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Treating Syrian Refugees Like 'Mad Dogs': Fear Readily Trumps Morality and Reason
When we fear, we band together, and more readily treat people in other tribes as the enemy.
When you look in the mirror, who do you see? Beyond the imperfections everybody notices first — the wrinkles or receding hairline or zits — you see someone who is your gender, your age, your skin color. And when you think of yourself in your mental mirror, who do you think you are? In part, you see yourself as someone who lives where you live, who does what you do for a living, a person who ascribes to one religion or another (or none), has a particular cultural background, and who identifies with certain values and with the people and groups who share them.
These and other characteristics give you a sense of yourself. And that sense of who you are, and who you are like, is critical for your safety and survival. It tells you who is in your tribe, and who isn’t; who is on your side and who isn’t; who is likely friend and who is possible foe.
That sense of tribal identity and belonging is absolutely vital to the safety of social animals like us, creatures who have evolved to depend on our group — our tribe — for our well-being and protection. It’s central to how safe, or unsafe, we feel. When we’re scared, we band together in the tribes we most closely identify with, and far more readily treat anyone else as the enemy.
This inherent truth of human cognition explains a great deal about our response to the terror attacks in Paris, in particular the fear of Syrian refugees. None of the attackers in Paris were Syrians. They were French, or Belgian, although two apparently snuck into Greece posing as refugees. But they all had Middle Eastern backgrounds, and several had visited or lived in Syria. So they are being lumped together — as Syrians — into a tribal response that fears "others" who come from "there" and who "look like that."
Republican presidential candidates want to keep Syrian refugees out of America, or drastically increase screening, even though for years screening of refugees has been far more rigorous than for any category of people trying to enter the country.
This is the underlying reason why mayors, prominent police officials, and nearly 30 American governors want to bar entry of Syrian refugees into their communities. One mayor said banning Syrians is as justified as what the United States did in World War II, rounding up Japanese-Americans and interring them in prison camps, an ugly tribal reaction born out of fear that left a deep stain on America’s moral character.
The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to require new, nearly impossible-to-meet screening standards for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. The language of one representative, Steve King of Iowa, illustrates how fear makes us tribal and bigoted.
"Filling your country up with people who have a completely different belief system (my emphasis) ... and expecting they won't rise up against their benefactor is foolish."
Republican presidential candidates want to keep Syrian refugees out of America, or drastically increase screening, even though for years screening of refugees has been far more rigorous than for any category of people trying to enter the country. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie thinks this ban should include all Syrians, even young children orphaned by war, which is far more a tribally bigoted response to fear than an intelligent way to protect public safety.
So are the proposals of candidates Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, who want to bar all Syrian refugees except if they are Christian.
Cruz: “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.”
Bush: “There are a lot of Christians in Syria that have no place now. They’ll be either executed or imprisoned, either by [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] or by ISIS.”
Why are Syrian Christians safe? They are members of Bush’s and Cruz’s tribe, so they aren’t seen as a threat.
One Republican presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson, a black man, takes his tribal bigotry born out of fear even further, likening some Syrian refugees to mad dogs.
"If there’s a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog. We have an American culture, and we have things that we base our values and principles on." (my emphases)
President Barack Obama, and many others, have called this instinctive, self-protective tribalism “shameful,” “an abandonment of our principles,” and un-American. Wisely, the president encourages that we respond to threats with reason, not just emotion.
"We are not well-served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. ... We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks."
Yet even Obama has demonstrated the instinct to identify with the tribe he feels like he (and Americans) belong to when that tribe is under attack. He called the Paris terrorism “an attack on the civilized world.” As in, our world. All of us. But he didn’t call the terrorist bombings in Beirut or Baghdad the day before attacks on all of us, nor the terrorist bombing of the plane-load of Russians a few days earlier. Those victims were from other worlds, other tribes. The threat to them doesn’t feel like as much of a threat to us, as in, the people in the world that Nobel Peace Prize-winner Barack Obama more identifies with.
It would be great to hope that we might see how when we are afraid, we abandon some of the basic moral principles that differentiate our tribe from the tribe of murderous terrorists. It would be great to hope for that kind of rational self-awareness. But it would be naïve.
The fear-driven tribal stigmatization of Syrians is being rejected by a range of religious groups that have spoken out against bigotry directed toward Syrian refugees, from the Jewish Anti-Defamation League to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to Evangelical Christian agencies like World Relief. And dozens of local and state leaders, and President Obama, are reiterating their welcome of Syrian refugees into their communities and America.
But even this accepting response is just a version of the same instinct — to band together with those in our tribe in the name of mutual protection. Those still welcoming toward Syrian refugees see them as fellow members of the larger general tribe of humanity; the civilized world; our normal, non-terrorist world; a tribe which includes all victims of terrorism, including Syrian refugees forced by war and terrorism to flee their country in the first place.
It would be great to hope that we might learn lessons from how we’re responding to the Paris attacks, to see how fear is driving tribal bigotry and uber-precaution that borders on ignorance and paranoia. It would be great to hope that we might see how when we are afraid, we abandon some of the basic moral principles that differentiate our tribe from the tribe of murderous terrorists.
It would be great to hope for that kind of rational self-awareness. But it would be naïve. This has played out many times before, and it will again and again. Emotions almost always trump reason, and there is no more powerful emotion than fear.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.