Saturday, December 02, 2023

On the Propensity of Humans to Do Harm to Each Other

I am struck by the complexity of the nature of human relationships when one considers the manner in which human identity is established within each of us during our lifetimes. Constantly faced with a panorama of choices that constitute so much of our dealings with the world around us, our minds must continually filter, interpret, and analyze the constant stream of data that we take in through our senses. The sense of belonging that is such a potent driver within the self and in relation to others is further enhanced by one’s association with family, tribe and nation.

These processes are complex and overlayed by our ever-changing state of mind, and the state of health of both body and mind. In addition, all of these “cerebral gymnastics” are influenced by our variable and often volatile emotional states of being that originate from a distinctly separate part of the architecture of the human brain. These choices are also constrained by the summation and convergence of innumerable past experiences that influence so much of the decisions we make.

I am pursuing this line of investigation into the nature of the internal world of the human mind (i.e. brain) in order to understand why there is so much suffering that can result from human interactions. It may be that the level of complexity that is inherent in each of us, as briefly outlined above, is further magnified in the arena of human interactions resulting in a vast panorama of possibilities and outcomes. To quote a line from the Bob Dylan song, Idiot Wind, “It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.”

Within the swirling matrix of human interactions, differences in attitude and viewpoint are bound to surface. It is within the nature of politics to find mechanisms to assuage differences in order to reach practical and sustainable solutions to societal problems. Within this elaborate matrix of human interactions with its wealth of possibilities, it becomes inevitable that there are those who succeed; those who fail and those who succumb.

I remember what my dear friend, Ralph, of long ago who was an immigrant from Jamaica and living in New York City, at the time, said to me. To paraphrase, he marveled at how well New Yorkers seem to get along given not only the sheer and often overwhelming population density but also the fact that so many came from disparate and diverse backgrounds. To me, this reality highlights the natural human longing to find harmony whenever possible. Sadly, this tendency is too often overshadowed by the equally powerful propensity to surrender to the emotionally-laden feelings of prejudice, bigotry, fear, and hatred.

As members of a particular culture, we are taught to rationalize these darker emotions by categorizing our enemy as somehow evil or less than human. Within the framework of this kind of propaganda we are never trained to consider our own culpability. In this way we are destined to repeat this pattern again and again.

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