‘Us’ versus ‘Them’

1.  As noted earlier, I am an Enlightenment cultural imperialist.  I think that we in the “developed”/western world should be unashamed and unabashed in saying to the Islamic world (and anyone else), “Our culture values free expression and rejects violence in response to it.  The only civilized response to expression you don’t like is more expression, from your side.  We recognize that words and pictures can mock, hurt, and provoke.  Intelligent and sensible people do not routinely try to be rude and provocative.  But in an open world with free communications everywhere, all of us need to have thicker skins.”
2.  All of us — Western and Islamic, Asian and African, men and women, old and young — are pre-wired by evolution to divide the world into “us” and “them.”  “Us” is the good guys, worthy of respect, care, and concern.  “Them” is the bad guys, barely human, if human at all, who are evil, untrustworthy, and trying to steal from us and kill us.  If we do not actively resist falling into this cognitive trap, we fall into it.  To call out a few obvious examples, it seems to me that Jim has defined Islamic people as “the other.”  It seems that Anne has defined the “bots” as “the other.”  It seems that Bob Z had defined rich-fucker capitalist elites as “the other.”  Once someone is defined as “the other” their actions become one-dimensional and evil.  Etc. This is a form of mental disease to which we are all prone.  It is not rational or scientific thinking about people or our behavior.
3.  Ironically, as I understand it one of the key evolutionary functions of religion is to provide easy cognitive and behavioral markers to help us indulge in this unfortunate cognitive error.  Those who believe liek we do are “us.”  Those who don’t are “them.”
4.  This phenomenon is not unique to Islam or to any other religion or group.  Any us-them division can lead to extreme violence.  Tutsis and Hutus.  Khmer Rouge and their opponents.  Old folks in the cultural revolution.  Irish versus Protestant.  European settlers versus Native Americans.  Nazis versus Jews (and Gypsies and gays and others).  White racists versus post-Reconstruction blacks.  Modern white Supremacists (e.g., Timothy McVeigh) versus mainstream US society.  Etc., etc.  There is no shortage of examples of us-versus-them violence either today or at any period of human history.  So, when someone says, “no, really, this time the real cause is the tremendously pernicious content of ‘their’ religion,” I am deeply skeptical.  I have no doubt that some cultures and religions are more prone to encouraging violence than others.  And some cultures and religions probably can’t really survive in a western/enlightenment world, although I doubt that Islam as a whole is on that list.  Doubtless some versions of Islam are, but some versions of Christianity and Judaism are too.
Chris S.

About basicrulesoflife

Year 1935. Interests: Contemporary society problems, quality of life, happiness, understanding and changing ourselves - everything based on scientific evidence.
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