How we’ll beat nat­u­ral hos­til­ity

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis -

We all knew it would hap­pen, didn’t we? The ques­tion of whether it would didn’t come up. We just in­stantly knew. So I want to ask a dif­fer­ent ques­tion, the ques­tion “why?” and then I want to put this to you — are we all that much bet­ter?

The mo­ment lehmans went bel­lyup we knew there would be peo­ple who would blame it on the Jews. and when Congress re­jected the Pres­i­dent’s bailout plan, we all just waited for the news­read­ers to point out that a new plan couldn’t be agreed be­cause of Rosh Hashanah, and for the con­spir­acy nut­ters to get to work with that.

We didn’t have to wait all that long, ei­ther. as the JC re­ported, a load of New York bankers and bil­lions of dol­lars was too much for the an­tisemites to re­sist. Which only leaves this ques­tion — why? and I am afraid I have a gloomy an­swer. I fear that an­tisemitism is very deep in­side hu­man be­ings. I think, es­sen­tially, that it has al­ways been there.

as hu­man be­ings, we strug­gle to en­sure the sur­vival of our genes. Those who are most suc­cess­ful in that strug­gle pass on their suc­cess­ful sur­vival strat­egy to their de­scen­dants. So our be­hav­iour is, to a large ex­tent, in­her­ited. Over the gen­er­a­tions, those in­clined to be­have in cer­tain ways have sur­vived while oth­ers have not.

evo­lu­tion­ary psy­chol­o­gists have puz­zled over our will­ing­ness to help our fel­low be­ings even when they are not ge­net­i­cally re­lated. Why do we do that? It isn’t a sim­ple prod­uct of be­ing hu­man, be­cause an­i­mals do it, too. By ob­serv­ing vam­pire bats, the psy­chol­o­gists dis­cov­ered an an­swer.

Help­ing oth­ers is a suc­cess­ful sur­vival strat­egy for bats. When the bat has enough blood to feed oth­ers in its group, it does so. and the rea­son is that it will be helped in turn, when it needs feed­ing. Shar­ing, then, is a good strat­egy, if, and only if, that shar­ing is go­ing to be re­cip­ro­cated.

Hu­man be­ings evolved in the same way. We may favour our rel­a­tives, those who carry our genes, but we are will­ing to help oth­ers, in the ex­pec­ta­tion that the help will be re­cip­ro­cated.

How, though, can we be cer­tain that those we co-op­er­ate with won’t sim­ply bank our help and refuse to re­turn it? We can’t be. So we do our best to in­crease the chances of re­cip­ro­ca­tion.

We do it by join­ing up with groups of peo­ple who are as like us as pos­si­ble. You can see that be­hav­iour all around us. Pro­fes­sions, for in­stance, where mem­bers look like each other and dress like each other. elab­o­rate tra­di­tions and rules are cre­ated, ex­plic­itly and im­plic­itly, that in­crease group co­he­sion. This cre­ates the at­mos­phere of trust that al­lows hu­mans to col­lab­o­rate.

There is, how­ever, a down­side. a big down­side. We have evolved as be­ings who co-op­er­ate with oth­ers like us, form­ing groups. Un­for­tu­nately, we have also evolved as be­ings who treat those not in our group ag­gres­sively. The in­stinct to fear strangers and fight with them is deep within us.

a big clue that in­ter-group vi­o­lence is an evo­lu­tion­ary strat­egy, that the whole thing is re­ally about per­pet­u­at­ing our genes, is that ag­gres­sion be­tween groups is at its worst when a mem­ber of one group tries to mate with a mem­ber of an­other.

an­tisemitism, then, cuts very deep in­deed. It is the re­sult of an in­stinct to be sus­pi­cious of, and ag­gres­sive to­wards, those who be­long to an­other group. The sheer suc­cess, co­he­sion and longevity of the Jewish com­mu­nity has made us a par­tic­u­lar tar­get.

It is, in my view, one of the great aims of civil­i­sa­tion that we should stop be­hav­ing ag­gres­sively to other groups. It is one of the rea­sons why I pro­foundly dis­agree with those who be­lieve that tele­vi­sion has made us less civilised. Tele­vi­sion helps fa­mil­iarise us with those we might oth­er­wise re­gard as strangers. and one re­sult is that we be­gin to treat them more like mem­bers of our own group.

It is also the rea­son why I be­lieve in free mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism. The ge­nius of cap­i­tal­ism is that it al­lows us to get strangers to re­cip­ro­cate favours — cre­at­ing peace­ful rather than ag­gres­sive re­la­tions be­tween mem­bers of dif­fer­ent groups.

and the in­ter­net, which seems at the mo­ment to be the friend of the nut­ters, will in the end prove the friend of civil­i­sa­tion. It, too, will turn strangers into col­lab­o­ra­tors.

Yet the Jewish peo­ple need not sit there wait­ing for tech­nol­ogy to do its work. There are things for us to do, too. If it is our aim to re­duce the ag­gres­sion be­tween groups, per­haps we can start by end­ing the ag­gres­sive way we, one fac­tion to an­other, be­have to­wards each other. Daniel Finkel­stein is as­so­ciate ed­i­tor of The Times

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.