Follow by Email

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Part 5: Thinking Racism

Our capacity for categorical thinking and symbolic activity is the forbidden fruit that opened the way into the world for good and evil.

The good is thoughtful empathy by which we can enter into others and choose to become one with them. The evil is oppression by which we choose to objectify others as things to be used.

America and we, her citizens, have many blessings. But our original sin into which we have been born and socialized is racism which has economic, cultural, and political dimensions. Racism often goes underground; and we think it has diminished. Then it geysers forth from time to time; and we know the sin persists.

Today is one of those times demonstrated by the hatred shown to the first African American president who is widely considered an alien, by the stereotyping of non-whites as prone to crime, by recent police actions in regards African Americans, by new efforts to keep persons of color from voting, by denying immigrants the rights of full citizenship, and by treatment of certain religions and cultures, especially Islam, as more dangerous and exclusive than other belief-systems.

The US and all of us, her citizens, were nurtured in racism. Racism in America began with the torture and genocide of native Americans as European colonialists and western expansionists appropriated land. Racism was part of the founding of the US in constitutionally permitted slavery which is maintained in Jim Crow policies today. Racism continued in the exploitation of poor immigrant workers and continues today in the acquiescence to worldwide slavery for economic benefit.

We are all racists in the US. It is entrenched in our behavior personally and institutionally. Racism grows stronger when we do not acknowledge it. Those persons of all colors who deny its existence by keeping themselves as victims and blaming others are those who most reenforce it.

We cannot understand or cure the problem of racism in the US unless we recognize the relationships in our nation between 1) culture and nature (genes and memes), 2) clan and class, 3) personal attitudes and social institutions, and 4) thinking and action (epistemology and ethics).

1. Genes and Memes.

Evolutionary biologists have determined that the brain of homo sapiens is made up of three brains. There is the serpentine brain, shared with almost all animals, which purpose is the maintenance of life  by consuming and reproducing, by fleeing or fighting against predators. There is the limbic system by which we along with other animals cooperate with those we have learned to trust. And finally there is the neocortex, unique as far as we know, by which human can rationalize, that is fashion and use categories and symbols to communicate and plan ahead.

The system of categories and symbols constitutes culture. The systems of memorized and recorded categories and symbols are passed down to succeeding generations to be refined and amended as a growing bank of knowledge. What is wired into our genetic makeup (genes) is considered nature. What is passed down into our memetic makeup (memes) is considered is considered culture. But the interaction of nature and culture modifies them both. Racism has both genetic and memetic roots.

2. Clan and Class.

Clans are the rationalization of the serpentine brains' craving to consume and fear of outsiders by gathering families into small groups who could cooperate to hunt for food and ward off outsiders. These smaller groups used images of animals or places to identify themselves. They staked out their territories when they started growing their food and established boundaries to keep enemies out. They developed myths and rituals to position themselves among and against other clans.

In the struggle to achieve dominance over and ward off dominance by other clans or of families within clans, some clans and families within clans gained more access to wealth and the conditions of wealth (land, water, animals) than others and a hierarchical class system was formed and rationalized by language, myths, and rituals. The ruling classes were gods or chosen by gods. They were supported by professionals patronized by the rulers to take surplus wealth that was created by field laborers and slaves and to build and manage the palaces, gardens, arts, and schools for the aristocracy in turn providing some measure of protection through the military classes.

While the clan is more a social or cultural phenomenon, class is a fabrication of economy by which wealth is distributed upwards from slave and servant and laborer to patrons. Yet clans and classes were often the same.  Born to certain families or ethnic groups meant a relation to a certain class in the political economy. Racism has both the elements of clan through ethnic identify and class by economic deprivation.

3. Personal attitudes and Social institutions.

Racism is a personal attitude developed by behavioral upbringing or morality, mythology or religion, separation or segregation, and social habits or institutions. Socialized as to clan and class, all Americans have racism deeply rooted in their psyche usually unconsciously. Critiquing one's morality, religious mythology, and living space can make a difference. But racism can only be acknowledged and dealt with directly by identifying the social habits or institutions and their results objectively, that is by moving racism from the personal unconscious to public consciousness.

One cannot easily change a person's or a society's inherited genes which stimulate clan behavior and inherited memes which promote class mentalities. These genes and memes are in the unconscious background or climate of individual and collective behavior and are often rationalized by religion, art, and even science. There have been scientific studies that "prove" racial inferiority. But science (unlike religion and art) requires expressed assumptions, rigorous experimentation and evidence, and peer review.

Thus science offers the most hope of overcoming unconscious prejudgements. And art permeates that hope into the culture through language, drama, film, and even sport. And religion provides the sanctifying narratives and rituals for both the sin of racism and its redemption.

4. Thinking and Acting.

Earlier we noted that human thinking requires action and human action requires thinking.  Indeed they can be considered two strands of the same human way of existing in the world. The categories we use to think shape our personal behavior with its attitudes and even, as cognitive psychology has indicated, our feelings about ourselves and others, our hopes and despairs, our faith and our love. They also shape our collective habits of behavior including our economy and politics.

Earlier we also noted that neglect of thinking as constructive of reality by denial of the symbolic and anagogic character of thought and action removes the ability to decide to change, to do better, to even know what "better" is. We saw that bureaucratic neglect was banality of evil, that intentional denial was purity of evil, that realistic acceptance was sincerity of evil, that playing the existing rules was triviality of evil. All these are contained in American racism.

We in America are all racists--black, white, brown; rich, poor, middle class. Racism infects our founding, our culture, and our economic and political institutions. It is wrapped in our genetic proclivity to violence, our memetic sense of superiority, and our rationalized desire for supremacy through dominating force. It is our addiction. It is our original sin.

When we pretend or claim that we are not racists as when we see ourselves as victims of our genes, memes, or enemies, we reject our freedom. We reject our personal and collective responsibility to act to change our behaviors and institutions that in fact reenforce racism. We accept slavery as a necessary condition of the human species. It's our choice.


No comments: