"Even before Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene (1976)"
Sectarian Conflict-a case of symbiosis Even before Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene (1976) writers have noticed the parallels between biological and cultural evolution. Peter Richardson and Robert Boyd in Not by Genes Alone (2005) argue that an understanding of evolution is necessary for an understanding of culture. The author of this paper argues that cultural evolution and Darwinian evolution share descent with variation and selection: they also have very important differences. In situations where the differences can be neglected, the features of natural evolution should appear in the world of ideological evolution. From this theoretical approach we should expect symbiosis to be present in the ideological world. Symbiosis is the process by which two organisms co evolve, each encouraging the growth and development of the other. There are countless examples in nature. Lichens are a combination of an algae and fungus. Termites cannot survive without the symbiotic bacteria in their guts. This paper argues that some sectarian conflicts can be understood as a symbiotic pair. The rise in sectarianism in one ethnic group raises consciousness of sectarian differences and weakens social cohesion. In an environment of weakening social cohesion and rising ethnic identification, the second community can start to adopt sectarian ideas in response. This in turn further weakens social cohesion and increases sectarian consciousness in the first. The self-reinforcing process is established. The Irish nationalism and unionism in Northern Ireland have formed such a pair. (I do not mean to equate the two idea sets. I am much more in sympathy with historically oppressed Catholics than the Unionists.) The paper maps out the self- reinforcing process at a number of key episodes in the history of Northern Ireland, starting with the 1907 Belfast strike. Other examples include the unemployed workers movement in the 1930s and the ‘troubles’ of the late 1960’s. Each episode dealt with starts with non-sectarian actions. The state and Protestants intervene, causing Catholics to turn towards nationalism. Evidence of Catholic nationalism causes more Protestants to take up sectarian positions. The specific actions and reactions are different for each episode. The pattern however is constant. The process can also be observed in the rise of nationalisms in the former Yugoslavia. The rise in Serbian nationalism fed the rise in Albanian and Croatian nationalisms. These stimulated further growth in Serbian nationalism. This approach highlights the fact that these sectarianisms can lie dormant for decades and can suddenly burst out into a self-reinforcing process. Hopefully this approach helps those of us committed to oppose ethnic conflict, to predict and act against future outbreaks.