The Juan Williams mess led to a long and provocative thread about normal fears and irrational prejudices, and what we should feel free to express about certain situations in modern life without getting fired for it.
And at some point, I posted the following in that thread, and it was so long I decided to make it into a separate post, even though, once I post it, I really need to move on to other stuff… Anyway, what I said was”
You know, there’s a whole conversation I’d be interested to have here about the way a healthy human brain works that takes this out of the realm of political correctness-vs.-Angry White Males, which is about as deep as we usually go.
But in the last week of an election, when I’m having trouble blogging at all, much less keeping up with all the election-related things I need to be writing about… I don’t have time to set out all my thoughts on the subject.
But to sort of give a hint…
What I’m thinking is this: There are certain things that we decry today, in the name of being a pluralistic society under the rule of law, that are really just commonsense survival strategies, things programmed into us by eons of evolution.
For instance, we sneer at people for being uneasy in certain situations — say, among a group of young males of a different culture or subculture. And we are right to sneer, to a certain extent, because we are enlightened modern people.
But, if our ancestors weren’t uneasy and ready to fight or flee in such a situation, they wouldn’t have lived to reproduce, and we wouldn’t be here. Thousands of years ago, people who felt all warm and fuzzy and wanted to celebrate multiculturalism when in the company of a bunch of guys from the rival tribe got eaten for dinner, and as a result, those people are NOT our ancestors. We inherited our genes from the edgy, suspicious, cranky people — the racists and nativists of their day.
Take that to the next level, and we recognize that such tendencies are atavistic, and that it’s actually advantageous in our modern market economy governed by liberal democracies to be at ease with folks from the other “tribes.” In fact, the more you can work constructively with people who are different, the more successful you will be at trade, etc.
So quite rightly we sneer at those who haven’t made the socio-evolutionary adjustment. They are not going to get the best mates, etc., because chicks don’t dig a guy who’s always itching for a fight. So they’re on the way out, right?
However… the world hasn’t entirely changed as much as we think it has. There are still certain dangers, and the key is to have the right senses to know when you need to be all cool and open and relaxed, and when you need to be suspicious as hell, and ready to take evasive or combative action.
This requires an even higher state of sophistication. Someone who is always suspicious of people who are different is one kind of fool. Someone who is NEVER suspicious of people who are different (and I’m thinking more of people with radically different world views — not Democrats vs. Republicans, but REALLY different — more than I am people wearing funny robes) is another kind of fool.
The key, ultimately, is not to be any kind of fool. The key is to be a thoughtful, flexible survivor who gets along great with the Middle-eastern-looking guy in the airport queue or the Spanish-speakers in the cereals aisle at Walmart, but who is ready to spring into action to deal with the Middle-eastern-looking guy in seat 13A who’s doing something weird with the smoking sole of his shoe (or the Aryan guy doing the same, but my point is that you don’t give the Arab pass in such a situation just to prove how broad-minded you are), or the Spanish-speaking guy wielding an AK-47 over a drug deal…
This may seem common sense, but there are areas in which we will see conflicts between sound common sense and our notions of rigid fairness in a liberal democracy. For instance, I submit that an intelligent person who deals with the world as it is will engage in a certain amount of profiling. I mean, what is profiling, anyway, but a gestalten summation of what you’ve learned about the world in your life, applied to present and future situations? The ability to generalize, and act upon generalizations — without overdoing it — are key life skills.
There are certain traits that put you on guard and make you particularly vigilant under particular circumstances, or you are a fool. If you’re in an airport and you see a group of 20-something Mediterranean-looking males (and young males from ANY culture always bear more watching than anyone else — sorry, guys, but y’all have a long rap sheet) unaccompanied by women or children or old men, and they’re muttering and fidgeting with something in their bags… you’re not very bright if you don’t think, “This bears watching.”
Now of course, knowing this, if I’m a terrorist organization, I’m going to break up that pattern as much as I can. (I’ll have them travel separately, wear western clothes, coach them not to seem furtive, etc. I’ll recruit middle-aged women if I can, although they generally have far too much sense.) So if you’re watching this scene, and you are intelligent, you’re bound to think, “These guys look SO suspicious that they must be innocent, because terrorists aren’t that stupid…” Well, yeah, they can be. Let me submit the evidence of the guy who set his underpants on fire… So there’s such a thing as overthinking the situation. I mean, how bright is a guy who wants to blow himself up to make a point? People who do that ALSO don’t reproduce, so evolution militates against it…
Anyway, I’d go on and on about this, and examine all the implications, and endeavor to challenge the assumptions of people of all political persuasions… but I don’t have time this week.