Why has there been this near-universal tendency to divide the world into the sacred and the profane? Nothing in nature suggests it. Animals do not make the distinction. Everything in the physical world is on the same level. Why should people imagine that it is filled with invisible spirits, gods, forces that demand certain kinds of arbitrary respect and that are dangerous if disobeyed? There are real dangers in the world, to be sure, but people must have very quickly learned how to deal with them in practical ways. From a purely physical viewpoint, religion seems to have filled the world with hallucinations.
But there is one reality that does have all the characteristics that people attribute to the divine. It is not nature, nor is it metaphysical. It is society itself. For society is a force far greater than any individual. It brought us to life, and it can kill us. It had tremendous power over us. Everyone depends upon it in innumerable ways. We use tools and skills we did not invent, we speak a language passed on to use from others. Virtually our whole material and symbolic world is given to us from society. The institutions we inhabit— our form of family life, economy, politics, whatever they may be— came from the accumulated practices of others, in short, from society. This is the fundamental truth that religion expresses. God is a symbol of society.
Thus it is not an illusion to feel that something exists outside of ourselves, something very powerful, yet not part of the ordinary physical reality that we see with our eyes. Moreover, this something— the feeling of our dependence upon society— exists simultaneously outside and inside ourself. In religions there is always a connection between the sacred world beyond us and something sacred inside ourselves. God is simultaneously without and within."
The Smithsonian Institution’s Mark Moffett recently wrote that human societies may have more in common with ants than other primate groups.
“… modern humans have more in common with some ants than we do with our closest relatives the chimpanzees. With a maximum size of about 100, no chimpanzee group has to deal with issues of public health, infrastructure, distribution of goods and services, market economies, mass transit problems, assembly lines and complex teamwork, agriculture and animal domestication, warfare and slavery.”
He studied ant societies, one so large that its trillions of members stretch 621 miles across California, and found that the ability of a “society” (it feels weird to equate ant colonies to such a thing) requires accepting that many members will be anonymous and that recognizing one another doesn’t really matter in the scope of the whole society.
He draws lines to things like nationalism and patriotism, ideas that have popped up fairly recently in human evolution, and right about the time that our populations exploded. So anonymity might be the very thing that lets a society grow to the limits of its environment.
I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s a good or bad thing.
…All the times that I got the message that somehow my quiet and introverted style of being was not necessarily the right way to go, that I should be trying to pass as more of an extrovert. And I always sensed deep down that this was wrong and that introverts were pretty excellent just as they were. But for years I denied this intuition - partly because I needed to prove to myself that I could be bold and assertive, too. And I was always going off to crowded bars when I really would have preferred to just have a nice dinner with friends. And I made these self-negating choices so reflexively, that I wasn’t even aware that I was making them.
Now this is what many introverts do, and it’s our loss for sure, but it is also our colleagues’ loss and our communities’ loss. And at the risk of sounding grandiose, it is the world’s loss. Because when it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best. A third to a half of the population are introverts. So that’s one out of every two or three people you know. So even if you’re an extrovert yourself, all of [your introverted friends are] subject to this bias that is pretty deep and real in our society. We all internalize it from a very early age without even having a language for what we’re doing."