Note: This article starts with a curious look at wild ape communities then segues into human societies. Along the way it gets into a bit of detail about stress, and how it affects our brains and bodies, and how it affects our governments and societies. If at any point the details make your eyebrows sag (especially the government stuff), please skim until something catches your interest… up until the “Big Picture” at the end. That’s where I try to pull everything together. You can always come back later for details you might have missed the first time.— MM
I got some great inspirations about governments this month from an unlikely source. Regina read Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir recently for book club, and she thought I might enjoy it. Frankly, I went a little ape over it.
As a boy, Robert Sapolsky grew up with the kinds of childhood dreams and life ambitions that might raise a parent’s eyebrows: He wanted to become a wild mountain gorilla in Africa, or at least to live among them. While other kids sent off for decoder rings, he wrote fan letters to primatologists like Diane Fossey and Jane Goodall.
Later (in 1978), he graduated from Harvard with a four-year anthropology degree, then spent a year in Africa observing a troop of Savannah baboons (which numbered around 100 animals). He returned to the States and got a PhD in neuroendocrinology in order to get a better understanding of stress and steroid hormones like testosterone, and their interplay with social interactions among primates. He spent every summer for the next quarter-century living with the same Savannah baboon troop in Kenya—working out of a leaky tent, an old jeep, and his scientific bag of tricks, including a blowgun to put the baboons quietly to sleep, a syringe to draw their blood, and a centrifuge to isolate the animals’ stress hormones for further study.
He observed the way the baboons fought for dominance (causing each other stress), groomed each other (reducing stress), and went about having sex, foraging, and avoiding predators. There was a brutal hierarchy for both the guys and the gals. The uglier or weaker you were, the more you got beat up and ostracized by the stronger, more attractive members. The stronger and more attractive you were, the more you could pummel the minions and have sex with your choice of partners whenever the females were fertile and frisky… which was about once a month, same as us humans. Some guys in the troop were outliers; they simply walked away from the drama, brooding on the fringes with casual friends or forging alliances to stand up to and maybe subvert the bullies, but they didn’t stir much interest among the gals when they were frisky.
The alpha male—the head honcho—was typically a tyrant (possibly because he was responsible for keeping the troop tough enough to survive in a predatory environment*)—puffing out his chest, strutting, back-biting, consorting with the ladies, and knocking around the young guys until they went packing off to another troop. Though some alpha males seemed pathologically brutal, others were wiser and more tolerant. Eventually the alpha was ousted by a bigger or stronger or more aggressive alpha male who’d wandered in from another troop, and then it was payback time. If the retired alpha had been a fair leader, he might spend his golden years playing with the grandkids, but if he’d been brutal he might get beaten to the point he was crippled. (There seemed to be a sort of troop karma—you got what you put out—and the alpha’s job was to “put out” tirelessly… again, maybe to pound, shape, and forge the troop into survivors in a predatory environment.)
*Note about Earth’s symbiosis: Our closest evolutionary cousins—chimpanzees and bonobos (or “pygmy chimps”)—are also sometimes violent with each other when living in the wild and contending with predators, but when they move to predator-free environments like zoos they become peaceful and, well… more “humane,” for lack of a better word. (Read more about that at chicago.edu and researchgate and livescience, and see a Ted Talk about tame chimps.) Here are the five types of symbiotic relationships that define interactions among Earth’s creatures, with examples of how they apply to ape societies in the wild, and how (I suspect) they either cause or reduce stress:
Symbiotic relationships* that seem to cause stress and conflict and sickness in and among apes:
- predatory examples: big cats, hyenas, crocodiles, and human hunters and poachers kill apes,
- parasitic examples: blood-sucking ticks and bacteria steal life-energy from the apes and spread disease,
- competitive examples: apes scrap within the hierarchy, and ape communities squabble with each other over food, territory, and membership, and they contend with humans who destroy ape habitats for farming and forestry.
Symbiotic relationships that seem to reduce stress and promote peace and vitality among apes:
- mutualistic examples (within the troop): apes groom each other, adults play with the kids, and moms suckle their babes (which is apparently a sort of hybrid, mutualistic-parasitic relationship).
- commensalistic example—Various species of apes and other omnivores sometimes forage peacefully in the same area, eating fruits and grasses while excreting wastes that fertilize the vegetation and spread fruit seeds.
*Science has debated the precise meaning of “symbiosis” since the late 19th Century. The current consensus is that only commensalism, mutualism, and parasitism are “symbiotic,” and the other two are ecological or biological relationships that aren’t “symbiotic.” Also, science only looks at symbiotic relationships between different species of plants or animals. I take a broader view that these five basic types of relationships occur frequently among living things on Earth, whether or not they are of the same species, or even of the same clan or community. I think of them all as “symbiotic relationship” of our world, even it it’s not technically correct.
Over the years, the Savannah baboons observed by Robert Sapolsky were stressed according to their position in the troop hierarchy. Those higher in the hierarchy had less stress, while the lower-ranking guys suffered a lot of stress from being constantly harassed by the big guys and shunned by the gals. The stress played havoc with their metabolisms and overall health and caused uneasy divisions within the troop.
Here’s a fascinating, hour-long video about baboon hierarchies and stress and how it all relates to us humans, courtesy of National Geographic.
- There are happy hormones that reduce stress, such as dopamine and oxytocin (produced while grooming and playing with the kids), and there are stressful hormones like adrenaline and cortisol (secreted while yearning, arguing, and brawling).
- Chronic stress distributes unhealthy fat to the abdomen.
- Babies conceived in stressful times can have compromised immune systems because the stress hormones in mom’s blood affected the nervous system of the fetus. The kids growing up have increased risk of heart disease and higher cholesterol and are more susceptible to stress.
- But it’s treatable.
- There’s a lot of current research on stress’s effects on the brain, also on cells and genetic structures such as “telomeres” (they look and act like bottlecaps on the endpoints of a chromosome). Stress weakens and shortens the telomeres, which can eventually break down completely, causing a chromosome to unravel, leading to all sorts of health problems. An enzyme telomerase can repair the damage to stressed telomeres. Laughter, compassion, and helping others can stimulate the healing enzyme. There are also telomerase-enhancing drugs and supplements on the market.
- Meanwhile, back to Professor Sapolsky’s African baboon troop: In 1983 a tuberculosis plague* wiped out all the toughest males who had monopolized a feast of diseased beef in the garbage dump of a tourist lodge, while the baboons who distanced themselves from the toxic feast survived. The survivors were mostly females and some “good guys… not aggressive jerks,” so the troop became uncharacteristically peaceful and caring. Male newcomers to the troop (which was now dominated by the females) brought along the typical male feistiness but soon learned that “we don’t do that here.” They learned to spend more time grooming each other and not to take their frustrations out on the less dominant members of the troop. The troop took on a less aggressive, kinder personality that was still prevalent 20 years after the plague. A more relaxed, peaceful baboon troop emerged… (maybe better suited to the “new Africa” in which the baboons’ natural predators like cheetahs and leopards shy away from the proliferating tourist lodges and research stations where baboons sometimes congregate, and where plagues can originate).
- African baboons, with their hierarchies and stresses, can teach us a few things about our own social hierarchies that are often rife with bullies. For example, if we have low-ranking jobs and feel pressure from blowhard bosses, we can find activities outside of work where we have more control and autonomy, such as being head of a loving family or a coach of the kids’ baseball team or an active part of a club or church or whatever. Self-control can mitigate stress.
*Wouldn’t it be something if the current COVID plague weeds out the bullies from human hierarchies (the way the TB plague wiped out the baboon bullies) to usher in an era of world peace this century? Best not to get our hopes up. Remember the old Native American “ghost dances” 130 years ago? The dancers communed with spirit, asking that divine forces purge the white interlopers from this great land in North America and restore it to its pristine, pre-European condition, before barbed wire began slashing scar after scar across the land. We humans seem to have a stressful symbiosis that’s hard to overcome… even by finer spiritual forces. As my old Lakota friend Eugene Standingbear once told me wistfully: “Progress is a big steamroller….”
The main conclusion from the video:
We can reduce stress and boost our health by taking control of our own life. In other words, self-control is an antidote to stress.
I believe there’s a much stronger antidote to stress (it’s actually a sort of opposite of self-control) that applies not just to human society, not just to predatory Planet Earth, and not just to our material universe; it apparently alleviates stress while bringing vitality and well-being to everything everywhere… and we’ll get to that at the end of the article. Meanwhile…
Let’s see how our knowledge of stress and hierarchy could be used by government to start making society (and the world) a nicer, less stressful place to live.
The Best Government in the World
Simply put, a perfect world (a paradise) would have no stress (and no predators)… so a perfect government would be one that can eliminate stress (and predators) from society. Since paradise and perfection aren’t possible and predators are everywhere on Earth, we just do the best we can with our governments, and we strive toward perfection.
(At the end of the article, to put things in perspective with the “big picture,” we’ll consider places where paradise and perfection are purported to be a way of life… and how those places are more accessible than we think, not necessarily in some far-off land or distant future.)
Since the days of Babylon, government has always been the alpha male (or alpha female) of every human society. Whether it’s been led by a king or a Lakota tribal council or the state council in China, most citizens accept the presence of government at the top of the social hierarchy and move on with their lives. But like a baboon troop, there are always those in society compelled to challenge, attack, and weaken the alpha. Whether they have a vision for a better government (alpha wannabes) or just don’t like being bossed around (outliers and subversives), there have always been anti-government forces in most societies. (The most notable examples nowadays might include Rupert Murdoch (media billionaire and far-right propagandist) and Charles Koch and his late brother David Koch (oil billionaires and far-right anarchists). But government-haters in society have always been the exception. Most people accept government as their alpha, especially when the leaders are honest and foster freedom and fairness in society, as we consider in a moment.
Five Ideal Conditions
The best governments in the future (I believe) will be those that strive most effectively toward these five perfect, unreachable goals:
- Stress-free citizens,
- A stress-free government hierarchy,
- A stress-free society,
- A stress-free environment, and
- A stress-free world.
In a moment we’ll consider specific laws and policies that might work in today’s world to mitigate stress at all levels, but first we need to understand why life on Earth is so stressful, especially for us humans.
Some Basic Causes of Stress on Earth
Here are a few unavoidable conditions that cause stress to life on Earth. (They apparently aren’t a problem in other worlds and might even be unique to ours, as explained in the “big picture” at the end of the article.):
- Consumption and waste. Living things eat other living things and eliminate waste—part of the predatory cycle of life on Earth. We humans eat stuff that in most cases had to die to become our food. So we eat and poop every day and throw away a ton of garbage every year. On a much bigger scale, our societies with their industries consume natural resources to provide products and services, and in the process they generate unimaginable waste (toxic gases, liquids, and solids). A messy business, this dog-eat-dog way of life, stressing both society and the environment.
- Dark symbiotic relationships. Predatory, parasitic and competitive symbiotic relationships are plentiful in society as well as in nature. Competition, the least brutal of the three, is even romanticized and glorified in love and war, athletic events, businesses, political campaigns and other endeavors. Lots of stress is caused by those dark symbiotic relationships, even the fun ones like courtship and football games.
- Reproduction and overpopulation. Living things reproduce. Whether sexually or asexually, life on Earth seems to be programmed to propagate its species. We humans like to breed and venerate big families, so we soon have more people than the resources and products can accommodate. Eventually we find ourselves in stressful, overcrowded conditions that are susceptible to famine, poverty, plague, mass extermination, and war.
- The quandary of social living. Leopards, houseflies, and amoebas are independent. Baboons, honeybees, and body cells live in communities. That’s typical of a lot of living things on Earth; some are more independent, others more social. Humans in particular are caught between those two life styles. We like good leaders, but we also like our freedom, causing stress and conflict whenever those two forces (leadership and independence) are at odds, as they often are. The conflict can manifest as 1) anger and frustration within us, 2) rioting and rebellion all around us, 3) tensions and wars among nations, and many other forms of personal, social, and international stress. We could say that an inherent conflict between freedom and fairness causes stress in human societies.
A stark example from the Cold War era late last century: Capitalist democracies like the United States advocated freedom and struggled with fairness (civil rights, women’s rights…), while communist-socialist countries like the Soviet Union advocated fairness but ignored freedom, and the two “Superpowers” mistrusted and hated each other so much that they nearly started a nuclear war. The most stable governments today are socialist-democratic hybrids like those in northern Europe that find a balance between freedom and fairness. Another example, closer to home: Most parents are familiar with the stress that comes from juggling freedom and fairness in the family, especially when the kids are teenagers who demand their freedom and bristle at rules and chores.
- Incompatibility and intolerance. This is a problem in some social living situations, not in others. Bees in the same colony and body cells in the same body are all compatible and tolerant of each other’s differences. Humans? Not so much. Our differences (race, religion, nationality, living standard, politics, gender, sexual orientation…) make us suspicious of each other, especially when the differences are incompatible, as in the case of many religious and political beliefs. So we often regard the people around us (and our nations regard other nations) as either friends or foes, and our mixed feelings compel us toward either collaboration or conflict. Pervasive incompatibilities and intolerance in human culture cause chronic stress.
So those are just a few of the basic qualities of carnal living that stress our lives and our world from day to day, century to century.
Core Solutions to Alleviate Stress
Government could come up with creative policies and programs that take these stressful features of Earth life into account—not to eliminate the stress, but to make life as comfortable and stress-free as possible for people, families, companies, religions, ecosystems, and everything else that struggles to survive under the brutal living conditions of the planet.
Here are a few ways governments could mitigate stress, starting with economic policies and working into environmental, social, and political affairs. These would become core principles of a government that wants to minimize stress, not just arbitrary policies that move in and out of fashion over time.
- Avoid overpopulation. Keep population within the limits of resources (raw materials) to avoid having “too many mouths to feed.”
- Avoid overconsumption. Resources can be overstressed not just by a large population but also by excessive per-capita consumption of products, so employ 1) standards to ensure durable products, 2) stiff tax penalties on products and packaging that are not easily recyclable or compostable, and 3) shared values to urge modest living.
- Use “clean” energy. Replace fossil fuels with wind, solar, geothermal, and other clean energies as quickly as possible. Nuclear energy, though fraught with potential dangers, is also a viable alternative to fossil fuels if it’s undertaken carefully.
- Foster freedom and fairness. Set up conditions that 1) encourage freedom, and at the same time 2) ensure fairness throughout society. In other words, encourage the kinds of freedoms (for individuals, businesses, and communities) that are mutualistic and commensalistic in nature (those that are based on honesty and empathy and don’t harm or undermine the health, happiness, and freedoms of others).
- Meet everyone’s basic needs. There are easy ways and harder ways to make sure everyone’s basic needs are met. One easy way is simply to provide each adult citizen with a basic income (say, $1,000 a month) supported with a wealth tax. That would give everyone a safety net, encourage small families, and reduce the precarious gap between the very rich and the very poor. A more comprehensive way to meet everyone’s basic needs is first to define exactly what those “basic human needs” really are. Would they include food, clothing, housing, waste disposal, education, energy, health care, public transportation, mass communication, Internet, and so on? Once the basic needs are defined, make sure (through taxes and other policies and programs) that those products and services are available and affordable to everyone.
- Urge tolerance and compatibility. Biological human differences such as race and gender are unavoidable, and they can cause people to be suspicious of each other. Government can foster (and if necessary insist on) tolerance and equity among human differences. Incompatibilities, on the other hand, are usually manmade devices (religious beliefs, political ideologies… ) that need to be overcome through dialog and compromise. Government, again, can encourage (or insist on) such dialog among groups that are incompatible because of their religious, political, and other incompatible tenets and ideologies.
For example, most people alive today believe there is one God (what I refer to later as “the source”). About 56 percent of the people are either Christians who believe that Jesus is God’s chosen messiah or Muslims who believe that Mohammed is Allah’s chosen prophet. That’s fine as long as the believers of the two religions can find common ground and compatibility through dialog. But if each group insists that its own intercessor to the source is the one and only, then that incompatibility causes chronic stress in society.
So those are a few of the big things that I think a government (society’s alpha) could do in the 21st Century to become the best government ever, by mitigating many of life’s stressors.
Back to Africa: The Savannah baboons in Kenya were certainly aware of Robert Sapolsky and his research team, who were carefully intervening with the troop and using their fancy technologies to observe and study them without causing any significant harm. The baboons might have wondered, Who are those guys? Are they, like, gods or something?
In similar fashion, humans across the millennia have been aware of superhuman beings, or “ethereal” beings, who intervene in our lives—observing and studying us, giving us silent guidance and encouragement—and we sometimes wonder, Who are those guys? Are they, like, gods or something?
In 1992 I got involved with groundbreaking researchers in Europe whose work was mind-boggling… and potentially world-changing. They were using modern technologies to get in touch directly with other-worldly beings—the beings we typically think of as spirits and angels (and, yes, “gods”). The communications we got from the other side throughout the 1990s gave us a clearer understanding of who “those guys” really are, and how finer spiritual beings are always present to help us humans along our difficult path toward peace and enlightenment.
Here’s a short, simple excerpt from a longer, more complicated contact that we received from seven ethereal beings, who said they’ve been observing and helping humanity on Earth for many thousands of years.
One of “The Seven” told us:
“We are concerned about the unresolved problems of the Earth and always seek possibilities for helping you. Many times we can do nothing and must wait until someone on your side takes the initiative. For many, many years I have inspired mankind to subscribe to common valid rules that make living in community according to spiritual principles orderly and possible. Today I try to inspire your society. I have determined that the guiding principle to which mankind subscribes, when they seek it, is to be one. It is very different from earlier times when they allowed themselves to be led. Most of all, to me the greatest difference is how man thought in earlier times and how he thinks today. When we try to inspire him now, we take into consideration life in this age.”
So the rest of this article is about how life everywhere strives for peace and understanding in stress-free surroundings, based largely on what we learned in the 1990s from “The Seven” and other enlightened beings. What we can glean from them could have a positive impact on our lives and our world.
Minimizing Stress in a Brutal World
If this section sounds a little airy-fairy in the light of worldly understanding, the final section with the omniverse diagram might help to put it into perspective.
The first big step to minimizing stress anywhere in the omniverse is simply to acknowledge the source, which goes by many names—God, Allah, Brahman, Jahweh, the Great Mystery, the All-That-Is…. The source rests at the center of everything to nourish us with life-energy, or the essence of life.
Everything in the omniverse flourishes first and foremost with the life-energy that streams from the source. That essential nourishment fills everything with knowledge, purpose, and vitality.
The nourishment that living things on Earth get from eating each other is secondary to the nourishment we receive from the source. In fact, I’ve come to believe that the predatory, dog-eat-dog way of life in this world is one of those “unresolved problems” to which The Seven were referring in their message. We can’t simply stop eating because we are part of this world, but we can at least acknowledge the more important nourishment that comes from the source with its life-eneregy.
Once we acknowledge the source we can begin to foster conscious contact. It’s a bit like physical therapy; our connection to the source has been compromised by living on Earth with its complicated symbiosis, and we have to reestablish it. We have to rise above the clatter that passes through our five senses and brain—for example, through meditation or prayer.
Here’s a short video of my favorite meditation for making contact with the source. You simply move your awareness from the head to the heart as you repeat the three statements, silently in your mind, over and over. “Focus from the heart, gratitude for the lifetime, thy will be done.” Here’s how the statement is synchronized to six consecutive out-breaths (with the emphasized syllables underlined).
“Focus / from the heart. / Gratitude / for the lifetime. / thy will / be done.”
Focusing on the breath and the statements, and “thinking” from the heart, gradually wash away the mental clatter and foster an open channel to the source.
As we open up to life-energy with meditations like this, stress begins to dissipate from our life as we turn our concerns about life’s many dramas over to a higher power… the source. (This particular meditation can also help a person get to sleep by clearing the “monkey mind” of its obsessive thoughts; at least, it works for me, and I’ve always had trouble sleeping.)
And finally, an explanation of how it all works. (The key terms and concepts are highlighted.)
The source is at the center of the omniverse, emitting a life-energy that creates and nourishes many “parallel” universes (represented by the fine, white circles around the source).
The 7 arbitrary levels and the source itself are all superimposed, since space is an illusion.
The universes in each level are all distinct, not by their location or distance from each other but by the fineness of their vibration, the finest universes being closest to the source.
The brutal symbiosis on Earth—predatory, parasitic, and competitive behavior—repels or deflects some of the life-energy, casting a spiritual shadow around the planet where all the dark symbiotic thought-forms from Earth get stuck. The shadow has been forming around the planet since the last ice age (sometimes called the Karoo or Paleozoic Ice Age). Before that, The Seven told us, our ancestors “lived together peacefully, man with man and man with animals.” (Apparently we humans have been on Earth for an unimaginably long time, and the predatory drama that we take for granted began rather “recently”… only some 250 million years ago).
The fellow on the left is one of “The Seven” who’ve been “assigned to Planet Earth.” (The picture was received through the TV of my colleagues in Luxembourg in 1997.) The Seven can move around freely among many universes in many levels, but they spend a lot of time at level 3, where most humans awaken after a lifetime. From there they try to inspire humanity on Earth… which is why they opened a miraculous ITC (instrumental transcommunication) bridge late last century for our INIT group. They streamed a lot of vital insights to us and urged us to share them with the world.
Most people awaken at level 3 after they die, with astral bodies that closely resemble the physical bodies they’ve left behind. It’s an earth-like paradise where many of our ancestors are living in surroundings similar to what they’d known on Earth, but under paradise conditions. The Seven themselves move among many worlds and universes in the course of their service, but one of their main tasks is to monitor and assist Earth and its afterlife copies or templates like the one at level 3 that goes by various names, including Eden. Their main purpose for Earth is to urge life here—humanity in particular—to become more peaceful despite the brutal symbiosis that emerged on (or was implanted in or was foisted upon) our planet long ago.
So that’s a glimpse at our place in the big scheme of things. We could use it to minimize stress in our lives. Our governments could use some of the information to minimize stress in our world.