Survival instinct, art instinct and peace
Letizia Reuss, German Princely House of ReussI would like to focus on the role of visual communication and education on our road to peace.
I want to do this by highlighting the following instincts suggested by Darwin’s evolutionary theory -the Survival Instinct and the Art Instinct. “War and Peace,” if you like.
In protohistory, independently of ethno geographic factors: we were defined by our belonging to one specie and not to different tribes. Our first ancestors, created the same art pieces (hand axes), pursuing a similar skilled perfection all over the world. One could talk of an Universal Art. Further studies by Philosopher Dennis Dutton and neuroimaging confirmed today that human beings all over the world still find beauty in the same visual experiences, the so called Darwinian aesthetics.
After the Pleistocene, Mystic Art gave way to different forms of Religious Art, relevant this time to ethno-geographic factors. Further on in time, Art divided itself in two spheres: Western Art and the so called Ethnic Arts. And it is only since a quarter of a century, since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of China, that new artistic expression has exploded worldwide. Today, all over the world, Art, a metaphysical aspiration of mankind, has one language: we are in presence of Universal Art….again. We are one tribe again, and in more worlds that just the Art world: in science, humanities, business etc…
The same culture is wherever there is internet access. We can see the same images, hear the same music, from a Korean Gangnam style video, to a South African wildlife video Battle at Kruger.
Neuroscience established that experiences, exposure to other cultures, visualization, etc... modify the circuitry of our brains: our brains are “plastic.”
An increased contact to our epoch’s hyper-culture as opposed to subcultures will influence us all similarly epigenetically, meaning that our heritable traits are modified by the same environmental influences. We are becoming as a whole multi-cultural.
This will hopefully reduce this second instinct that we share, the survival instinct which according to Darwin led to both legitimizing the use of violence against an enemy and tribal loyalty, in today’s world: clash of civilizations and sectarianism. To the extreme this instinct dehumanizes human beings, as exemplified by ISIL.
We could attempt to fight against jihadism peacefully on the visual communication field. Think about this image: a row of beige Toyotas orderly toppled by men clad in black… at first view, it purposely recalls Hollywood blockbusters, inviting a cultured, purposeless and lonely youth to become valiant heroes if they join, under a flag that smartly marries the Kalashnikov to the Ancient Mujahideen sword and has the sacred book of Koran topple the world.
Visualization has a huge impact on the brain’s cortex processing information at multiple levels, conscious and unconscious. Numeral studies are still being done, but in laymen term we all understand the adage “ a picture is worth a thousand words”. Let us propose counter images linking Jihadists to the Nazis, let us make of “Ubuntu” our rally word, let us promote multiculturalism as the Republic of Azerbaijan does it at both the National and the International levels. Our press only shows the bad, it should show some good. We need not act like powerless children in front of Islamist’s mastery of social medias and communication.
Only a small amount of studies -according to some studies!- have been done in relation to Nazism, to counter dehumanization. These studies propose intergroup contact and communication.
UNO created in 1966 the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. …In the 80’s it was extended in Europe to one week (European-wide Action Week Against Racism). This proved to be insufficient.
The only way that at least intergroup knowledge can be enforced effectively and easily is in schools, educating kids about the world and our fellow humans via images, via movies.
This is done in some schools in the United Kingdom: Beeban Kidron, film maker, created the FILM CLUB, an organization that runs weekly film screenings followed by discussions. Confirming neurosciences findings and operating on the premise that -and I quote Ms. Kidron-
“ Movies have the power to create a shared narrative experience and to shape memories and world views…Raiding the annals of 100 years of film, we build a narrative that would deliver meaning to the fragmented and restless world of the young ….What became extraordinary was how the experience of critical and curious questioning translated into life. The films provided communality and communication across all manner of divide.”
Another example: In some schools in Korea France and South Africa, a class called “Teaching the Universe” by showing mesmerizing images of our galaxy and of our unique, precious, and microscopic planet emphasizes how precious Earth is and how much it is we share rather than what divides us.
The impact of visualization is still being studied today, some neuroscientists evoke the possibility of mirror neurons, neurons which respond with an equivalent force when someone performs an action, like picking something up, as when someone observe somebody else performing the same action. Imagine the possibilities of positive visualizations versus negative ones.
To implement worldwide film programs in school in view to teach that as in Yasmina Reza’s short stories “we all think we’re so different – when we’re painfully similar” is of tremendous importance today. It would be a first step in providing counter visualization to the abysmal appeal of extremism on youngsters.