The Biology of Hate
News about white supremacists like Clive Bundy makes me think about how such claims of supremacy bubble up from our pre-human genetic drives. This casting fellow Homo sapiens as less fit and therefore less deserving could be labeled as “Neanderthought”. It is important for us to understand how racism itself is far more than skin deep and more ancient than the dinosaurs. Therein lies the light of its undoing.
Sometimes the best way to understand people is to study animals. It certainly scrapes away all the complicated obfuscating bullshit we generate to cover our animal motives. When it comes to how groups struggle for power (aka politics) we could better avail ourselves of the wealth of behavioral knowledge we so freely apply elsewhere. Sadly, our confused fear of appearing racist prevents us from exposing the deepest darkest nature of racism.
What is hate? We may say we hate spinach; but we admit this is an insincere idiom. Real hate isn’t a what but a whom question. Real hate is reserved for one’s own species. A lion doesn’t hate the water buffalo he kills any more than a fisherman hates fish, but he sincerely hates competing lions. The struggle between herds of wildebeest and zebras is nothing compared to the violence within a herd. When a new alpha male takes over a herd, tribe, or troop; he often kills the offspring of the earlier alpha.
The origins of the drive to kill or otherwise disadvantage members of your own species is well known. Those who oppress the other expand their own “selfish genes” at the expense of more distant relatives. It is a simple matter of genetic math. Those who don’t play a rough game will send fewer offspring on to the next round.
Animals don’t keep birth records or have paternity tests; so they rely on external phenotypes of appearance and behavior. Scientists have long witnessed aggression against dissimilar members. Birds of a feather flock together and attack others among their own species. Simply marking animals for study marks them as targets for aggression(1). Put simply, animals are flaming, unrepentant, violent, often murderous racists.
Now consider human racism. The real irony is that when a racist claims the right to supremacy of those who share his pigmentation, he is expressing billion year old instincts born in bacteria.
He also denounces the single behavior that separates man from beast. The fossil record shows that around 100,000 years ago, we turned away from the genocidal genes that divide us and towards the human culture (like art and trade) that unites us. After millions of years of genetic evolution, a few thousand really smart hominids came up with advanced social software and conquered the planet in the last 1% of their history.
We did this by beginning to reject genetic birthright, hierarchy, and conformity; we turned to embrace culture, equality, and diversity. Survival of the fittest gene has been replaced by survival of the fittest cultural meme (say for example gunpowder, steel, or germ theory). It is obvious by now which sort of cultures will thrive in the future, and which will struggle.
As one would expect, racism is most exhibited by the lowest ranking members of a race. In other words, if all you have going for you is the color of your skin, you are more likely to make a big deal about it.
Clive Bundy’s material success has come from a different play in this same game. If you declare the larger culture (the federal government in this case) as illegitimate, then stealing grazing rights isn’t a crime, it is an act of patriotism. The Boston Tea Party members would have called this the false patriotism of scoundrels, because they didn’t steal an ounce of tea and even cleaned up the decks afterward.
This gets to the heart of another facet of this schism; namely the difference between “focus on the family” conservatism and “it takes a village” or nowadays “we are the world” liberalism.
These personality traits written eons ago for troops around a campfire are now acted out on TV in front of millions. Getting the man out of the cave has proven far easier than getting the cave out of the man. The language used on the opposing news channels differs just like the songs of birds. At its simplest, the liberal sees the government as us, the conservative sees the government as them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson observed this decades before Darwin. Here is the introduction to “The Conservative”; a lecture delivered December 9, 1841:
“The two parties which divide the state, the party of Conservatism and that of Innovation, are very old, and have disputed the possession of the world ever since it was made. This quarrel is the subject of civil history. The conservative party established the reverend hierarchies and monarchies of the most ancient world. The battle of patrician and plebeian, of parent state and colony, of old usage and accommodation to new facts, of the rich and the poor, reappears in all countries and times. The war rages not only in battle-fields, in national councils, and ecclesiastical synods, but agitates every man’s bosom with opposing advantages every hour. On rolls the old world meantime, and now one, now the other gets the day, and still the fight renews itself as if for the first time, under new names and hot personalities.
Such an irreconcilable antagonism, of course, must have a correspondent depth of seat in the human constitution. It is the opposition of Past and Future, of Memory and Hope, of the Understanding and the Reason. It is the primal antagonism, the appearance in trifles of the two poles of nature.”
While modern science has yet to find “the gay gene” or “the God gene”, the first genes found related to behavior were linked to the “genopolitcs” of political interest and political orientation.
So when Bundy opens his mouth to say “Let me tell you something I know about the Negro” his words belie the actions of things scientists have long known about amoebas, slime molds, and other self-declared genetic heroes of their narrow subspecies.
(1) Appearance matters: artificial marking alters aggression and stress.