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Thread: The utility of xenophobia

  1. #1
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    Default The utility of xenophobia

    Where does our suspicion of the other come from? What is its adaptive value?

    I imagine an evolutionary anthropologist might say something like:

    Humans have spent much more time in tribal cultures than we have in organized, large settlements, and fear of the other taking our part of the pie - be it resources, or mates, or what have you - was adaptive. Protecting and defending the boundary of the tribe became deeply ingrained in our psychology/biology; became, in effect, hard wired rather than simply a matter of socialization. Without embracing "biology as destiny", I can buy that.

    The other side of it, socialization, which has taken on increasing importance as we've developed large diverse settlements, and our technologies have narrowed the gaps between us and them, then becomes the thing we actually can control. Near as I can figure, socialization(while it has vital collective elements) takes place one individual at a time - the individual's experiences, both good and bad, shape their take on the world and their neighbor from the day they are born until the day they die.

    There's a story of Gandhi, perhaps apocryphal. During the sectarian strife which went hand in glove with the Indian independence movement, a Hindu man came to him distraught over the death of his child by the hand of a Muslim. Gandhi told him that what he must do was to adopt a new child, to which the man agreed. Gandhi then told him the child must be a Muslim orphan. That didn't go over so well.

    It may be a bit naive, but I'm going to try, whenever I can, to meet the "other"; to go out of my way to talk to people not in my circle.

    There's a great deal more to say about the issue, but I've run out of steam here.
    So many questions, so little time.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    As it is today the drumming up of 'fear of the other' has likely been the path to power and riches of many a despot, starting way way back in the tribal compound. To the victor go the spoils, the food (all two scoops), the gold, the property, the women.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    Here is one view
    The evolutionary Rubicon that our species crossed hundreds of thousands of years ago that led to the moral hive mind was a result of “shared intentionality,” which is “the ability to share mental representations of tasks that two or more of [our ancestors] were pursuing together. For example, while foraging, one person pulls down a branch while the other plucks the fruit, and they both share the meal.” Chimps tend not to display this behavior, Haidt says, but “when early humans began to share intentions, their ability to hunt, gather, raise children, and raid their neighbors increased exponentially. Everyone on the team now had a mental representation of the task, knew that his or her partners shared the same representation, knew when a partner had acted in a way that impeded success or that hogged the spoils, and reacted negatively to such violations.” Examples of modern political violations include Democrat John Kerry being accused of being a “flip-flopper” for changing his mind and Republican Mitt Romney declaring himself “severely conservative” when it was suggested he was wishy-washy in his party affiliation.
    from https://www.scientificamerican.com/a...litics-tribal/

    and some lines for further enquiry in Wikki:
    Evolution

    Tribalism has a very adaptive effect in human evolution. Humans are social animals and ill-equipped to live on their own.[12] Tribalism and social bonding help to keep individuals committed to the group, even when personal relations may fray. That keeps individuals from wandering off or joining other groups. It also leads to bullying when a tribal member is unwilling to conform to the politics of the collective.[13]
    Socially, divisions between groups fosters specialized interactions with others, based on association: altruism (positive interactions with unrelated members), kin-selectivity (positive interactions with related members) and violence (negative interactions). Thus, groups with a strong sense of unity and identity can benefit from kin selection behaviour such as common property and shared resources. The tendencies of members to unite against an outside tribe and the ability to act violently and prejudicially against that outside tribe likely boosted the chances of survival in genocidal conflicts.
    Modern examples of tribal genocide rarely reflect the defining characteristics of tribes existing prior to the Neolithic Revolution; for example, small population and close-relatedness.
    According to a study by Robin Dunbar at the University of Liverpool, primate brain size is determined by social group size.[14] Dunbar's conclusion was that most human brains can really understand only an average of 150 individuals as fully developed, complex people. That is known as Dunbar's number. In contrast, anthropologist H. Russell Bernard and Peter Killworth have done a variety of field studies in the United States that came up with an estimated mean number of ties, 290, roughly double Dunbar's estimate. The Bernard–Killworth median of 231 is lower became of upward straggle in the distribution, but it is still appreciably larger than Dunbar's estimate.[15][16][17]
    Malcolm Gladwell expanded on this conclusion sociologically in his book, The Tipping Point, where members of one of his types, Connectors, were successful by their larger-than-average number of close friendships and capacity for maintaining them, which tie together otherwise-unconnected social groups. According to such studies, then, "tribalism" is in some sense an inescapable fact of human neurology simply because many human brains are not adapted to working with large populations. Once a person's limit for connection is reached, the human brain must resort to some combination of hierarchical schemes, stereotypes and other simplified models to understand so many people.
    Which suggests that we are tribal because our brains cannot handle relationships with more than a set number of people.
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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  4. #4
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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    "One, two, many, too many."

    .
    .

    “What use is a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”


    ~~~ Henry David Thoreau

  5. #5
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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    I think that evolution has mostly hardwired us to divide people into 'our tribe' and 'those people over there'. Our tribe we know about, know the rules, like or dislike them based on knowledge, sort of an extended family. Other tribes seem weird, exotic, and attractive or frightening depending on our personality, often both. The normal rules don't apply to them. It's no accident that people who Aren't Like Us are often believed (or imagined) to have unusual sexual abilities or skills. All of this operates mostly below a rational level, some of it below a conscious level.

    Pretty much all of our species' moral progress aver the millennia (and we've made a LOT) has been expanding the tribe, realizing that They are really like Us. There's a good reason that something like 'all men are brothers' is a tenet of just about every religion. The clearest definition of good and evil I know is this: good people say 'we're all in this together', while evil people want to divide us into warring tribes. Apply that to politics as you will.
    Last edited by Keith Wilson; 08-13-2017 at 10:46 AM.
    "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations,
    for nature cannot be fooled."

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  6. #6
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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    And don't forget the Coolidge effect

  7. #7
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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    Quote Originally Posted by ishmael View Post
    Where does our suspicion of the other come from? What is its adaptive value?

    I imagine an evolutionary anthropologist might say something like:

    Humans have spent much more time in tribal cultures than we have in organized, large settlements, and fear of the other taking our part of the pie - be it resources, or mates, or what have you - was adaptive. Protecting and defending the boundary of the tribe became deeply ingrained in our psychology/biology; became, in effect, hard wired rather than simply a matter of socialization. Without embracing "biology as destiny", I can buy that.

    The other side of it, socialization, which has taken on increasing importance as we've developed large diverse settlements, and our technologies have narrowed the gaps between us and them, then becomes the thing we actually can control. Near as I can figure, socialization(while it has vital collective elements) takes place one individual at a time - the individual's experiences, both good and bad, shape their take on the world and their neighbor from the day they are born until the day they die.

    There's a story of Gandhi, perhaps apocryphal. During the sectarian strife which went hand in glove with the Indian independence movement, a Hindu man came to him distraught over the death of his child by the hand of a Muslim. Gandhi told him that what he must do was to adopt a new child, to which the man agreed. Gandhi then told him the child must be a Muslim orphan. That didn't go over so well.

    It may be a bit naive, but I'm going to try, whenever I can, to meet the "other"; to go out of my way to talk to people not in my circle.

    There's a great deal more to say about the issue, but I've run out of steam here.
    good for you, not the path chosen by many these days who would rather retreat to the self soothing saftey of their filter bubles and fling insults and try to dehumanize people groups with terms like Deplorables and call people names like Bigot and Homophobe for simply holding different opinions or being from another religion than theirs.

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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel Noyes View Post
    good for you, not the path chosen by many these days who would rather retreat to the self soothing saftey of their filter bubles and fling insults and try to dehumanize people groups with terms like Deplorables and call people names like Bigot and Homophobe for simply holding different opinions or being from another religion than theirs.
    Like Islam?

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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    Quote Originally Posted by Canoeyawl View Post
    Like Islam?
    yes, or Christianity or etc.... many millenials who have been indocrtinated in rigidly leftist households today need "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" to isolate themselves from new or different points of view.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel Noyes View Post
    yes, or Christianity or etc.... many millenials who have been indocrtinated in rigidly leftist households today need "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" to isolate themselves from new or different points of view.
    That would be the utility of xenophobia writ large

  11. #11
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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    Quote Originally Posted by Canoeyawl View Post
    That would be the utility of xenophobia writ large
    I agree with you many Democrats are rabidly xenophobic and are totally oblivious to their condition, but we must treat them with compassion otherwise they will freak out and have a hissy fit.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    What happened to you, Daniel? Not that many years ago you were a happy, engaging and interesting person to chat with on the WBF, but now all you seem to espouse is vehement anti-liberal tirades and insults. What radicalized you (please don't insult my intelligence and offer of goodwill by blaming it on trite Hillary or Obama memes...)?
    Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    The utility of xenophobia would seem to be putting populist demagogues in power.
    Rattling the teacups.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    Very interesting thread. Thanks Jack.
    IMAGINES VEL NON FUERINT

  15. #15
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    Default Re: The utility of xenophobia

    Quote Originally Posted by mmd View Post
    What happened to you, Daniel? Not that many years ago you were a happy, engaging and interesting person to chat with on the WBF, but now all you seem to espouse is vehement anti-liberal tirades and insults. What radicalized you (please don't insult my intelligence and offer of goodwill by blaming it on trite Hillary or Obama memes...)?
    Seems to be the standard signaling to the tribe, helping to grasp some illusion of power by blaming others rather than taking responsibility.
    It reminds me of the schoolyard, where the bully grabs a candy bar from the smaller lad and runs around eating it, teasing and laughing only because the teacher hasn't seen it yet. The rhetoric is just standard red fare.

    Public acknowlegement that one would speak for oneself would be akin to political suicide, although admittedly congress is finally figuring out what political suicide really is.
    Like the boy that drove his car into the crowd yesterday, in the end all the rhetoric and bravado may prove to be "not worth it". That young man did not look well suited for prison life, especially in Virginia. Perhaps he will just have to grow a pony tail...

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