We humans are not always good at governing ourselves and getting along.  It’s a struggle. 

A matter of definition: Adaptation of An Incident in the Rebellion of 1745 by David Morier depicting the Battle of Culloden, in which Jacobite forces of Charles Stuart “The Pretender” were defeated by William of Orange. Wikimedia Commons.

We have tried and are still experimenting with many versions of governance whether it be democracy or altered versions of democracy; whether it be governance by politburo; or governance by dictatorship; or governance by threat and intimidation and one voice rules; or governance by an abbot or father figure; or governance by fiat; or by an “infallible” leader; or just burying our heads in the sand and retreating.

Maybe much of our trouble is due to the chimpanzee DNA in us that often goes to war between tribes.

Maybe this tendency to war and power-over dynamics is our “original sin” we inherit from our chimp ancestors. 

Five dead bodies on the field of Gettysburg. Photo by Matthew Brady: first war photographer to show the horror of battle rather than heroism. Wikimedia Commons.

Biblical stories take up this problem humans have governing themselves.  The Cain and Abel story comes to mind: killing our brothers and relatives with a stone and given today’s technologies, with bombs and rockets much more efficient than stones. 

The Tower of Babel story also comes to mind: The difficulty in communication and speaking in so many diverse tongues and ways of experiencing the world. 

The Feast of Pentecost in the Christian Bible is meant to signify a healing to all this babbling and all this misunderstanding and miscommunication, a cutting through the separateness of languages and cultures that can so easily torpedo civility and peace among peoples.

“Remember the Ladies” A capsule history of men’s resistance to women’s suffrage in the U.S. Steele History Videos

Consider the days of monarchies and their bloody demise as in the French Revolution.  Consider the American revolution and what it took to overthrow the British empire of the 18th century. 

Consider how the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution offered promise but was deeply flawed since 2/3rd of the signers to a declaration that claimed “all men are created equal” were slave owners so it did not apply to black slaves or the indigenous peoples or to women.  It took a Civil War that left 750,000 persons dead and many more wounded to apply its noble aspirations to ex-slaves by adding the 13th to 15th amendments.  

But within ten years a backlash occurred and the Ku Klux Klan, No Nothings, lynchings and Jim Crow laws (that held sway until the 1950’s and 60’s) did everything they could to obstruct such advancements.  Then came the voting rights act of 1965.  And now the current Supreme Court threatens to jettison such hard-won advancements.

Defeated Brazilian strongman Jair Bolsonaro refuses concession but agrees to abide by the constitutional transfer of power after days of unrest. CNN

Consider fascism in Italy, Germany, Spain and the Catholic Church (Opus Dei in particular) in the 20th century.  And the appeal of fascism in Hungary, Poland, America and Brazil where, after four hard years, the recent authoritarian leader was just barely voted out for a second term. 

No, it is not easy for humans to govern themselves.  Many versions of governance have been tried.

See Matthew Fox, Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth.   

And Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1963: beginning of a turbulent decade that would also see the assassinations of Medgar Evers (1963), Malcolm X (1965), Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968), and Robert F. Kennedy (1968). Photo by Mary Ann Moorman (Mary Krahmer). Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Why do you think humans find it so hard to govern themselves?

Recommended Reading

Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth

Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.
“A watershed theological work that offers a common ground for religious seekers and activists of all stripes.” — Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.

A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice

In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register

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7 thoughts on “<strong>Governing Humans is Hard for Humans</strong>”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you say that “we humans are not always good at governing ourselves and getting along. It’s a struggle.” Then you go on to speak about various kinds of government that have been tried from Monarchies, to Oligarchies, to Democracy (which was despised by Plato), to Socialism to National Socialism, Fascism, to Communism. And there have been revolutions, the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and the Bolshevik Revolution. But in the end you say, “No, it is not easy for humans to govern themselves. Many versions of governance have been tried.” But something that interests me in what you’ve said is: “Maybe much of our trouble is due to the chimpanzee DNA in us that often goes to war between tribes. Maybe this tendency to war and power-over dynamics is our ‘original sin’ we inherit from our chimp ancestors.” Yesterday we took my grandson to the Sacramento Zoo where he especially wanted to see the chimpanzees. While we were there we talked about the chimpanzees and I said that there is a dominant male and the younger males have to fight him for a mate. Chimpanzees fight, and so do we. Chimpanzees war against other tribes and so do we. ENOUGH KILLING !!! And ENOUGH SELFISHNESS. To the wealthy of the world its “As long as I get what I want, to hell with the environment, to hell with the poor–after all they should be able to pull themselves up by their own boot straps and quit sponging off of the government. The Republican idea of “small government” really means that the poor are on their own and the government has no responsibility to help them. What happened to working together ???

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    Humanity, I perceive, has such great difficulty governing itself, due to a misunderstanding of what this truly means. In general, humanity has defined governance as authority over, through the use of power, dominance and control. However, humanity has an opportunity now, to evolve and redefine our understanding and perception… in order to move forward into a new way of governance, which is desiring to emerge within our collective consciousness. This requires a relinquishment of our current unbalanced masculine, authortarion, heirarchal, patriarchal method of governance. It also requires an awakening to consciously seeing, valuing and respecting the feminine means and method of governance. This lunar ecliptic feminine movement is rooted in liberating, releasing and unleashing a new definition, understanding and perception of governance as BEING OF SERVICE… with each human not only within the family of humanity, but also the rest of all of creation, co-creatively contributing their giveaway of beauty and the inherent reality of this, for the greater good of the whole. It would be wise for not only the people of the United States, but all of humanity to come into alignment with this new emergence that is evolving and unfolding, marked by the synchronostic sign of the lunar eclipse, on the night of the American elections.

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    I and many others feel the main reason humanity has had trouble governing is a basic spiritual separation by most human beings from our intimate connnection with our Loving Creator’s Spirit, and consequently from one another and All of God’s Creation, Sacred Mother Earth and the Cosmos. Historically, this separation and imbalance has become increasingly worse since the growth of patriarchy and its toxic, destructive patriarchal values mainly among males and social institutions to the present day. The increasingly tragic consequences for humanity have been not only past wars, genocide, racism, social inequities, violence, especially in the 20th century, but now our existential climate planetary catastrophe. Our human species is obviously still evolving. Several major spiritual mystical traditions and individuals around the world, including the Indigenous, have believed that our human souls need many lifetimes to evolve into more intimate relationships with our Loving Creator in order to become more compassionate with our selves, others, and All Living Creation in Loving Diverse Oneness, in All of God’s Evolving Spiritual Dimensions in the Cosmos….

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    I believe humans have a hard time governing themselves because we are too focused on our own immediate needs and wants. We cannot see beyond fulfilling them to the consequences our choices and actions have on others.

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    It isn’t the fault of human beings that aggression and other self interested actions have survival value and reproductive value and thus get passed along, as they have for the likes of Genghis Khan vs peacemakers. Can we do better, sure, but probably not the idealized better we would hope, given the reality we are in on earth, which was not of our making. I’m a bit sympathetic toward the human species. Life here, with all its joys, is also really hard.

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    I think we have so much difficulty in governing ourselves because we are ruled too much by our lizard brains, and not enough of us have evolved into a higher consciousness. We are so easily threatened by the “other”, however that is defined, and we grasp power and then hold onto it with every tactic, including violence. Under the previous president’s rule, we got a good taste of authoritarianism, and it is tragic to me that so many fell for it and continue to do so. He put many other scoundrels into positions of power, completely flouted the Constitution, and had only scorn for laws. I grieve for Italy, and for England, and for us in the U.S. and pray that enough wake up before it is too late.

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