7.2.17

THE EVOLUTIONARY STABILITY OF OTHERING.

I've frequently hinted at this possibility, here's a peer-reviewed investigation of the hypothesis.
[Arizona State psychologists Steven] Neuberg and [Catherine] Cottrell are both adamant to point out that just because prejudices are a fundamental and natural part of what makes us human, that doesn't mean that learning can't take place and that responses can't be dampened.

"People sometimes assume that because we say prejudice has evolved roots we are saying that specific prejudices can't be changed. That's simply not the case," Neuberg says. "What we think and feel and how we behave is typically the result of complex interactions between biological tendencies and learning experiences. Evolution may have prepared our minds to be prejudiced, but our environment influences the specific targets of those prejudices and how we act on them."
That's no surprise: being receptive to mutually beneficial interactions with people who are in some way different also confers evolutionary advantages, and strategies that are safe for new adopters can be more robust than strategies that exclude all but old adopters.  As William A. Levinson notes,
The Romans' development of an extensive road network along with uniform Roman laws, meanwhile, may have similarly counteracted ethnic bigotry. The only armies were of course Roman legions under very strict Roman discipline, and bandits stayed away if they knew what was good for them. Merchants could travel safely, and there was no need to fear violence from them. There was far less need to regard strangers as dangerous, although this changed quickly when the Empire collapsed; hence the Dark Ages.

Today, of course, we can talk to somebody on the other side of the world from our own homes, and few people live their entire lives within 20 miles of the places of their birth. Strangers, at least those who share almost universal basic values as to how people should behave toward one another, are no longer dangerous. This makes prejudice against people of other ethnicities obsolete and dysfunctional.
Obsolete and dysfunctional, provided there are relatively few strangers who opt out of the universal basic values.  Deconstruct those, though, and stranger danger returns, instantaneous communication notwithstanding.

No comments: