Is it human nature to be a bigot?
Upon some earnest reflection, to me, the fact seems to be that all human beings engage in some form of perverse self-preservation and self-promotion by adopting scornful attitudes toward others not like them. This simultaneously validates the self by group identification and belittles everyone else. This paradigm also provides a very easy answer to why they aren’t doing so well, dismissing any possible negative external influences and substituting them with their inherent incompetencies. (Of course, specific cases will have their own peculiarities, but I am speaking in broad terms). Moreover, numbers do in fact reinforce the strength of we, expanding the idea of the tyranny of the majority into the tyranny of arrogance, superiority, and bigotry.
As such, any intolerance in our world (e.g., racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, antihomosexual, and worst of all, religious pride) really isn’t about the other person’s race, sex, religion, or sexual preference—that places too much emphasis on them. At the core, what these things are really about is elevation of the self at the expense of others. Since the beginning of time, people have tended to think and act out of self-interest in the pursuit of happiness, or what they think will bring them happiness. This ironclad algorithm still applies, but its manifestations differ. Consequently, I posit that it must be pride, which is in turn nurtured and supported by others and institutions, that is the driving force behind all bigoted behaviors.
As a way to empirically test this hypothesis, let us conduct a thought experiment. Generally speaking, do people tend to make choices that favor their interests or the interests of others? Given the option, would the reader choose to be selfish or to be altruistic? All honest answers tend to paint a very dark portrait of the world.
I would even go as far as to argue that even in cases where someone does act in a selfless way (e.g., mother caring for her child), is some need in the performer that satisfies self-interest (e.g., the psychological craving to be a good caregiver).
Human nature, sadly, all comes back to me.
In this light, then, every form of prejudice really isn’t about particular groups but a function of a person’s innate nature to divide, categorize, and then rank. For example, racism, then, really isn’t racism but pride directed against minorities in order to protect one’s own interests. Certainly, it’s a learned mechanism (has anyone ever met a two-year-old bigot?) meant to deal with realities that are perceived as less than ideal. As you can surmise, this view of humanity is quite glum, but the real question to ask is whether this pessimism is a subjective interpretation or a reflection of an often-ignored reality. Human beings are the world’s apex predators for a reason; we are biologically well versed in how to keep what is ours at the expense of those without the same privileges—an ideology that encourages “survival of the fittest.” Hence, Western culture really isn’t about Americans being gluttonous or capitalists innately being greedy; instead, our institutions simply encouraged and externally validated all of our inherent human tendencies to idolize the self.
Extemporaneous things such as sex, religion, culture, nationality, race, and economic status are all the packaging around the pride in the box. Different presentations may aggravate different people in different ways, but what’s inside remains constant.
In 2014, society encourages the abandonment of the outdated, prejudicial ideology of the past and attempts to embrace all people equally. Those who do embrace intolerance are quickly demonized. Bigotry is a fact of life and can never be eliminated, so where does the media fervor come from to punish certain practitioners of prejudice given the pervasive, grand scale of discrimination worldwide? Once someone is labeled “one of them” and cast away into the fires of narrow-mindedness, it becomes very convenient to separate oneself from them and look down upon those tortured souls with judgment. The problem here is that in the separation, one is never compelled to take the time to reflect on their own conceits. It’s always been easier to judge a neighbor before taking a good, earnest look in the mirror.
So should anyone be surprised that Cliven Bundy or Donald Sterling made the bigoted comments that they did? Of course not—they’re human just like the rest of us. They simply chose to exercise their pride in (now) socially unacceptable ways. (If the year was 1845, no one would pay these two any mind. Also, they could have chosen to exercise selfishness in a socially acceptable way such as philanthropy).
Pride helps us explain why Bundy can rationalize continuing to graze cattle on land in Nevada even after the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had already claimed the land and assessed Bundy more than one million dollars for his use of it, with the fact that he thinks all people of color feed off the government and would be better off as slaves. Even if one were to say that Bundy was “leeching” or “feeding off government land” illegally, this scenario benefits him while all those “mooching” minorities are a burden to society. Pride violently crushes reason and hides hypocrisy away in a remote corner never to be seen, recognized, or spoken of.
Donald Sterling has no problem sleeping with a biracial woman; he just prefers her not to attend Clipper games with any black people. For Mr. Sterling, conceit seems to have one standard in the bedroom and another in the public eye of a basketball stadium.
All decent human beings must eventually come to the understanding that at the very least, a moral obligation exists to treat all other human beings the same way we would like to be treated. In the end, no person is ever able to know another person’s heart condition, and that is the most important barometer of true inward feelings toward others. Prejudice against other people is a despicable thing, but before we as a society can truly grow and live among one another in harmony, we must all realize the inherent prideful tendencies in us all.
As C. S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “But pride always means enmity—it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God.”
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal