of history, as simple as it can be, shows us that extreme poverty has always played a role in the engineering of war and terror. From the fall of the Ottoman empire, the European colonization, and the establishment of dictatorships and Kingdoms in the Middle-East or Africa, the world’s poorest of the poor, the societies ingrained with extreme poverty, have become the havens of global terrorism, violence and savage acts.
Jeffrey Sachs points out that since 9/11 the US has launched a war on terror but neglected the causes of global instability. It has invested billions on the military efforts and a negligible amount on the war on poverty. The same can be said about many other countries.
What is the connection between the fight-flight-freeze response, poverty and wars?
We may have brought the man to the moon and created technology that makes you read this blog the moment I publish it, even if you are living on the other side of the world. But as a race, we humans haven’t yet collectively understood what threatens our very existence.
Provided you are not venturing to go alone and ill-equipped to a safari, the only probability you have to be attacked by a tiger or bear is if you decide to enter a zoo and invade their space. The real threat is not this one.
Extreme and sustained poverty, injustice, exploitation, and all forms of violence and abuse, reduce humans to less than animals, deny all their dignity, and finally build war and terror. Investing in eradicating poverty should be considered a matter of global security, vital to sustain world’s peace.
In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.