Thursday, April 5, 2012

Us without them

I don't remember what prompted this conclusion. I've been thinking for a while now about evolution and survival of the fittest and how that relates to some people having the need to feel superiority over others. A white person in the South may be at the bottom of the economic and social ladder but they can think At least I'm better than those black people. (Yes, I do know what word the white person would have really said.) Fundies sneer at outsiders I'm saved and you're not! The rich change laws to suck up even more cash. Straight kids bully gay kids.

Apparently, I'm partly right. Newsweek has an excerpt from the book The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson. According to his research we have a very strong drive to form groups with the desire that our group dominates other groups. It isn't me v. him, but us v. them. We will even sacrifice for the group in ways that don't make evolutionary sense.

This drive to be in the dominant group can be satisfied by "symbolic victory on ritualized battlefields: that is, sports." Some fans are quite exuberant when their team wins. Whatever group we form (even when formed randomly for the sake of an experiment) there is almost an immediate bias for the group members and against non-members. There is hostility when the other groups appears to encroach on the in-group's territory.

So I'll update my conclusion above. People want to be in the winning group. Southern whites as a whole want to feel superior and feel hostile when their territory is taken over by blacks. Religious people feel threatened when their cultural superiority fades. Straights feel threatened when gays refuse to be closeted. Patriots appear everywhere when terrorism strikes. And strife between nations has been continuous. Yes, says Wilson, our drive to be in the dominant group may mean war won't end, though it might mean border skirmishes rather than world-wide conflagrations. The article ends this way:
Civilization appears to be the ultimate redeeming product of competition between groups. Because of it, we struggle on behalf of good and against evil, and reward generosity, compassion, and altruism while punishing or downplaying selfishness. Bit if group conflict created the best in us, it also created the deadliest. As humans, this is our greatest, and worst, genetic inheritance.
According to my religion and ethics I have a goal of working against this tendency. Even when I form groups I don't want it to be for domination. I want the us without the them.

The print edition has a series of six photos taken of fans outside a variety of music concerts. The fans look alarmingly similar, especially the spiked hair fans of Casualties, essentially highlighting the article's point. Alas, the online edition has only three of these photos, though the spiky hair is there.

In the same issue of Newsweek Andrew Sullivan has the cover story about The Forgotten Jesus. Too many of us invoke Jesus to reinforce our position -- lay claim to being in the dominant group striving against some opponent. This is a misuse of what Jesus said and did.

Sullivan has two examples. The first is Thomas Jefferson who created what we know as the Jefferson Bible. Jefferson discarded all the claims of divinity because that got fused with power and created wars and pogroms. Instead, he focused on the words of Jesus: love your enemies, give up wealth. And definitely give up power because that is only effective under the threat of violence.

The second example is Francis of Assisi, who gave up wealth and power to serve others. While I admire that I found Francis suffered from the prevailing idea at the time that a person had to be self-loathing to be holy. Going that far strikes me as damaging to mental health.

This is the heart of Sullivan's comments:
The saints, after all, became known as saints not because of their success in fighting political battles, or winning a few news cycles, or funding an anti-abortion super PAC. They were saints purely and simply because of the way they lived.

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