We are our Brothers’ Keepers

What is peace? What is war?

Whatever the circumstances, if the condition is under the balanced homeostatic harmony, we could call this situation peace. Once, however, the things get unbalanced, causing movements to increase the entropy, we could call it war. This phenomenon is universal for any domains from material to biological to societal to mental to spiritual.

The molecules (even atomic and subatomic particles) keep moving in any conditions. For example, in the material sphere, water keeps the state of liquid unless and until its entropy reaches the tipping point. Once the molecular movements get beyond the threshold, water transforms into steam. Likewise, at another point, it solidified to ice.

In the biosphere, territorial integrity is under the same homeostatic balance. For example, at the lake of the remote island, its ecosystem is sustainable as long as it never faces external threats. Once, however, one entry of a tiny species from outside takes place, the lake becomes vulnerable, even leading to an extinction of the others that used to live peacefully.

In early twenty century Japan, the beautiful fields of native silver grass were everywhere, but now it is seldom to see these landscapes becoming more nostalgic. As the country’s economy grew in the late twenty century, foreign goldenrod dominated and defeated the native species. Around the current suburb area, we rarely see sentimental silver grasses as part of the traditional households but more with goldenrods as if ugly advertising boards destroy the picturesque scenery.

Silver Grass

Consciously or unconsciously, we felt some unknown disharmony as the goldenrod fields were disproportionately everywhere in those days. I can also feel nostalgia with goldenrods as they were everywhere on my childhood playgrounds. And yet, all children in my generation still recall these overgrown grasses as something destroying harmony.


A similar disharmony also happened among other creatures like fish, birds, and beasts. In the same period, we also experienced the uncontrolled growth of foreign crawfish, which is another typical example. I still remember this type of crawfish being overpopulated everywhere, from ponds to streams to creeks in Japan’s late twenty century.


Probably, these accidental encounters should be still part of mother nature, even though they caused much-unwanted chaos among the inhabitants. I don’t know if there is already “peace” in the current ecosystem. And yet, indeed, there was a “war” over such unexpected invasions and migrations in those days between native and foreign species.

The nature of the islands separated from the continents is, as such, inevitably vulnerable to outsiders due to less exposed competition. However, in the age of globalization, as various products and materials are in constant trading, these interactions are unavoidable. As Jared Diamond pointed out in his book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, in our human history, the external threats often took everything because of their environmental advantages, which is usually a matter of luck. And yet, the consequences were severe to the extent that the recipient civilizations vanished from the globe.

Everything that identifies itself at any individual and collective level can be the potential cause of collisions, invasions, and extinctions. Humans have no exception. Our bloody history has been full of territorial disputes and conflicts from tribal to racial to ethnocentric to nationalistic to ideological, even with genders, generations, social classes, languages, and more.

The water becoming a stream or ice is part of the natural homeostatic movement as the degree of entropy. And, the territorial tensions on flora and fauna above-mentioned are, as Darwin pointed out a century ago, nothing more than the reality for the survival of the fittest. They can’t survive without defeating others like goldenrod and crawfish swept others away. Their biological identities are hardcoded. They did what they could do due to their survival instinct.

On the other hand, the identities of humankind are not only biological but more sociocultural and ideological in the noosphere. Our self-conscious attributes look more complicated. We identify ourselves as a human biological species and as countless classifications.

In tribal warfare, we used to kill others only because they were not part of our group and vice-versa. We treated enslaved people as if they were nothing more than domestic animals. Cruel torture was common in most of our human history. We tortured and killed one another as if this action was our default means to settle any conflicts. Others are, by default, the enemies to the extent of the life and death threats.

If they are different from us? What should we do? The answer has been cruel and straightforward.

“Kill them, before they kill us!”

We, humans, are psychopathic. Even among family members, we can’t remove this violent character. The statistics show that murder among family members and relatives is not rare. Often, kinship intimacy is the other side of the coin of homicide. As we all know, mythologically and archetypally, the first murderer of humankind was Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve, who killed his only brother Abel.

War was necessary for Cain to settle his identity issue. He killed Abel. And yet, in front of God, he justified himself, saying: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Genesis 4:9

Yes, Cain was his brother’s keeper. Both were only two brothers in the archetypal human family. They are brothers, never enemies each other at all. Nevertheless, Cain thought Abel was his enemy and had to kill him to save his identity.

What is your identity aside from being human? Your family clan, tribe, race, ethnicity, nationality, social class, gender, language, religion, or ideology? What else? What else matters for you to the extent that Cain killed Abel?

What matters? Don’t any lives matter? Do we still kill one another? When should we stop this torture to restore peace? Love thy enemies. It is not because they are our enemies, but ultimately, they are our brothers from the Lord’s perspective.

Yes, we are our brothers’ keepers.

Image by Daniel Hadman; Image by Joshua Choate

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