Sunday, May 23, 2010

Oh, The Humanity

It is easy enough, perhaps, to separate ourselves from others. We can erect whatever barriers we choose, to segregate or compartmentalize people, to fit them into our orderly view of the world. Those same barriers can be used to deflect the uncomfortable truths which would threaten our societal constructs. These walls can only be torn asunder only by the most brute application of reason and tolerance and compassion; rarely is such force capable of being assembled easily.

To be open-minded, requires a constant fight against the deep-seated instincts of our primitive ancestors, who survived a cruel and tortuous world by developing a healthy paranoia, a distrust of anything that was different, or that they did not understand. This survival instinct brought them through the worst of times and harshest of conditions, and allowed them to grow and flourish, giving rise, eventually, to our modern civilization.

Along the way, as groups of humans learned to come together and cooperate for mutual benefit, the instinct transformed from a tool of survival, to a means of differentiation. The primitive brain, since shuffled down the ladder of primacy by the powerful cerebral cortex, held on doggedly to some power, planting notions within the higher thought centers that were not so easily ignored. It sought to ensure hierarchy within the group, by making some strive to be more powerful or richer than others, to keep the rest in their place; it worked to keep strangers out of the group, by planting seeds of distrust because of how others looked, acted, or seemed. In the middle centuries of modern human culture, the primitive brain still ruled, but as the power behind the throne.

The 20th Century began to show the true promise and potential of humanity, and we would have been excused for thinking that finally the cerebral cortex had won out over the primitive brain, but the 21st Century appears to be beginning with a regression. While our technology opened up global communication and the sharing of ideas, it also allowed the hidden and sometimes long dormant underbelly of human society to creep back into the light, to spread virulently among those not inoculated by education and common sense.

Now we see the rebirth of intolerance writ large across a great spectrum -- illegal immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals, just to name a few, must withstand a barrage of invective and vituperation that we are unaccustomed to seeing in recent history, being they are so blatant and repugnant. Many thought the election of a black President signaled a sea change in our society, that the demagoguery and racism and hatreds of the past were no more, little realizing they were hiding like vipers in the reeds, waiting to strike the unsuspecting. Anything that settled temporarily to the bottom of the melting pot, now is stirred up and mixed in with the stew.

It is easy to condemn those who expose their ignorance and bigotry so readily, but it is not enough, because they will not simply stop at the first sign of resistance. They have honed their intolerance, crafted it into neat systems that resist any and all attempts at the application of reason. We must endeavor to not only point out the incongruities that drive their flawed and fallacious arguments, we must ensure that we meet them at every point of engagement, show them for what they are, and lay out the case for reason. Only in that way, can we hope to drive ignorance and bigotry back under the rocks they crawled out from.

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