Here’s one way to think about our social evolution and how we organize ourselves socially. You’re probably familiar with the idea that we have three centers of intelligence in our bodies, not just one. These three centers are the Head, the Heart, and the Belly. And each one has its own kind of intelligence – they are not the same, and their areas of expertise do not overlap.
The Head Center is concerned with thinking, with logic and facts and all that we commonly think of as the mind. It is the place of concepts, including words, numbers, and maps. This is where we divide one thing from another and how we notice patterns and rules and systems. It compares things to each other and establishes ranks and hierarchies. It tries to put things in order. It perceives the world mostly through concepts, and since concepts generally arise in opposing pairs (up and down, right and wrong, now and then), our minds also tend to emphasize differences and oppositions. This is useful and natural. It is the nature of the intelligence of the head.
The Heart Center has a very different king of intelligence. It knows the world through love, through connection and feeling. Love wants to be closer to what it loves, immersed in what it loves. If you love a person, you want to be closer to them. If you love singing, you want to sing. If you love mathematics, you want to do mathematics. The heart does not care about good and bad or right and wrong. It does not care about rules and forms. It simply feels the pull of love and wants to move closer to whatever it loves. There is a fluid, flowing quality to the heart and a softness and fuzziness to the heart's intelligence, as opposed to the sharp, dividing clarity of the head's intelligence. (The heart we are referring to here is not the heart muscle that pumps blood through your body, but rather the energetic organ known as the heart center or the heart chakra, located in the center of your chest.)
And the Belly Center has a third kind of intelligence, the intelligence of the body. It is the intelligence of the physical world, the world of space and time, of motion and action. Sports, dancing, martial arts, and even driving a car all engage the intelligence of the belly, because in all those activities, you have to put your attention on where you and others are in space, how everyone is moving, and what will happen next. Just throwing a ball back and forth engages your belly center. Just standing up from your chair engages it. When athletes speak of being 'in the zone', they mean times when they are not thinking or feeling, but just doing – times when the mind and heart are quiet and the belly center is running the show. (The belly center is located about 2 inches (5 cm) below your navel.)
So our three centers of intelligence each have their own domain, and in their own area, they are each very competent. Their kind of intelligence is the best kind of intelligence for navigating that domain. However, they are not good at navigating either of the other domains. For instance, when driving down a crowded street, counting the other cars will not help you avoid an accident. Loving them and admiring their beauty will not help, either. Similarly, when filling out your tax forms, just entering whatever number “feels right” won't work – you have to do the math.
How societies evolve as each center comes online
So how can we use this understanding of our three centers of intelligence to understand how societies evolve? Here’s one idea of how societies may progress through different stages as they evolve.
Stage 1 – Belly Center Only
In this stage, most people in the society are belly-centered. Not everyone, but the majority, and so the views of the society as a whole are those of the belly center. Life is mostly a competition for survival, for food, resources, and mates. Survival depends on winning that competition. And you do that by using the intelligence of your belly center to outfight and outrun your enemies. Muscle is the winning ingredient, because Might Makes Right.
We see this played out endlessly in other species as they compete for food, territory, and mates. We also see it in most of our human history, as one tribe, led by its strongman, fights with a different tribe, led by their strongman. Co-operation and collaboration happen only between individuals of the same family or tribe as they seek to out compete other families and tribes.
Stage 2 – Belly and Head Centers
In this stage, the head center comes more into the foreground, and most people in the society are either primarily belly-centered or head-centered. Not everyone, but the majority, and so the views of the society as a whole are those of the belly center and head center. Competition for food, resources, and mates is still the dominant theme of life, but now you can also outthink your enemies, instead of just outfighting and outrunning them. And you do that by using your head center as well as your belly center. Intelligence challenges muscle as the winning ingredient. Co-operation and collaboration are gradually extended to other tribes and even to other nations as a way to compete successfully against enemies.
In European history, we might say that the Enlightenment was the beginning of this stage and that WWI and WWII were its inevitable flowering. Since then, we have used co-operation to try to prevent more wars, but the competition between nations and blocks of nations continues to be the main force shaping geopolitics. And the assimilation of multiple tribes within single nations has also lead to the creation of multi-cultural societies and the many fears and tensions that can arise out of living with others who look, speak, and think differently than ourselves. Today, this seems to be our situation as we struggle to balance collaboration with competition, both locally and around the world.
Stage 3 – Belly, Head, and Heart Centers
In this stage, the heart center also comes online, and most people in the society begin to use all three centers, operating as an integrated whole. That means that most people are well-grounded, centered, emotionally mature adults. Not everyone, but the majority, and so the views of the society as a whole reflect that well-grounded, centered, emotionally maturity.
As the heart center comes into the foreground, supported by the belly and head centers, our capacity for empathy expands, enabling us to care about all others, even others who are different. Feelings of connection and oneness begin to outweigh the impulse to compete, and ideas like “we’re all in this together” and “a rising tide lifts all boats” become stronger than our fear that “a win for you is a loss for me.” Most people begin to care about Them in the same way that they care about Us, and their Us vs Them view of life becomes less persuasive.
Ideally, this allows most people, and therefore the society, to stay heartful, even in times of crisis. Even today, we see that – at least during times of peace and prosperity – co-operation and collaboration are stronger organizing forces than competition. How well we will be able to stay heartful and collaborative during future times of scarcity, I do not know. The self-centeredness of the individual ego is strong, and I’m not aware of any societies that have actually reached this third stage, so we can only speculate.
So far, this is only an idea, sketched out in broad strokes. But I hope that this idea of how the development of the three centers of intelligence may help societies become more emotionally mature can give us some hope for a better future and some guidance about the skills we all need to develop to get us there.