Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Thoughts on Racism and the Future of Humanity

Kind of a grandiose title, I know. I'll try to keep it from sounding too pedagogic. I'll begin with what my Hapkido instructor, Erik M., recently wrote:
I enjoy reading your blog, Step to Life, when I get the chance. I just read "Losing the Bear". After observing the incident involving the Indian woman and the girls in the golf cart, you asked,

"What is it about people with money and power, that they think it's ok to despise those who are less fortunate?"

I don't think it's a matter of being ok to despise the less fortunate. I think that it's necessary in order for the rich and powerful to blithely enjoy their lives of privilege without concern for the poor and disenfranchised. The act of despising reinforces a worldview: the unworthy poor deserve their fate, so I don't have to give a damn about them, or do anything to create a more just society. It's contempt as a psychological defense mechanism.

Erik, I think you're right, and I believe that this contempt itself is a product of dehumanizing stereotypes that are passed on from parent to child. Stereotypes such as:
  • Indians (native Americans) are lazy and they drink too much.
  • Black people are lazy and pre-disposed to crime. They are only good at singing, comedy and sports.
  • Arabs are violent by nature; it's in their blood.
  • Mexicans are hard workers but must be told what to do; they have no initiative.
  • Asians are cruel. They do not value human life like "we" do. They abuse animals and they will eat anything.
  • Jews are greedy and conniving; they secretly control governments and the media.
Many stereotypes are even self-contradictory: Jews are somehow perceived as both subhuman and superhuman. Arabs are generous and hospitable, but at the same time wicked and terroristic. Mexicans are hard working, but also thieves who will steal from you if they can.

These stereotypes say, "Those people do not possess the same human qualities that we do. They are less than human and should not be treated as equals. The rules of conduct that apply between us, do not apply to our treatment of them."

It's this dehumanization that makes it possible to exclude, imprison and even massacre people on the basis of their ethnicity. Or to eject them from their land, bulldoze their homes, and then build a wall to keep them imprisoned in a corner of the desert, as has been done in Palestine.

We live in a world where demographics are rapidly changing: the number of Muslims is on the rise globally; the Hispanic population in the U.S. is burgeoning; indigenous groups in Latin America are wielding their clout; the white population in Europe and Russia is steady or declining, as is the Japanese population; while China and India are ascending powers. In addition, the foundations of Western might - an endless supply of cheap energy, monopolization of resources, and a superior educational system - are quickly eroding.

These changes are frightening to those whose world view is founded on notions of racial entitlement; when people are afraid, they are capable of terrible things. Watch, out world.

We human beings are at a make-or-break stage, I believe. We have developed weapons of tremendous destructive capabilities; computers that calculate at mind-boggling speeds; and we are rapidly closing on technologies so powerful that I don't think we can even imagine what they will bring, namely nanotechnology, genetic engineering and cybernetics. We're going to see mind-blowing technological developments in our own lifetimes.

Based on this, we claim to be civilized. We're "modern". We have electric lights, paved roads, constitutions, space shuttles, credit cards, and Goretex jackets.

But in all in the ways that count, we're still cavemen. We're barbarians. We commit genocide (not a generation ago but now, today!), we imprison people for their words or thoughts, we torture, we make war for profit, and we are running the environment into the ground. We're not civilized at all. A jackal in a suit is still a jackal. If we do not make some serious changes, the powers of our technologies will outstrip our ability to control them, with disastrous consequences.

I admit I'm not optimistic about the future of the human race. I think it's not too late to save ourselves, but we'd have to make some changes, and I don't know if we can do it.

If we're going to survive this century, we must begin by basing our lives not on values of racism, capitalism, nationalism (i.e. exclusion) or greed, but on values of respect, inclusion and compassion. I won't say love, because that's something in the heart, something private. But respect, inclusion and compassion have physical manifestations; they can be expressed in practical ways.

Then we have to pass these values on to our children.

Justice is also critical, because without justice you can never have peace, neither within a society, nor between nations. By justice I mean two things:
  1. Criminal justice systems that apply equally to all, whether you're white or black, rich or poor.
  2. Economic justice. Economic justice does not mean re-distributing private wealth by force, as under Communism. It means that:
    • Public wealth should be collected and apportioned fairly, with no special favors for corporations and the rich;
    • Everyone should have equal opportunities for education and advancement, as long as they are willing to do the work;
    • A society has an obligation to care for those who are genuinely unable to care for themselves, such as the insane, the elderly, orphans and the seriously disabled. This is just basic human compassion.
    • Domestic policies have to be based on human values, not material values. Capitalism, communism and socialism are all systems of government based on distribution of wealth, in other words they are based on material values. Why not a society based on human values?
None of these ideas are new. In the Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) last Khutbah (sermon), delivered in front of a mass of over then thousand people during Hajj, in the valley of Arafat, in the year 10 A.H., or 632 in the Christian Era, he said:
"All humankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white; except by piety and good action."
One thousand, four hundred eighteen years later, we have not come close to realizing this truth.


Laura in Panama said...

We are all infected.

We are a world infected with racism. For as many lessons on stereotype and inequality a parent, friend, influential figure, etc. pass on directly to their children there are countless other "lessons" on who to dislike, be suspicious of and even hate in what is NOT said between teacher and student.

Anytime we observe, or take courage to recognize our participation in, the perpetuation of inequalities among the earth's people we must make witness to it and speak of it's evil. There are as many lessons in our silence as our speech.

robert and laura malone said...

We need a new way of thinking on this planet in order to build a world beyond war and racism. Thank you for the courage to contribute to the discussion. See for what others are doing.

We are retired teachers/world travelers here to learn about Panama, espically the wildlife. Noticed a gentleman in the market on Av. Central yesterday dressed such that made me wonder about the muslim population here. Have learned some things about Muslims while participating in a project with the Center for Non Proliferation at the Monterey Institute for International Studies in California. CNN running a special on life of Muslims in Great Britain, where one religious leader/interviewee said religious law instead of democracy is advocated, ie the interpretation where cutting off of hands for violation of law was advocated by a religious figure for Britain, saying it would eventually come either through peaceful discussion or jihad. Reaction of one speaker said this is not an ideology, but a mental illness. For me, hope that peace is the will of god.....
We are retired teachers/world travelers who have saved our money and over the last 30 years have visited 44 countries, now visiting Panama for the first time. Thanks for sharing the info about the bus ride from and to Valle from Panama. Brought to mind a trip down from a mountain in Switzerland to a bus stop in the middle of nowhere and not having the proper change....
Found you by googling blogs for Casco Viejo.. Thanks