I believe in prejudice. Prejudice exists. Fortunately, we are all prejudiced. Prejudice holds potential for the benefit of us as individuals and as a species. At the same time it threatens the demise of not only ourselves, but mankind in general. Prejudice is a million-edged sword. Context matters. Survival is deeply rooted in prejudicial ideas. The right pre-conceived notion means the tiger does not eat us, a really wrong one means the tiger eats us all. Context always matters.
I believe prejudice is an essential part of human nature, and maybe the nature of all animals. I also believe humans are tribal by nature. A large part of our prejudicial systems are rooted in our tribal nature. We view the world as ‘Us and Them’. We as a species may have always belonged to multiple tribes simultaneously, our immediate families and our extended groups, or just one group. Either way, people co-existed in at most a few tribes. Our social networks have long since evolved. We have developed many new classes of tribes and learned to co-exist in many of them. Our modern tribes consist of, but are not limited to: family; community; religion; school; political affiliation; nationality; sports team; company; race; gender; sexual orientation. Our tribal obligations vary based on context and tribe. Context definitely matters. Although the variations may be large at any given time, they still share a basic ‘Us and Them’ mentality. Our tribal prejudices may evolve over time, but the ‘Us and Them’ nature still remains.
I believe in racial prejudice. Racial prejudice exists. I believe it is a natural outcome of our tribal nature. I cannot prove this, but I believe it anyway. I believe racial prejudice predates recorded history. In a sparsely populated world I can see a survival advantage in racial prejudice. Go back and read Homer’s “Odyssey”. I believe we no longer live in an isolated world, and I hope we never will again. I believe that in the modern world racial prejudice, or any other prejudice based in human groups, is immoral and dangerous. The world has changed and context has changed with it. Context matters. The world is now too small, the tribes too numerous, the inter-tribal contact too frequent. We can no longer live as ‘Us and Them’, we must truly become one global tribe.
We are all prejudice, we cannot help it as it is our nature. However we can work toward shedding our dangerous prejudices and truly become a global tribe. Our other prejudices will remain with us, that is something we neither can nor should try to avoid. If mankind is to have a future I believe it lies in the global community. I believe this will not happen in my lifetime, but it will happen. I believe this not based on facts or theory, but instead because I have faith in mankind. This is a prejudice I hold. This is my dangerous idea.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.