Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Political Instinct

In her book “The Mystery of Numbers” Annemarie Schimmel discusses the innate human mathematical instinct at the root of all systems of numbers and geometry. There is also an innate political instinct at the root of all our political systems and forms. The mathematical instinct governs human relationships to questions of oneness and manyness, controlling how we divide the world into quantities. The political instinct governs our relationship to questions of order, purpose and cooperation.

Humans instinctively feel that we are in this world for a purpose — it takes an extraordinary confluence of cynicism and apathy to knock this feeling out of us — and we also feel that we must cooperate with others to achieve this purpose. All of our patterns of cooperation, modes of persuasion, and our efforts to collectively agree upon goals spring from these initial political instincts.

To call our political instincts innate is to say that they are part of our nature, our soul, which means that they are basically good. Our mathematical instincts too are fundamentally good and useful, are one of the sacred endowments at the root of great human achievements. Yet unfortunately both mathematical and political instincts can be twisted and corrupted by the delusions of greed, hatred, pride etc. The opening scene of 2001 — A Space Odyssey graphically depicts the unfortunate human tendency to turn conceptual knowledge into weapons and slaughter.

One of the great challenges of our time is to rediscover our innate political instinct, before it got corrupted and became just another servant of business. This primordial political energy in our souls can bind us together through love and shared endeavour, and marry us to both ideals and reality.