Saturday, February 16, 2008

human nature


Is anyone else perpetually fascinated (disturbed?) by the apparent inhumanity of many of the decisions taken in global politics? The Bush administration's, and indeed many recent US administrations', brand of exceptionalism; Tony Blair's religious certainties and his absolute conviction that he did nothing wrong in forcing GB to cooperate in invading Iraq; the ugly daily slog in Afghanistan, Pakistan and a dozen other nations in the frontline of the oxymoronic "war on terror"; the appalling world bank, IMF and WTO with their hell-bent policies of globalisation and impoverishment of developing nation's as a weapon through which to impose neoclassical economic version of imperial exploitation; I could continue the list but I think I've set the scene.

All of these disgusting examples of barbarism are characterised by a dehumanising process. A belief that other people are of less worth than and of lowlier stock than the judging individual(s). Egality has never been so far away and any argument for it is drowned beneath a deluge of ideological froth about "liberation", "freedom" and "development". I am convinced that the value system which allows the perpetrators of this brutality to sleep at night is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of humanity. The conviction that people are, at their core, self-interested and malicious in their pursuit of it. The fallacy of this has been made clear time and again in anthropological, sociological and psychological research (three dirty words for a true experimental scientist such as myself but the best we can do short of doing a Truman Show job). However, US-style international diplomacy is still conducted via the "us and them" mentality of an exceptionalism that dehumanises the adversary through a sincere belief that the "darkies" or the "nig-nogs" or those "funny little Asian guys" or those strange Europeans with their socialist politics and long holidays are somehow inferior. Its a casual racism that has developed beyond mere skin colour and evolved into the conviction of a glorious manifest destiny awaiting its acolytes.

A fascinating aside to this is the fact that, at more local levels, such inhumanity becomes more subtle because the electorate becomes less and less vulnerable to such prejudices because you can't accuse your neighbour of being a darky or a Mexican or a bloody Eastern European so instead the language changes to a more evidential and factual basis.

Anyway, the instigator of this particular rant was an article in New Scientist which I will link to here. Unfortunately its subscription only so you'll have to pick up a copy to get the full story.

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