This is a post like the one I offered on March 13 that passes on a bit of writing that I think might develop into a longer piece of work. I hope the following ideas and assertions make some sense to readers:
One ultimate cause of human behaviors is the endless cycling of a “Darwin machine,” operating at the level of cells, individuals, and groups of humans. As entities - from the most simple virus particles to complex human cultures - reproduce or renew themselves to persist through time, small errors or variations that end up enhancing reproductive fitness become dominant in the population. The grand master is multilevel selection, and there is a conflict between individual-level selection (individuals competing with other individuals in the same group) and group-level selection (competition between groups). Within groups selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. E.O. Wilson risks the oversimplification of suggesting that individual selection promoted sin, while group selection promoted virtue.
The array of social emotions supporting tribal cultures that have occupied most of human history, as well as the more recent emergence of language, thought, and material culture, can be rationalized with this model. Taken together, they have enabled formation of large complex societies bonded together by laws, religions, and assumptions about purpose, meaning, and self that are unique to modern humans.
Nations and religions link language and meaning to more ancient evolved instinctive social emotional behaviors that bond groups of humans and other primates. This link is revealed when logic and language are turned inward (by both ancient meditative traditions as well as modern neuroscience) in a way that reveals that our common experiences of self or purpose are confabulations, or illusions - illusions nevertheless that have been necessary for forming complex human linguistic cultures, illusions which our emotional hormones and nerve circuitry have evolved to support.
Given the clear scientific evidence, why don’t we transcend these evolved linkages between our biology and our illusions? Why have those regarded as spiritually ‘enlightened’ throughout history remained a small minority of the population? Perhaps it is because those who become enlightened or awakened to the illusory nature of the self are granted a perspective on basic emotional drives that can divests them of much of their power. Enlightenment is subtle, not noisy, it doesn't engage the passions as well as blind devotion to nations and gods. This is why secular humanism, with its more muted versions of spirituality (‘I’m spiritual but not religious’) finds it difficult to compete with the ego-rich passions of nationalism and theism.
Because our evolved social brains incline us to cling to a complex array of nations, religions, and tribal identities that parse the world into ‘us’ and ‘them,’ we find it difficult to accept that we are a common humanity that would most effectively face our current pandemic and environmental crises by joining together.