Humans build fences – not physical fences but invisible ones called communities. Communities are formed around the family, the hometown, the language or the culture.
Community is such an emotive word that creates fuzzy feelings. However, there is no community in the world that lives up to the name. Every community has conflicts, and the conflicts turn members of the community against one another when prolonged. It is often greed that causes conflicts, but there is something worse than greed.
Towards the end of the Peloponnesian War, Athens was losing even in the sea where it was usually stronger than Sparta. Cities in Asia Minor and the Persian Empire, which held grudges against Athens, provided support for Sparta, enabling the city state to hire excellent sailors who were absolutely critical in naval battles.
In 406 BC, Athens received an urgent message that its military was at risk surrounded by a large Spartan fleet on Lesbos. Athens, which was on the brink of collapse, used everything in its power to create a fleet of 150 ships and eventually won a landslide victory. However, it also lost many lives during the war when 25 of its 150 ships sank because it could not save anyone due to a storm.
When the fleet returned to Athens, some people charged the eight generals who fought in the war and brought them the victory. They enticed people by saying all the wealth owned by the generals would be confiscated and distributed. A vote to decide whether the generals were guilty was held without examining their wrongdoings. Socrates pointed out the illegal nature of the vote, but to no avail. The generals got executed.
This story then takes an interesting turn. The public who became angry with those who pushed for the execution purged or executed them. Worse than greed is the lack of laws and systems that leads to a loss of rationality and conscience. Athens collapsed in the end, and it never came back.