Sunday, October 28, 2012

The KKK, tribalism and education.

Yesterday, I watched a Nightline segment about the KKK.  For a number of months, they were given unprecedented access to KKK ceremonies and for interviews.

There were two scenes that struck me.  One was an interview of a young man who requested that his face not be shown so he wouldn’t get fired from his job.  In this interview, he told the reporter that he believed that it was right for a “Christian man” to wear the KKK robes and believe the things he did.  He was proud of it, in spite of being afraid for his job.  (Although he still wouldn’t allow his face to be filmed.)

The second was the interview of the “Grand Dragon”, as he styled himself.  An interview in which he described his convictions that blacks were descended from animals, humans were made by god, and there would be a race war, sparked by Obama’s re-election, where whites would be forced into concentration camps.  He also stated that whites and blacks should be separated, by force, if necessary.

He never did explain the apparent contradiction between the ability of blacks to force whites into concentration camps, but that whites would somehow have the power to force blacks to live in separate enclaves.  Logic is, apparently, not his strong suit.

My thoughts on this were tempered by the things we’ve seen posted and stated by the Republicans in this election season.  We’ve been asking ourselves the question, “Why?”  “Why would otherwise sensible people take such crazy, illogical positions and believe such crazy things?”

I believe the answer lies in the attitudes and beliefs as expressed by those hateful, fearful KKK members.

Think about this.  The most obvious answer to the question of what is different between those KKK folks and blacks is the color of their skin.  That is blindingly obvious.

What isn’t, and what we rarely think of is culture.

Blacks have been forced, by circumstances, both social and economic, to live for generations in close proximity to one another and have developed an uniquely American black culture.  So have the heavily bigoted poor whites, for exactly the same reasons!  Both were isolated from the rest of American culture by being poor, and both have been isolated from the larger American culture because of the different culture they’ve developed as a reaction to the economic isolation.

Of course, this is a generalization, and there are obvious exceptions, as blacks are more spread out over the US, and those poor whites aren’t as numerous, and are more concentrated in the South.  But, I believe, the general principle is sound.

The similarity is one of the things that has driven the KKK crowd into violence, because they see their culture dying while the blacks have gotten the advantage of Federal government support at what they see as the disadvantage of themselves.

The solidity of the KKK’s beliefs are undergirded by their twisting of the christian religion into rationalizing their supposed superiority and what they see as the sub-humanity of minorities by claiming god was behind it all.  This justifies their violent approach.  This justifies their culture.

But look at the larger picture, the principles behind what’s going on.

The one thing I see in this smaller struggle is mirrored in other countries.  There are similar groups struggling against a general prejudice and some have been for centuries.

The similarity is simple:  Tribalism.

Us vs. Them.  Tribes, clans, ethnic groups.  Skin color, facial characteristics, cultural differences.  Religious differences.

Nationalism is merely an extension of tribalism, made large and altered to justify the conquering of territory.

Now, don’t get me wrong, tribalism was fine in its day.  It was a reaction of humanity to finding itself in small family units fighting for survival in a hostile environment, often in competition with other human groups.  It set up an evolutionary environment within human culture which forced humans to forge larger alliances to allow for larger groups to make themselves stronger in that struggle and allow larger and larger groups to survive.

As long as there were enough empty places around the globe to allow weaker groups to be forced out of the more pleasant and easier places to live instead of being annihilated, tribalism worked fine, and was a positive force in causing humanity to expand across the entire planet.  I doubt people would have willingly colonized the harsher environments on this earth had they been left a choice.

But today, there are very few empty places left, and virtually none truly livable which are not claimed by one country or another.  In short, human migration is at an end without a truly horrid and violent conflict.  Tribalism, in short, has reached the end of its usefulness as a tactic for human survival.

The problem is convincing those who think their survival still depends on it to find another alternative and start actually cooperating with those they used to think were enemies.

That is one of the truly difficult hurdles of modern education, which is the only permanent cure.

We should get started on that.

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