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Rising Above Racism Is Imperative for Human Societies
Posted on Mar 16, 2017
Evolutionary biologists have a theory that better helps explain the rise of right-wing populism. Of course, racist sentiments and the fear of a shrinking majority have driven whites to pick belligerent leaders. But “territoriality and the endowment effect,” according to Lixing Sun, a biology professor at Central Washington University, plays a strong role, too. Our instincts, developed over evolutionary time periods, to protect what we feel is ours from those perceived to be outsiders plays a role in politics. Even those who were once outsiders succumb to the fear of newer outsiders sharing a piece of the pie. One man, calling himself “Forsetti’s Justice,” who apparently once lived in conservative rural America, wrote in a lengthy piece on Alternet about the racism and xenophobia among white rural Christians that “no amount of understanding, respect or evidence is going to change their minds and assuage their fears.”
One could conclude that it is simply human nature to look out for one’s own self-interest. Indeed, prehistoric events bear out the fact that humans have warred with one another for as long as we have been around. Scientists have found that “warfare is widespread among pre-industrial societies,” and that “warfare occurs among hunter-gatherer societies even when they are surrounded by other hunter-gatherer groups.” The romantic notion that “inter-group conflict was imported by contact with outsiders has been resoundingly rejected for both chimpanzees and human warfare.”
If war is a part of human nature, then so is serfdom, slavery, rape and women’s subjugation. (Matriarchal societies have always been the exception rather than the rule.) But we have rejected those horrific ills, and—in theory at least—the world still rejects racism. We have instituted complex (and admittedly flawed) systems of laws, treaties, courts and policing, to rise above our base natures. Indeed, if the word “civilization” means anything at all, it ought to mean grounding our societies in equality, dignity and respect for all humans. Otherwise King’s idea of civilization is akin to savagery. And in the end, that is what King, Trump, Wilders and their ilk have unleashed: mass savagery of the powerful against the weak.
But thankfully, humans are capable of rising above our primal states. Forsetti’s Justice asked, “Do you know what does change the beliefs of fundamentalists, sometimes?” He explained: “When something becomes personal. Many a fundamentalist has changed his mind about the LGBT community once his loved ones started coming out of the closet.” A similar effect can be seen when examining the popularity of Trump’s idea of erecting a border wall with Mexico. A new Pew study found that “Republicans who live closer to the border are less likely to support the wall than are those who live farther away.”
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The prehistoric impetus to evolutionary benefits from fighting outsiders no longer holds. We have got to rise above our own base instincts and expand our definition of the human family to include all humans. Indeed, our survival as a species depends on it.
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