Monday, July 17, 2006

"Other" thoughts

"We've given the word 'mob' a bad name." - Another Simpsons quote

I want to add a couple of notes to my previous post.

1) The theory that we as humans have an inherent need to demonize an "Other" is not very useful as science, because it is largely untestable from a rigourous standpoint. All the evidence that can put forward either for or against is anecdotal. However, since this is a blog, not a scientific paper, I can write what I want. While I can think of lots of cases in favor of the theory, if you ask me to name stable, multi-ethnic societies with a high degree of cross-group interaction that have not erupted in violence between the groups, my response is "Umm, I'll have to get back to you on that." I'm sure there are some, but the fact that countrary examples come so easily to mind is an argument in favor of the Other theory, even considering the confounding factors that violence is memorable and noted while nonviolence is not, and that a large portion of all ethnic hostilities are not spontaneous but shaped by external forces.

2) Even if it is an inherent behavior in humans (I am not saying "genetic" because purely genetic behaviors and ones that are inculcated in us from an early age are very difficult to unravel from each other) that doesn't mean we should accept it. We put curbs on our inherent behaviours all the time - that's what we call laws. I don't kill someone who wrongs me*, even though that may be my instinctive reaction, because I live in a society which is governed by laws.

Unfortunately, the "if it feels right, it is right" meme has become prevalent even among intelligent people. One of the big setbacks for rational reflective actions was in the 1988 Presidential debates in which Bernanrd Shaw (a supposed liberal) asked Dukakis if his wife and daughter were raped and killed wouldn't he want that man to be executed. The proper response should have been "Yes, I'd be angry as hell, but we are a nation of laws." But Duke didn't say that and so was perceived as a wimp because he didn't want to act on his base instincts. I believe this led inexorably to the belief that Dubya is superior to both Gore and Kerry because he is a man who acts according to his "gut." Even though, as Stephen Colbert pointed, "there are more nerve endings in your gut than in your brain" the gut is not always, or even usually, right, which is why he have laws and brains that can govern our behavior according to those laws.

I think it is telling that while the writers of the Constitution repespected the will of the people, they also didn't trust it. That's why there is the Senate, which origninally was not directly elected by the people, and the Electoral College. Unfortunately, because of various factors, neither of this institutions is actually fulfilling its intended function (as noted in previous post) but it does not mean the intention was flaws, but humans being humans, we can find a way to muck up almost anything.

*Note: I am a liberal who was mugged and remained a liberal.

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