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Charles Mudede on interdependency, morality, and the migrant crisis


In the February issue of e-flux journal, Charles Tonderai Mudede uses Moussa Touré’s 2012 film The Pirogue—about a boat full of African migrants bound for Europe—as an entryway into a beautiful reflection on morality, interdependency, and what makes us human. An excerpt:

We are not a strong animal; we are essentially weak. Our closest relative, the chimpanzee, is, according to evolutionary biologist Alan Walker, four times stronger than the average human. We don’t even have sharp teeth. Our development is terribly slow. Our big brains take twenty-one years to fully develop. Our babies are completely useless. Unlike chimpanzees and gorillas, our women need assistance during childbirth. They need help. Humans are even terrible sprinters, as much as we admire Usain Bolt. Few things in nature are more doomed than a human who is alone and left to fend for him- or herself.

Our survival has depended on dependency. “To man … there is nothing more useful than man.” From this dependency arose our cooperative behavior. We did not become a hypersocial animal because it was a good idea, but because we had no other choice. Strong individuals would have led us to our extinction, which is why we used to punish them, to keep them in check. (I refer you to my previous essay on Hyènes, because egalitarian justice is where dependency and cooperative behavior make their most important link.) As these prosocial behaviors shaped the world around us, this reshaped world began to shape us culturally and physically. And also genetically.

Image: Still from Moussa Touré’s film The Pirogue (2012).