Friday, July 10, 2009

Hard-Wired? Are we programmed to treat everyone else like strangers?

By now, word of the Valley Swim Club’s massive ignorance has spread to national news outlets. It seems a small suburban Philadelphia swim club was only too happy to accept money for several ‘camps’ to have access to its facilities, until it learned that the campers were Black and Hispanic, whereupon the management whined that their actual presence at the club might ‘change the complexion’ of the club. The outraged response has even drawn the attention of Senator Specter, as he looks for new constituents from his new party.

There is a marked similarity between what happened at the Valley Swim Club and what is happening in Iraq, and, for that matter, the entire Middle East. The Suni’s don’t want Shiite’s in their pools; Suni’s don’t want Shiite’s in their pools. To the extent the Israeli’s and Palestinians can even determine which is whose pool, neither group wants the other in their pools.

Isn’t that what underlies Facebook? Who do you want to friend? Whom do you want to ‘Friend’ you? Are there people, types of people, who you wouldn’t friend? And how about your followers on Twitter (and whom you follow?) Is everyone you follow just like you? Do you avoid people who are substantially different than you?

Why limit the inquiry to the middle east? How about politics? Those on the right want to hear how their fellow right-wingers are noble, good people and those folks on the left fringe are reprehensible. Likewise the left demonizes the right. There are Twitter users in both extremes (heck, both Karl Rove and President Obama are there). There are fundamentalists of all religions who consider all other religions nothing short of pagan. There are extremes of all races and ethnicities who still endorse genocide as a solution to their problem. It comes up over and over again. Somalia. Rwanda. Bosnia. Kurdistan. Yet there are Holocaust deniers with a group on Facebook.

The vast overwhelming presence of this polarization and ‘us-ism’ leads me to ultimately ponder whether we’re simply hard-wired to keep to our own kind. Has natural selection left us in 2009 at a point where we are still genetically pre-programmed to keep to our own kind and avoid ‘strangers?’ As someone once asked, "Why can't we all just get along?"

When children are about 3 years old, have no fear of people. They find other people they meet fascinating, and they are intrigued by anything different and new. They are not intimidated by people they meet of different ethnicity, race or appearance, they are curious, inquisitive, and want to know why these people are ‘different,’ and how they are still the same as them. If we all stayed at that developmental state one wonders whether many of the world’s conflicts would vanish.

One wonders whether three year olds would have responded differently when the campers arrived at Valley Swim Club.

And one wonders whether the caseloads of lawyers like me who spend so much time solving employment disputes arising from these very prejudices and biases would be a lot lighter if people didn't act like they were hard-wired to treat everyone else like strangers.

1 comment:

  1. So sad that probably a handful of fearful house wifes made a scene, a needless black eye for everyone who lives in the area.