Is bigotry in our DNA, a remnant of our fear of “the other” way back when that was necessary? If so, why do some battle with their instincts while others embrace them? Peter, 71, Darlington
Humans are the most cooperative species on the planet – all part of a huge interconnected ecosystem. We have built vast cities, connected by a global nervous system of roads, shipping lanes and optical fibres. We have sent thousands of satellites spinning around the planet. Even seemingly simple objects like a graphite pencil are the work of thousands of hands from around the world, as the wonderful essay I-Pencil, quoted above, by Leonard Read describes.I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe … if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolise, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because — well, because I am seemingly so simple.
Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this Earth knows how to make me.
Yet we can also be surprisingly intolerant of each other. If we are completely honest, there is perhaps a little bit of xenophobia, racism, sexism and bigotry deep within all of us, if we would only allow it. Luckily, we can choose to control and suppress such tendencies for our own wellbeing and the good of society.
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Rewiring the brain
Thankfully, we can use rational thinking to develop strategies to overcome these attitudes. We can reinforce positive values, building trust and compassion, reducing the distinction between our in-group and the “other”.
An important first step is appreciating our connectedness to other people. We all evolved from the same bacteria-like ancestor, and right now we share over 99% of our DNA with everyone else on the planet. Our minds are closely linked through social networks, and the things we create are often the inevitable next step in a series of interdependent innovations
Is racism and bigotry in our DNA?
If we are not careful, the coronavirus pandemic could lead to a rise in xenophobic attitudes.