03 Philosophy Viewpoints

Fallout: Life Is Bigoted

Can an individual be free of bigotry? Can a group? No.

It may be a dream of the innocent, but it’s impossible. Here’s why. Bigotry arises at the junction of the instinct to live and the instinct to propagate our own genes. Both are innate to life as we know it, not choices. Nature does not assure the survival of the individual’s genes. The individual competes in the immediate neighbourhood with others of the same gender, while at the same time scrambling for resources to keep oneself alive long enough to get enough chances at mating and reproduction.

These are deep-seated instincts that no amount of societal prosperity can erase. And very few are conscious of it. Individual competition is just that, individual. But we evolved to form tribes and larger groups to increase our chances of getting a share of resources from the limited natural pool. Indeed, this was almost a necessity given humans are not endowed with great personal strength. The group increased the chances of passing on the individual’s genetic material. This is its function. And the very definition of a group is that it differs from others. The difference has to be maintained. If groups did not keep distinct characteristics, they would merge into a larger formation and the individual would be back to square one, having to fight alone. Groups settle into some optimal size, which is an interesting topic that we will not digress into.

So now we fight for our genes as individuals and as groups. But the result of most fights is a loser and a winner, a superior and an inferior. It would be nonsensical to take a position of, ‘I am worse than you, meaning my genetic material is worse, yet I should win and you should be left behind in time’. Simpler to say, ‘I am better than you, my group is better than yours, so we have the right to live, you don’t’. So, winning is about implicit and proven superiority. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is by itself bigotry. Evolution through natural ‘selection’ is bigotry. The preferential survival of better genes is bigotry.

To live is to win. To live is to be superior. To live is to be bigoted.

As long as there is life in the universe, there will be bigotry. No amount of evolution can ‘weed’ it out because for evolution it is food, not a weed. In the distant future of faster-than-light space travel, it will be Milkians vs Andromedans vs Barnardians, it will be 5-sensers vs 6-sensers vs 7-sensers, it will be Gravitos vs Anti-gravitos, it will be the White-matteros vs Dark-matteros, it will be the Time-Benders vs the Time-Followers and a billion other groupings. It will be Bigotry Heaven. Maybe there already is one.

Then why do we rebel at all against the grain of nature? From where does our discomfort about bigotry emerge, even in solitude, tuning out all noisy political correctness or incorrectness? Perhaps it comes from a feeling any of us could be at the receiving end of it. Perhaps from a feeling that anything taken to extremes will be destructive and there should be a balance. Perhaps from a sense of our limitations and the humility that comes with intelligence and knowledge.

Whatever the sources, it seems overall that humanity welcomes its dismay with bigotry. But this shrinking and doubt do not kill the bigotry within us, that is certain. Oh no, the primal forces of nature are too egoistic and goal-oriented to take a risk with ‘good angels’. We experience the struggle between two unequal feelings – of the superiority of self and group and shame in feeling and expressing it. Against the primal dictates of nature, we sense that a balance must be struck between a take-no-prisoners attitude and fatalistic suicide. The point of balance differs with the emotional growth of the individual. Each of us buries the basic instinct to bigotry at different depths underground.

It also varies with the environment. Tough times bring more of our bigotry to the surface. It is a matter of survival, after all.  There are many types of bigotry in us and some are stronger, some even dormant. But whatever the sum, it is ugly when exposed to modern and rational thought.

This picture of opposing internal forces is a familiar one. We have many other such self-centred instincts and they too are accompanied by an internal repugnance. So, what is different about bigotry that it deserves special attention? It is the global, even cosmic, power of it. It can wipe out entire groups and reduce natural variety. It is because it is the most basic instinct of all, one that fuels all the others.

Some may say, ‘so be it’. But think about it. If one group were to eliminate all others, there could be only two outcomes – either its gene pool is too uniform to withstand the next natural force and it too gets wiped out or the population of that group grows larger until new groups emerge from it and we start going back to square one.

Isn’t it better to listen to our more evolved brain and try and achieve a balance without reaching either of these extremes through the violence that would entail?

We have to consciously, watchfully, diligently and consistently stop ourselves from getting comfortable with our own bigotry and acting it out, as we stop ourselves from lifting at the shop, scratching our behind in public, cursing in front of children, cheating at exams and a host of other basic instincts.

There is no magic cure for it. It will be an everlasting and powerful foe.  Bigotry requires eternal control from each of us.

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