What came first: the egg, the chicken, or the henhouse?

Grave this on your memory, lad: A world is supported by four things, the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous, and the valor of the brave. But all of these are as nothing without a ruler who knows the art of ruling. Make that the science of your tradition. (The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen to Paul Atreides, son and heir of Duke Leto)

I read Frank Herbert’s Dune as a young man and in hindsight I think it is one of a handful of novels that made a particularly deep impression on my thinking. War and Peace was another. Incredibly long but I thought it was a page turner.

I very much enjoyed the 1984 movie adaptation of Dune and I simply love Denis Villeneuve’s recent 2021 adaptation which I have seen many times. It even inspired me to reread the novel, and thus the quote above.

I am fascinated by human nature and why we are as we are and do as we do. I have been stewing on this quote and as of yet have failed to see how it is not broadly true. Assuming ‘a world’ is metonymic for ‘the people’ (a given people) then it would seem to me that if you remove any one of these five pillars, the people are considerably weakened and thus their security is at risk.

But the question that I am drawing from this is, what is a people? Let’s say that the answer is as obvious as it seems. Then my next question is this: is a people a social construction or a product of our human nature? Are the Japanese or Germans social constructions like the Shriners or Boy Scouts of America, or are they the inevitable human herd born of all inhabitable lands?

I think the latter. But if inevitable, so what? Are a people justified by their inevitability? Just because something is born of our human nature, such as a mother’s love, does that make it good or necessary?

I understand my own individuality. I strive to live. I can hardly help it. I seek that which I want and avoid that which I do not.

I understand family and the invisible bonds of affection that prescribe and circumscribe my actions and that may cause me to sacrifice for them or even lay down my own life. The human family is so ubiquitous, timeless, and relatable that surely we can agree that it is both a product of our human nature and the fount of the good and the necessary. If we do not agree on this point then our train of thought is off the rails and plunging down the cliff. Discussion over.

I posit that the people is as much a product of human nature as the family itself and equally necessary for human survival. That the people is a naturally occurring union of families that develops in a specific place over the course of time. That the people is born of families, and the family of individuals, male and female, who by nature seek mates born of other families. And thus united (in marriage), they unite their respective families. The expansion of these marriage alliances expand to form the tribe, clan, people, polity, etc. And lastly that via man’s inclination to imitate those around him, commonalities develop that in time identify them as a people, e.g. language, customs, notions, taste palate, etc. and given enough time, even race.

History offers an ocean of evidence that this is just the nature of things, and we all understand it. Anyone that has ever lived in a foreign country has felt the truth of it.

Yes we are individuals but we do not exist alone or rather hermits are only slightly more common than leprechauns. Yes we are all members of families but few families live wholly off-grid or alone outside a realm. The Swiss Family Robinson was marooned after all.

No, we are all at least born amongst a people, and the vast majority of us amongst our own, and a great majority of us grow up amongst them, becoming an original copy, easily identifiable as a member of that tribe.

And that is a comforting thought, because if I am in trouble I know that my kin will move heaven and earth to help me. And to whom will they appeal for help if the power and resources of our family is insufficient?

To our tribe.

And may God help those who have neither family nor tribe.

M.C. Atkins

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