rscn4338Throughout my life I’ve been mildly sceptical of this almost universal belief that Homo sapiens is a true social animal.

Even primitive humans are always depicted as living in tribes, not in small families or alone. But there is a lot of evidence to the contrary. Sometimes where you don’t expect it.

For example, recently I finished reading C. J. Meyer’s monumental history of World War One, A World Undone, the story of a war that destroyed 3 empires, began the demise of two more, and killed 20 million people.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that high officers in the British forces constantly disagreed with each other and/or ignored each other, or that the members of the French high command treated each other with contempt. It was a bit surprising though to find that the same thing was going on in the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish forces too.

Incompetence, selfishness, dishonesty and disagreements where no one would listen to the ideas of anyone else – that was everywhere.

A true leader of a people should care about those people, yet throughout the war not only the high military command on both sides, but the highest political leaders too displayed indifference to the fate of soldiers who were dying in the tens of thousands in battle after battle, and to the civilian population who had to support it all with longer work hours, lower pay, starvation, increased disease and death.

The Germans showed some concern about their troops – throughout the war they had the lowest rate of casualties – but the German generals on the western front and those on the eastern front constantly worked to undermine each other and thereby contributed significantly to Germany’s defeat.

The Russian forces were also undermined by pervasive corruption. Ammunition and food purchased from America often disappeared, while middlemen got rich. Eventually rampant selfishness ended in the collapse of Russian society.

Incidentally, though I often say, with good reason, that literature/fiction today is a shadow of what it once was, that is not true of history. We live in a golden age of historians and Meyer is one of the best. His portrayal of individuals as well as societies makes the book compelling and readable.

Anyway, thinking of all this, I couldn’t help being reminded of the dysfunctional insurance offices I worked in over 40 years.

In almost every company (because I worked on contract much of my career, I worked in more than 30) it was evident that there was an undeclared war going on in management, each supervisor, department manager, vice-president, etc, doing their best to undermine rivals and advance themselves. And while women didn’t take part in the stupid mayhem of World War I, female managers were front and center in the insurance world, as selfish and destructive as the men.

The people I met during those years who genuinely cared about the company they were working for, or who were at least trying to do a good job without hurting anyone else, were usually quiet, introverted people. Shy people.

Anyway, put all that together and what have you got? Not a social animal, that’s for sure.

If you want to read a little of A World Undone, the ‘read inside’ feature on Amazon has a more extensive sample than you get with most books.

amazon.com/books/worldundone

 

 

 

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