Eric Raymond wrote a level-headed, rational article on the biological origins of racism. Such an achievement, in an age where people are driven into a hysterical tizzy at anything remotely relating to the topic of race, is unique enough that it must be pointed out.
While his article is autobiographical in character, he comes to the basic truth: ‘racism’ is not so much a psychological pathology as it is a normal reaction to people who are not like you. Human beings spent most of its existence as small tribes of hunter-gatherers. To survive, unit cohesion was vital. For this reason, we are programmed to divide people into two groups: ‘us’ and ‘them’. This programming is not conscious but is one of the many subconscious algorithms that form a part of who we are:
“Your brain is a pile of kluges messily wired together by evolutionary selection.”
How these groups are defined is left for the higher centers of the brain to decide, using our experience of the environment around us as a guide. One obvious way is through racial groups. ‘We’ are one racial group; ‘they’ are the other.
This much is, or should be, obvious. What is interesting is Raymond’s advice on what you should do about it.
“As hard as you try to be rational, it’s going to glitch on you sometimes. When it does that, the right thing to do is notice that you are not the Robot and the glitch is not you.
I’m not saying guilt is entirely useless. It can be a valuable form of self-regulation when you make a conscious decision that causes unnecessary harm. But that’s not what we’re talking about here; you don’t decide to experience weird apparently-sourceless revulsions against some minority X, it’s just a thing that happens when the dice come up snake-eyes. You’re responsible – and guilty – only if you let the Robot run you.”
While our semi-autonomous neural network modules, that Raymond terms ‘kluges’, are a part of us, we must understand they are not all of us. We also have built into us rational and moral faculties that can, by force of willpower (another innate quantity), overpower our innate, hindbrain self. In other words, we do not have to be a slave to our urges and desires; we can overcome them.
“People fall into the Uncanny Valley reaction, don’t realize they have a wetware glitch, and then accrete layers of rationalization and hatred around that reaction. It’s much like the way primary mystical experiences make people vulnerable to capture by insane religions.”
“We actually have an implicit cultural prescription for dealing with circumstances like this. It begins with feeling guilty. What you’re supposed to do, especially if you’re white, is transvaluate that revulsion into a sense of mortal sin, then expiate it with huge amounts of compensatory behavior like canonizing Trayvon Martin and hating anybody who even questions affirmative action, minority set-asides, or any other feature of our government-mandated racial spoils system.
But this is exactly backwards. The last thing you ought to do with feelings of irrational revulsion, whether directed at racial groups or anything else, is emotionally entangle yourself with them and assign extra importance to the memories that involve them. Doing that just invites additional self-damage to no good purpose.”
He is right. Understanding who we are and what we aren’t avoids a lot of trouble. If Americans did that more often, a lot of the more irrational and dysfunctional features of the modern United States (the US is too hung up on the white-black race divide), would disappear. America is still profoundly affected by the shadow of slavery.
This also suggests a more profound limitation on society in general: modern, liberal society is predicated on individual autonomy and the equal treatment of individuals. The fact that we are programmed to draw us-vs-them distinctions - and react to them, possibly violently - suggests that natural limits exist on the amount of multiculturalism and multiracialism that a liberal society can tolerate while still remaining liberal.