As a Holocaust author and researcher, I appreciate a thorough examination of morality. Repugnance, despair and darkness exist within human nature. Holocaust victims were faced with the most perfidious forces; deceit, brutality, cruelty, sickness, starvation and the death of loved-ones were the daily companions of concentration camp prisoners. How did so many people go along with this horrific plan? How could millions more turn their backs to the immorality of exterminating an entire religious group? We therefore learn nothing about ourselves if we do not examine this part of our psyche.
It is safe to say that large portions of the European population in the early 20th century disliked Jews. Pogroms were ubiquitous and largely ignored by society, the police and armed forces. In fact, in some Pogroms against Jews, homosexuals, the mentally challenged and gypsies, police and the armed forces cooperated (Einsatzgruppen, Cossacks, etc.). Jews were significantly mistrusted, disliked and ostracized. They were the butt of jokes and the subject of innuendo. Jews represented no threat of any reasonable nature or definition to Europeans. The Jews amounted to about 2% of the population in Europe; they possessed a small percentage of the money, influenced no governments and had no armed forces or militia. They could not have been a threat to any potion of gentile Europe if they had wanted to. So, why did so many Europeans hate Jews? How could so many people find it easy to hate millions whom they knew nothing about and that they had never met? Were they automatons, eagerly lapping up propaganda drivel proffered by Nazis? Or, were they intelligent humans, with the capacity to comprehend nuances of their society’s actions and still reach the conclusion that Jews were bad people who deserved to be rounded up, incarcerated and annihilated?
We are complex beings. I believe that there is a great deal more to us than the ubiquitous battleground of good versus evil. Most of us are not one or the other, but both. We are beautiful and ugly, soothing and terrifying, brutal and caring; we love and we despise. Unlike animals, humans are governed by principles and moral beliefs. We are not motivated by delusions of morality, as much as governed by them. So what brings a person to despise a stranger? Why do some people hate and fear those who are different in color, religion or ethnic origin? Why do so many people find it easier to hate than to tolerate?
My instinct tells me that some people acquire racism because they were taught at a young age to hate, by parents, siblings, relatives, friends or any other portion of their social network. At some point in their juvenile existence, they learned to hate from people close to them. And, many of them continue to hate without questioning the veracity of their loathing. Being recognized as a bigot makes some individuals popular with desired social groups. Research reveals that a high percentage of racists are poorly educated. Yet, not all racists are ignorant or mentally slow. Some people with a postgraduate education delude themselves with manifestations of detestation towards minority groups. The dark side is filled with ignorance and deception. And, while many people are taught to be bigoted as children, some acquire it later in life, despite having a tolerant social network in their youth.
Could we be little different from the final vestiges of our primordial ancestors? Like many animals, humans originally had to fight and control others in order to maintain territorial superiority. Perhaps the need to be superior is an innate mental mechanism, acquired biologically. This suggests that Darwinism could be a factor, although it may be impossible to prove. Evolution teaches us that we are governed by the principle of survival of the fittest. Is human behavior dominated by an inborn fear of others? Is social responsibility, tolerance and compassion simply an aberrant acquired social behavior, employed most often by liberals and religionists? Are the better angels of our conscience nothing more than bizarre adaptations to our dark and natural survival instinct?
I believe that people find it easier to hate because tolerance requires effort. Haters live with haters, in a community of malevolence. The more they hate, the more they are approved by their social group. Toleration would brand the hater as the enemy – the enemy being everyone who is different. This is an endless, vicious cycle, guaranteed to generate bigoted progeny. Thus, we hate to be recognized as appropriate by our peers.
But, we can break the bonds of bigotry one person at a time, with education, conversation and engagement across all media. We can use the Internet’s social networking and web sites to our advantage. We can fight the innate fear of others by generating compassion for the individual, regardless of milieu. We can promote the value of each person as a unique entity, with unlimited potential, rather than a member of a religious or social class, with preconceived expectations. This is tolerance of the individual soul. Only when we make the effort to understand and value the differences among us will racism and bigotry end. Only when we accept the value of each person, regardless of background, will our culture grow to be meaningful and rewarding.
Fear may be at the heart of racism and bigotry. We fear that which we do not understand. We fear anyone who might be perceived as better than we are. We therefore use the tools of bigotry to become superior to others. Our fear drives us to prove that we are better than the “others” are. It feels good to be superior. Yet, in order for one person to feel superior, another must be subjugated. In order to feel better, we must dominate someone. The easiest way to dominate is to hate those who are not a threat. And, it feels good to make them live in fear. We rationalize the minimization of our fear by inflicting greater fear on the victim. If they are inferior, we must be better. We climb upon their social cadaver in order to feel superior.
Racism, hatred, intolerance and bigotry are the artifacts of fear. Eliminate fear and there will no longer be a need to use the tools of bigotry. This is our challenge. We must convince the haters that they have no reason to fear minorities. This is the greatest and most noble challenge of our generation. The reward for success is tolerance, respect and mutual recognition. We can share our planet together as equals. This will be our legacy.
But, if we fail, our children will inherit a world dominated by the dark angels of our nature. If we fail, our progeny will be doomed to a life surrounded by fear, suspicion, hatred and death. We cannot end our generation sharing the same values as our early 20th century European ancestors had. We can and must be better than that. We must evolve into a tolerant society. Our children’s future depends upon it.
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