An undercurrent of the first murder recorded in the 4th chapter of Genesis is the eternal conflict between farmers and herders. “Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of ground.” (Gen. 4:2b) Both brought offerings to the Lord. Abel’s was accepted, Cain’s was not. Cain became angry and his countenance fell. Cain’s murder of Abel grew out of this anger. When the American west was settled very often conflict grew up between tiller of the ground and keepers of cattle. Sometimes this tension could rise to the point of murder.
The April 2019 issue of National Geographic has a modern-day illustration of conflict that arises between the tillers of the land and the keepers of cattle. This time, the setting is eastern Nigeria. Even though they come from different villages, Solomon Igbawua and Dahiru Bala have been close friends since childhood. Isbawua is a member of the Tiv tribe who are farmers. He is a Christian. Bala is a Hausa Muslim and his group tends cattle.
For many generations the Tiv and the Hausa coexisted side by side. This all changed in 2014. A warming climate brought a scarcity of resources. Tension grew, villages were burned and men and women were killed. People became refuges from their own homes.
The story of Solomon and Dahiru and their families was one of the illustrations that David Berreby used in his article on “The Things That Divide Us” in the April 2019 issues of National Geographic. Berreby suggests that studies show that while we are still in the womb we develop sensitivity to certain groups. This grouping can take place on a wide variety of areas and interests. Some of us group around schools and sports teams. Some of us group around hobbies and special interests. Some of us group around common experiences and heritages. With rare exceptions, all of us identify with some group or groupings which have the effect of dividing us into “us” and “them.” Sometimes these groupings can just add spice to life. At other times, they can have deadly serious consequences.
An effective organizing principle around which to create a group is a common enemy. This is one of the standard methods of community organizers. This approach works. It can create energy, commitment, and generate resources. Unfortunately, it is to the benefit of the leaders of the group for the grievances which they hold against the enemy to continue. Solutions to problems bring a decrease in power and influence. Crusades need something against which to crusade.
When one looks at the national political landscape it would seem that it has degenerated into a severe case of “us” vs “them.” Political discussions digress into a diatribe of talking points that usually have very little to do with the question at hand. Persons from opposing views are like ships that pass in the night unaware that the other are not the caricature that they have created of their arch enemy.
The next two weeks, I would like to make two suggestions that come from the article in National Geographic about how to address the issues of “us” vs “them.” Next week, I will address the issue of taking responsibility for our own part of the issues. Using an experiment reported by David Berreby in his article the following week, I will look at starting points for discussion between “us” and “them” groups.