Dr Peter White's Blog

Thoughts and comments from Dr Peter White -- political, philosophical, spiritual, musical and more

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Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

I am retired from the Uni. of Queensland, and have numerous interests inside and outside of the uni. I play classical, bluegrass, country and folk guitar (hows that for a mix?) I am a member of the Australian Labor Party and am currently branch secretary of the Mt Coot-tha branch. I'm also involved in developing virtual reality builds and websites. Never bored!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

On Bigots

In 2014, the the Attorney General, Sen. George Brandis, gave his memorable quote: "People do have a right to be bigots". This was in context of the proposed amendments to the Racial  Discrimination Act.  The comment got as much  heat as the bill itself, and Sen. Brandis' "street cred" was severely diminished.

A good friend of mine, an American, said very firmly that there is no such thing as "race" per se; we are all members of the human race, and we come in a variety of ethnicities.  But in the current iteration of English and culture, we have tended to think of race as skin color, epicanthal folds on the eye, etc. In other words, we use these physical  attributes to generalise about other peoples.  I will use the term "ethnic" rather than "race" throughout this essay.  

I don't want to go to the USA for examples.  I'm from  there, and I believe that the US has never come to terms with its ethnic divides.  In this current Age of Ugliness (aka Trumpism) bigotry has been given an imprimatur across the planet.  Certainly every ethnic group looks at humans other than themselves as the Other, and hence give themselves permission to put themselves above and justify their actions accordingly. 

I've thought a lot about this, and here's my take on the issue. 

We are all human, Homo Sapiens.  We all have the same blood types. We all have the same internal organs.  We all have identical facial expressions when faced with something funny, sad, or disgusting.  We can breed with each other.  But what makes us different in the main is the culture from which we spring.  There are hundreds of ethnic groups across the globe, some of whom get along just fine, and others who are constantly at each other's throats.  And it's all a movable feast, as we can see from recent tragic events in the Middle East, in Myanmar, and further back, in the Balkans.  Who's next? 

Back to bigotry.  The Merriam Webster dictionary defines bigotry, or a bigot, as: "...a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance".  (note the racial vs. ethnic, a point on which I  will  quibble).  

Where do we get bigotry from?  There are many academics and pundits who  discuss this.  Little kids don't have any such feelings  for others; they're pretty tolerant, and only get conditioned by  their parents, schools, etc.  to start the acculturation process of becoming a bigot, or not.  

So, where to we begin to soften and become more tolerant of differences?  Where do we learn to cooperate with others who are very different from us?  Some will say through education, others through churches or through family, and others through all of these.  We have to try to do this, because the end result of blind bigotry could well bring about the demise of Homo Sapiens

The late Stephen Hawking said that the end of humanity will be through  greed and stupidity.  I would  add that  closed, bigoted minds will be the spark that ignites the final  conflagration.  And we are very, very close to the end game. 


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