Post No.: 0125
As of posting, and consistently for many years now according to annual surveys – some of the happiest countries in the world are Nordic countries. Many factors influence the average happiness levels of a nation (and we must also look at the variance as well as the average statistics) but one hypothesis why is that these are generally cold places to live and so people must cooperate to survive i.e. interdependence is the mother of peace and togetherness.
We need to balance independence with interdependence. People living in harsh environments, such as the extreme cold, need to most understand interdependence and behave cooperatively in order to survive and thrive otherwise they’ll be left alone to fend for themselves in such environments, which reduces their own personal survival odds; and thus selfish individualists will be, or would’ve been, selected out. Loneliness, even if not due to being selfish (e.g. maybe because of discrimination or ostracism) then, especially in such cold places, is particularly bad for our mental well-being. (Hence the flipside is that, looking beyond the averages, there can still be a lot of people suffering from mental health issues in such countries.)
This interdependence over time shapes a nation’s cultural attitudes and approaches to public healthcare, progressive taxation, diversity tolerance, relative socialism, and so forth, thus reinforcing a virtuous cycle. The Law of Jante, or set of cultural commandments that value the group over the individual in Nordic countries, could either be a cause or effect of understanding interdependence. It’d be ideal to find the right middle ground between focusing on the group and the individual but what if this is not possible because they are necessarily mutually exclusive and one goal must prevail over the other?
Of course, it’s oversimplistic to say that any country is perfect. You’ll always be able to find disgruntled people everywhere in the world, and if things get worse then it can still be relatively good (like winning the top division football league one season then coming fourth the next is still good relative to most teams, even though some fans will be calling for the manager to be fired and be likely over-exaggerating the sense that ‘everything is going downhill for the club from here’! This relates to the hedonic treadmill effect covered in Post No.: 0116 where, unless one accepted that a gain was only going to be temporary, contentment becomes about never having less than you’ve had before, even if you had the world.)
A belief in cooperation, borne from the understanding that it makes a difference, is most prevalent in places and situations where cooperation is most necessary for survival, hence why people living in challenging environments or circumstances – including poor people or people who live a simple rural life in relatively isolated parts of the world – tend to be humble and kind. The reverse is often true too, with some people who have a lot of personal wealth (maybe especially inherited wealth i.e. people who didn’t have to work for their initial leg-up, for which the initial leg-up is more influential than any wealth subsequently made by a person because it’s easier for the already rich to get even richer) thinking that all they need to really do is pay for what they want or pay their way out of trouble (i.e. depend on their money), rather than need to ask for social assistance (i.e. depend on the kindness of others).
So never be surprised that people living in relative poverty are usually very hospitable, gregarious and generous to visitors, despite their relative poverty and having few material resources to share. Their personal survival depends on the group’s collective survival (‘group selection’, or natural selection acting at the level of the group rather than individuals) i.e. if they don’t cooperate as a group then they’ll jeopardise their own personal survival chances and thus be taken out of the gene pool.
Social animals (e.g. humans, other primates, dogs – woof woof) evolved to care for each other, are primed for empathy and for strong attachment relationships early in life. As a social species, humans didn’t evolve for pure self-interests – well, serving one’s individual self-interests was and is overall best achieved by understanding that people need each other to survive, to breed and to rear offspring; and understanding the productive and health benefits of a peaceful coexistence. This may have been far more obvious in the harsher environments of ancestral times than in today’s modern world but it still very much applies in today’s modern world of interconnected economies, interconnected ecosystems (there is only one sky or atmosphere that we all share on this planet), complex healthcare systems, international security, rising population densities and greater technologies/weapons that threaten everyone’s lives if we don’t mutually get along.
Although it is just a correlation and not necessarily a causation – it may go some way to explaining why increased capitalism, and in turn increased competition, personal independence and selfish greed, can lead a lot of people to become less happy (along with materialistic social comparisons and a diversion of priorities e.g. onto money instead of health and family and friends). Capitalism works fabulously to an extent, such as by helping to lift countries out of poverty and all the benefits that brings, but any unrestrained extreme is bad. People often do have trouble seeing what’s ‘extreme’ though, especially with things that have no apparent limit. The happiest countries in the world tend to get the balance between capitalism and democratically-supported socialism, between independence and interdependence, between competition and collaboration, better than others. Perhaps ‘developing’ countries need mostly capitalism, but ‘developed’ countries then need to look at increasing socialism and curbing any excessive levels of inequality? We don’t want wealth, and therefore power, excessively concentrated unequally in the hands of a mere few, and the kind of state this would create. (So do note that socialism is not the same as communism.)
Interdependence leads to peace because it’s far easier to ignore, neglect or kill people or destroy things whom or that we think we don’t need (which can be the point of view of detached or psychopathic wealthy people when they don’t care about those who are much less well-off than them). The American space shuttle and wider NASA space program was struggling for funds to maintain it, and the Soviet MIR space station and wider Roscosmos space program was also struggling for funds to maintain that, so the Americans and Soviets decided to work together to have the American shuttles provide transport for the Soviet space station – and this interdependence confirmed the thaw of the Cold War and built upon the Apollo-Soyuz handshake in space.
No single nation alone could afford to build and maintain the International Space Station hence this international project of interdependence and mutual benefits helped to facilitate and reinforce international peace too. After all, why hurt someone you need for your own interests? When people or nations think they’re purely individuals who don’t need other people or nations; when they think life or winning is zero-sum (i.e. one cannot win without someone else losing) – that’s when they might think about fighting and eliminating each other.
I don’t care if people argue that this kindness is really selfish since it ultimately benefits oneself – just be kind and look for non-zero-sum win-win outcomes. Ruthless win-lose outcomes may only bring temporary gains because the exploited often want revenge, either directly because you might bump into them again in the future, or indirectly when they try to make up for their losses via hurting someone else, which creates a pattern in society that may come around to hurt you or your children one day in ways you might not anticipate or realise.
There’s also a general correlation between hotter temperatures and increased crime rates (up to a point when it becomes too hot – there’s an optimal temperature range where humans are most energetic and out-and-about). The reasons again are only hypothesised. Many hot countries are also densely-populated countries so this may be a factor too. If so, global warming by even ‘just’ a couple more degrees and rising population densities are not things to look forward to(!)
Woof. I hope everyone will understand that, no matter how great we are on our own, we are greater than the sum of our parts when we come together. Whether you deem interdependence as ultimately a selfish behaviour or not – it doesn’t matter. What matters for peace is recognising that we need each other.