Arriving home Tuesday night, I observe the thermometer in the kitchen registers 91. It’s 90 in my bathroom (was 86 this morning, before dawn). Is this the greatest weather, or what? This is why I moved to Florida, not those irritatingly crisp cool autumn days that remind you unhappy relocatees of the climate you left up north.
Which, by the way, they’re enduring right now, along with clouds and rain. And they’re miserable about it. Go figger. Or better yet, go back!
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So what do we make of this?
An imaging study of Chinese and Caucasian people has found that their brains respond less strongly to the pain of strangers whose ethnicity is different when compared with strangers of their own race.
Such automatic neural responses don’t necessarily translate into behaviour, cautions [one cognitive scientist].. “Just because there is this difference in ACC [anterior cingulate cortex] response it doesn’t mean that we are inevitably going to behave less empathically toward the other group.” — New Scientist
More evidence, I suspect, that essentially, we human beings are a superficial lot, prone, perhaps hard-wired, to respond to appearances. Skin color. Hair color. Body weight. Big tits. And Bigger Tits. Oh, I already said that.
So when white people watch a pack of drooling rednecks pull some unfortunate Black man from his truck to kick him into broken helplessness, drag him over to a tree and hang him dead, it troubles them less — if at all, in the South — than if the driver of the vehicle was Caucasoid. This help explains things a little bit.
It also helps explain how Japanese soldiers could march American prisoners across unforgiving terrain in unbearable conditions until they dropped dead of starvation,. sickness, or exhaustion, then worked survivors down to broken bones.
And then there’s Abu Ghraib.
It’s what Jean-Paul Sartre was talking about when he said “l’enfer, c’est les autres,” almost universally misinterpreted as “Hell is other people.” What he meant was, Hell is when people turn you into “the other,” which was a concept of self he developed, that boils down to dehumanization. You are regarded by the rest of the world, for one reason or another, as less than a human person, less a moral being, less am equal in the human race. Wallpaper. Background noise. That’s hell. Not “other people.” Shitheaded Americans.
All that noted, I think the study over-reaches. There are incidents aplenty of people of similar or identical racial groups treating one another horribly, not feeling (and in some cases truly enjoying) their pain. The British and the Irish. The Aabs and Jews. Different flavors of Chinese, divided by faith or region. Separate tribes of Native Americans, who treated one another as least as inhumanly as the European invaders. Liberals and conservatives. Women with small tits and women with big tits. Jesus Christ, won’t I ever grow up?
Yes, we human beings are perfectly capable of ignoring our brains’ basic messages, pushing ‘way beyond our hardwired dependence on superficial appearance, and despising members of our species on entirely different irrational grounds. We prove every day — every hour — that our brains have quite little to do with what we feel, think, and believe. Look around and tell me different. Yeah. Thought so.