of discrimination (part 1 - problems)
The advent of man on earth was followed by the rise of tribes whereby humans found themselves in a social hierarchy dictated by their usefulness to the community as a whole. The condition mainly was an exhibition of relatively greater physical strength which helped tribes survive during their hunting-gathering lifestyle. This physical prowess of an individual allowed him (I specifically say him because the field of physical strength has been dominated by men) to rise in the social hierarchy and eventually dictate terms to others. A comparison in the animal kingdom comes from the wolves who form packs for efficient hunting with an alpha male or a pride of lions, the strongest of whom is designated the leader, the idea of herds in herbivores may not exhibit so strict a hierarchy but strength in the animal kingdom does play a defining role in reproduction, the stronger genes get passed on and the weaker ones die.
However, among humans, as civilization progressed and saw the rise of knowledge and culture, a physical display of strength was no longer necessary to command power. But the system of social hierarchy remained entrenched, just in a different form, now influenced by money and power or more traditionally, land-holding parties. In this set up, the idea of discrimination became prevalent as a means of coalescing power without compromising the unity of this clique in the tribe. What was seen as different was abhorred and often rejected to continue the facade of maintaining peace and order. This occurred both within the tribe and between tribes firmly embedding the belief of the superiority of a certain race or gender or class or caste as convenience dictated.
It is easier to forget this history in the light of modern sensibilities however; we must remember the intrinsic stereotypes we have towards certain individuals or communities as a product of our culture and society. These two factors have decided what is to be accepted as good and what is to be rejected. While in terms of morality this may work but when extended to individuals or communities at large, rifts develop with deep scars which may never heal. Every culture and civilization known to man practices some form of discrimination, whether it is based on class or gender or race or caste or primordially strength in tribal cultures is a minor difference. On a smaller scale this may be observed in childhood as bullying but eventually morphs into something sinister if left unchecked, the idea of different being inferior. Pseudo-scientists even tried to prove the biological superiority of certain races to perpetuate the myth but thankfully no such biological superiority of mental prowess exists.
I bring this up in the context of human history where some have been perennially oppressed, the people from Africa have been enslaved for centuries, the Dalits in India have been discriminated against, the Jews in Europe for most of their history, the Slavs during the first world war and the second world war, the Romani gypsies, the people with physical handicaps or mental disorders, the morally suspect and the list goes on. The discrimination against people also perpetuated colonialism and imperialism which has been a defining part of modern history since the 14th century.
The socio-political and economic repercussions of this discrimination is evident in the living standard of these people. Most people in prisons are from marginalized communities. They have scant access to resources both monetary and otherwise which keeps them in perpetual servitude. They have no political influence or economic independence in light of their abject poverty and only some manage to escape this vicious cycle. The ideas of equality, equity and non-discrimination are a relatively recent innovation in the light of revolutions such as the French, the Russian, the American civil war, and freedom movements in the aftermath of the second world war. A major problem with this recent development of ideas is that these haven’t been fully incorporated in the mindset of people due to millennia of indoctrination to the contrary.
Discrimination makes people feel safe and superior and the seduction of power that they seemingly wield over others is intoxicating enough to keep things that way. The us vs them dichotomy is perpetuated in every social hierarchy to maintain status quo. This can be seen in the abysmally small rate of interracial and inter-caste or even inter-cultural marriages across the globe. The myth of keeping the bloodline pure was the downfall of Egyptian pharaohs and European royalty alike turning these families into a genetic cesspool of incest and inbreeding. It’s a sad fact that sometimes discrimination just morphs between centuries, what was once defeated rears its ugly head like an undead hydra, you cut one and two heads take its place. Slavery has been largely abolished but economic slavery still persists the one with money still enjoy undue control over one without, colonialism may be over but the ugly head of neo-colonialism through economic blockades and debt traps between countries remains. In case of the ones with power they have never been abolished and the system just transferred hands from the monarchy to the political elite. This is the macro picture of things; the micro exists in the life of an individual.
The feeling of entitlement is the most common form of discrimination in the life of an individual. The educated discriminate against the uneducated, people being served food in restaurants rant against their waiters, the value of labor is hardly proportional to the physicality of things, manual labor is abhorred while intellectual jobs are celebrated. Geographical discrimination between rural and urban areas, between buying from branded and unbranded shops, every single aspect of life, products used, money spent is judged and discriminated against. Superficial things like beauty and money continue to capture attention and give a false sense of security and the worst part is people try their best to fit into these moulds to justify their discrimination. Vanity is kept on a pedestal and ascribed qualities are praised. In terms of morality too, some are outcasts while others, as hypocritical they might be, continue to perpetuate the system defining it to suit their perceived superiority.
The topic of discrimination against women requires an entire essay of its own, from the womb to the tomb they have been discriminated and objectified, their value demeaned to reproduction or servitude of men. In many cases, cruelty dictates how willing we are to exclude others without repercussion especially in case of bullying where people point out insecurities you never thought you had, leading to low self-esteem depression and even suicide. The need to fit in is biological, we cannot survive in complete solitude despite the romantic notion otherwise, we need a community to accept and love us for who we are despite our flaws and weaknesses.
Each and every form of discrimination exists as a product of fear and insecurity. What it is, is a bubble which serves to shield us from our own insecurities which we would otherwise feel more distinctly. It’s easier to discriminate than to accept because to accept means to love and loving someone else without using them to be a vehicle of gratifying our narcissism is hard. The act of sacrifice and giving up for the greater good is something only a hero does and we are not heroes, we are human and frail and weak without the strength to do the right thing. This is by no means a justification for the discrimination we practice, it’s merely a comment on accepting our failure to practice the right thing. In the following week we shall seek to address this weakness and explore other means of reducing our prejudices. It will be hard but anything worth having is hard and requires a struggle against our baser self to become better human beings.