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The fundamental result of this work is a new way of engaging in negotiation with opponents, with consequences quite different from, and I believe vastly superior to, results from negotiations as they are conducted now, in virtually any venue. That is, a new strategy is developed here, which has an intrinsically greater return than other strategies in conflicts. The logic of this and its conclusions follow the establishment of some foundational truths.
Fear of the Other
A defining characteristic of human society is its tribalism: its tendency to gather in groups which define themselves by certain common characteristics, and differentiate themselves—set themselves apart from and at odds—with other groups and individuals who do not share these characteristics. This paper will explore this issue, and the attendant need for reconciliation, by looking at the ways in which humans do this, and specifically how this manifests in concepts of "race." Perspectives from a number of authors will be included in this investigation. A theoretical but practical framework for profound resolution will then be suggested.
The fact is that people identify with the group of which they are a part, and are suspicious or fearful of those who belong to other groups. This tribalism is true in countless dimensions, from income to accent to national origin to sexual activity to race to musical taste. Across the world, we perceive safety in that which is most like us, and danger in that which is different. The hatred of other races is simply one facet of this fear of “other” magnified and extolled. It is also true that there are and have always been individuals who will take advantage of this fear for their own personal gain.
For any hope of resolution to be realized, two fundamentals must be wrestled with. This is true whether the effort is made by people of good will, or simply by self-seeking groups and individuals who want to maximize their own success and reward: the first is this universal fear of “other,” which we find widely true in whites, blacks, Asians, Latins, American Indians, and all other “racial” groups (a scientifically suspect category), as well as within subsets of each of these categories. All ethnic groups do this, even from one village to the next.
The other fundamental is the specific fear (and marginalization) of people by race in our own country (as well as most others), and the particular consequences of the lengthy legal national suppression of the rights and honor of African-Americans, especially those who are descendents of slaves. The same phenomena are witnessed in virtually every area of the world, simply with a change in labels for those involved.
Universal Fear of Other
Wild dogs are pack animals. They travel in packs and defend their packs. Whether in simple competition for scarce resources, or to defend those they consider within their pack, they are alert to the intrusion of “others” into their territory. When walking, they are obsessive about “marking” the perimeters of what they perceive as “their” territory, and they will bark warning, and ruthlessly attack, any other dogs that approach or intrude.
When dogs are kept by humans, they do the same thing, but they adopt the human family or group as their pack. When a mail carrier, meter reader or neighbor approaches, unless they have been introduced to the dog by the family, the dog will bark vigorously to alert the human family and will attack to protect it. Although dogs can be trained not to do this overtly, it is their natural response to anyone outside the family, to any person or animal that is “other.”
This is a human trait as well. Whether we explain it as the product of evolution and competition for scarce resources, or natural caution, or sinfulness, the simple truth is that we do it all the time. We define what is “us” and what is “other.” For that matter, this trait goes all the way down to our immune systems. It is how we distinguish friendly bacteria from foreign bacteria which could cause us disease. The body sees foreign invaders as “other” and attacks them with an army of white blood cells and other weapons.
Immunization works by injecting a small amount of a crippled or dead bacteria into the body. The immune system mounts a defense and creates cellular soldiers trained to eliminate that particular strain of bacteria. If we are ever invaded by live, aggressive bacteria of that strain, the body is prepared, and the soldiers already exist and attack; more soldiers are quickly created, specifically equipped to defeat that strain. The immune system has a long memory, which is why vaccinations are useful for months or years in protecting us.
Humans have a similar immune system about other humans who are foreigners, who are not a part of the local “tribe,” whether that is a single family unit, a village, a country, or a different racial group. It is the source of violence between gangs (who “tag” or mark their territory with gang signs), rivalry in sports teams, and cliquishness in school and society. Even members of organized crime view themselves as advocates and defenders of a “family” which is in competition with a more dominant family, the government. They see their own “enterprises” as legitimate and the government’s efforts against them as intrusion and attack by “others.” Our tribal immune systems defend us against those who are not a part of “us.”
Several years ago my brother was staying in a small village in Ireland. He asked in the local pub about a similar small village a mere six miles away that he was considering visiting. He was told sharply that the village he was in had nothing to do with the other village, would not speak to anyone there, ever, and that they had no information about that village to share with him. The anger and distrust in their voices were obvious. The nearby village was “other,” the enemy.
Nonplussed, he asked about the reason for the anger and distrust. They said, “In 1066, when William the Conqueror came through Ireland, he attacked that village first. They didn’t send anyone here to warn us that he was coming.”
So “they” couldn’t be trusted. “They” were a danger. And for nearly a thousand years, “they” had remained “other,” the enemy.
This seems both bizarre and amusing from a distance, but similar - if less vitriolic - opinions are often mutually held by many small towns in the United States, and even by one block toward the next. A neighbor once warned us against moving to or associating with the residents of the next block west in our neighborhood. The difference was not at the borderline of a “ghetto” or even a city/suburb line. Both blocks were in Wheaton, Illinois, and to any objective observer would appear almost identical. Her fear stemmed from teenagers who had lived on the block a decade earlier and had been involved in some way with drugs. They no longer lived on the block, but for this neighbor the block was tainted, dangerous and “other.”
Like immune systems, humans have long memories, and the simple truth is that we distrust people who are not like us, whether the difference is skin color, religion, clothing, IQ, education, food, drug use, income level, body type, or whatever. It may not seem rational, and it may stem from an ancient competition for scarce resources, simple caution, sinfulness or self-preservation, but we are xenophobic in an astounding number of ways. We fear the “other,” the foreigner.
Any hope of reconciliation (or even a negotiated settlement), racial or otherwise, is doomed to failure if it does not acknowledge this elementary truth of human relationships.
Specific Fear by Race
In the United States this xenophobia takes many forms, some of which come and go with wars, immigration, population shifts and even fashion trends. One which stands out as unique, because it has persisted for centuries, is the long isolation of African-Americans—particularly those descended from slaves—from mainstream society and economic opportunity.
Emblematic of this struggle is the ministry of Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. In More Than Equals they focus on the unfolding of ministry and its tension, in a partnership between themselves as joint pastors, one black and one white, serving a mostly African-American but racially diverse congregation. They express themselves in a way which is consistently authentic and forthcoming. One can sense the ebb and flow of hope and despair over time as these men, and the people in their congregation, live with each other and process the content of their relationship.
In the introduction to their book, they cite the statistics of how income and opportunity for the black community have changed over time, particularly with the enormous growth of the black middle class. They quote a Gallup survey that concludes, “A portrait of a separate America for blacks is no longer valid.”
This and other objective measures of progress point to an increasing acceptance of blacks in American society. With the obvious exception of Aryan Nation and other “white power” hate groups, blacks are today substantially less likely to experience overt discrimination and insult than they were prior to the Civil Rights Movement and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nevertheless, it is hardly as if we have entered the Promised Land, with color or race of little more interest than hair color or height.
It is evidence of the still unsolved problem that they need to cite such statistics for blacks, and find no need to look at similar statistical measures for whites, Asians or others. There are others, of course, who study and comment on inequities across a wide range of differences: racial, sexual, cultural, geographic, and so on, and Perkins and Rice are focused on the realities of their particular circumstances. Even so, those within the black community would applaud their focal point as the primary locus of racial discord in the United States (although the growing Hispanic population would contest this).
One unhelpful element is this whole issue is the abstraction of humans, and the enormous range of their skin color and features and natural history, down into inaccurate categories like “white” and “black.” This reinforces and even fosters stereotyping and bad logic. The titles are used here because they are so common in discourse, but they are fundamentally flawed:
I’m actually pink with a lot of spots, my wife is a bit more olive, my sister-in-law is a medium brown, my Ugandan assistant pastor dark brown, and a good friend nearly black (really, really dark brown). I have known people who are nearly dark purple, others sort of red, and many who are referred to as “yellow” but look pink to me. This color range is descriptive but utterly unrelated to their worth as human beings. To squeeze them all down to a draconian abstraction of black and white, as if that says anything meaningful about their value or history, I find repugnant and disrespectful of the wild palette of their Creator.
Irrationality of Racism Revealed
Nevertheless, we live in a stereotyping world. While our language can reinforce our prejudices and even flaw our discernment, simply changing the language will not in itself solve the problem, though it can help. The stereotyping is an outcropping of the way we protect ourselves against “other.” Even our immune systems do this, attacking things that “look like” those dangerous things they legitimately should attack (autoimmune diseases are examples of this).
In 1960, John Howard Griffin exposed the contours and irrationality of this in his astonishing book Black Like Me (its contents astonished whites, not blacks), in which he used medication and dyes to change his skin color to dark walnut, shaved his head, and then moved about the American South, especially in the “dark” areas (his term), to see what his reception would be like from both blacks and whites, since he was, to all outward appearances, a “black man.” The book is a diary of those travels.
In his Epilogue, written in 1977, he reflects on his experience and his subsequent involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. He notes that many whites believed sincerely that prejudice was confined to a small number of bigots and was, in any event, not the American norm: “Most Americans denied any taint of racism and really believed that in this land we judged every man by his qualities as a human individual.”
Griffin intentionally changed only his skin color. He would not change who he was, his degrees, experience or knowledge: “I would keep my clothing, my speech patterns, my credentials, and I would answer every question truthfully.”
His theory—to be tested—was that if what we believed about the American ideal was true, his life would not be very different except for how he looked. But if we did judge by racial components, then things would change.
“I learned within a very few hours that no one was judging me by my qualities as a human individual and everyone was judging me by my pigment. As soon as white men or women saw me, they automatically assumed I possessed a whole set of false characteristics (false not only to me but to all black men). They could not see me or any other black man as a human individual because they buried us under the garbage of their stereotyped view of us. They saw us as “different” from themselves in fundamental ways: we were irresponsible; we were different in our sexual morals; we were intellectually limited; we had a God-given sense of rhythm; we were lazy and happy-go-lucky; we loved watermelon and fried chicken… Always, in every encounter even with “good whites,” we had the feeling that the white person was not talking with us but with his image of us.”
In subsequent years, after Griffin was “white” again, he was able to observe another corollary of this same truth. When asked by well-meaning civic or religious organizations to speak about the problem of racism and its effects on the community, his blunt words would be met with applause; the same words, spoken by a local black leader, would be met with hostility, and would be considered threatening, rather than illuminating. The problem was exacerbated (and revealed) by the fact that local white leaders, even when sincerely hoping to address issues of racism in their community, would regularly call Griffin to come into town to advise them, but would fail to ask the same counsel from local black leaders who actually knew the local realities. Griffin wisely pointed out this “irony” to them, and some, at least, confessed their myopia. It had not even occurred to many of them to seek out local black leaders or invite their insights and advice.
Perhaps it was that Griffin, now white again, was no longer “other” to these well-meaning white leaders, but the local black community, and its leaders, were still felt to be a source of threat.
The Challenge of Reconciliation
The challenge of reconciliation between races is likely to continue to be difficult, even when we desire otherwise. There are three strong reasons for this:
1. The misapprehension of the problem, and the consequent wrong solutions applied.
2. The pervasiveness of the problem beyond the bounds of race.
3. The exploitation of the problem to the benefit of self-aggrandizing leaders.
Each of these will be considered in turn.
The Misapprehension of the Problem
Racism is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which focuses primarily British English, as “the theory that distinctive human characteristics and abilities are determined by race.” It is distinguished from a slightly older term, “racialism,” which is defined as “Belief in the superiority of a particular race leading to prejudice and antagonism toward people of other races, esp. those in close proximity who may be felt as a threat to one’s cultural and racial integrity or economic well-being.”
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary reveals that these two definitions are merged in the American usage of racism: “1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race 2: racial prejudice or discrimination”
While these definitions are not unhelpful, they would lead one to infer that there are no “distinctive human characteristics and abilities” that are “determined by race,” and this is self-evidently untrue. In an era of political correctness, even rational discourse on race is entered with trepidation. Further consideration of definition, meaning and applicability is needed as a foundation, before a worthwhile study can be begun.
“Race” is used loosely and with significant emotional content in most public discourse. The OED defines it this way: “One of the great divisions of mankind, having certain physical peculiarities in common.” This definition is followed by this comment: “The term is often used imprecisely; even among anthropologists there is no generally accepted classification or terminology.” It cites several uses of the word beginning in the 18th century. One 1861 volume presumes five major races: Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, American and Malay.
Perhaps the most useful perspective is this citation (in the OED) from New Perspectives in Cultural Anthropology, by R.M. and F.M. Keesing (1971): “Though in popular usage it is emotionally charged and imprecise, it has a straightforward and important meaning in evolutionary biology. A race is a geographically separated, hence genetically somewhat distinctive, population within a species.”
The idea here is straightforward and not even remotely “racist.” It suggests that groups of people, genetically isolated from other groups of people, and facing local demands for survival, including differences of food, weather, sanitation, cultural habits, disease and reproduction, will over time produce descendants that differ from other isolated groups, facing different local demands. This is no more controversial than suggesting that tall people who only marry tall people, and short people who only marry short people, will produce descendants who diverge significantly in height.
In fact, it is not much of a stretch to suggest that isolated groups, over time, will value different things, or have abilities that differ from, other isolated groups. Refusing to acknowledge this obvious consequence of genetic isolation is to stymie or prevent any real understanding of the actual causes of racial prejudice and fear. Put simply, the “races” differ in skin color, hair color and texture, and shape of eyes, ears, lips, teeth and other body elements, perhaps even internal organs. Because of these differences (and some which defy easy classification but which do exist), the “races” are differently equipped to meet specific challenges.
The difficulty we get into happens in two simple ways: first, our politically correct refusal to acknowledge the real consequences of genetic divergence, and second, the suggestion that these differences affect the intrinsic value of any individual or group. Both of these are errors.
As a person of primarily Northern European descent, my skin is genetically inferior to my wife’s Mediterranean skin at blocking ultraviolet rays from the sun: she tans; I blister.
My assistant pastor, from Uganda, has very dark skin. His is even better than my wife’s at blocking out ultraviolet light. When even she would be blistering, he would be blissfully unaffected. These are racial differences, with a real and significant range of inferiority and superiority at blocking ultraviolet light, but the words “inferiority” and “superiority” have nothing to do with the human value of any of us. We ought to be able to note and make provision for these differences without feeling either condescending or demeaned.
Racism arises when we elevate either real or imagined racial differences into a caste system, with some honored or privileged by virtue of these differences, and others marginalized or oppressed.
The misapprehension of the problem begins when we assume that racism is a phenomena in and of itself, and that its roots are simply some sinful sense of superiority of what I am by birth (and over which I had no control) over what others are by birth. The power of racism doesn’t come from false pride; pride is too easily dashed by circumstance or experience. The power in racism is fear.
We fear those of other races because they do not look like us, act like us, value what we value—or because they might take what we have. This makes them “other,” and lures us into visceral responses to danger, and these reactions go deep. Until we grasp this, our solutions will be off the mark.
The Pervasiveness of the Problem Beyond the Bounds of Race.
Prejudice against African Americans in the United States is an ongoing issue for our culture, though it is itself a subcategory of the larger problem of racism. Racism is also a genuine problem between and among all “races” and all other “races” literally all over the world, though it is also a subcategory of fear of the other. Two illustrations of this might be helpful:
Illustration #1: The “untouchables” of India:
With little land of their own to cultivate, Dalit men, women, and children numbering in the tens of millions work as agricultural laborers for a few kilograms of rice or Rs. 15 to Rs. 35 (US$0.38 to $0.88) a day. Most live on the brink of destitution, barely able to feed their families and unable to send their children to school or break away from cycles of debt bondage that are passed on from generation to generation. At the end of day they return to a hut in their Dalit colony with no electricity, kilometers away from the nearest water source, and segregated from all non-Dalits, known as caste Hindus. They are forbidden by caste Hindus to enter places of worship, to draw water from public wells, or to wear shoes in caste Hindu presence. They are made to dig the village graves, dispose of dead animals, clean human waste with their bare hands, and to wash and use separate tea tumblers at neighborhood tea stalls, all because—due to their caste status—they are deemed polluting and therefore “untouchable.” Any attempt to defy the social order is met with violence or economic retaliation…
India’s caste system is perhaps the world’s longest surviving social hierarchy. A defining feature of Hinduism, caste encompasses a complex ordering of social groups on the basis of ritual purity. A person is considered a member of the caste into which he or she is born and remains within that caste until death, although the particular ranking of that caste may vary among regions and over time. Differences in status are traditionally justified by the religious doctrine of karma, a belief that one’s place in life is determined by one’s deeds in previous lifetimes. Traditional scholarship has described this more than 2,000-year-old system within the context of the four principal varnas, or large caste categories. In order of precedence these are the Brahmins (priests and teachers), the Ksyatriyas (rulers and soldiers), the Vaisyas (merchants and traders), and the Shudras (laborers and artisans). A fifth category falls outside the varna system and consists of those known as “untouchables” or Dalits; they are often assigned tasks too ritually polluting to merit inclusion within the traditional varna system.
Within the four principal castes, there are thousands of sub-castes, also called jatis, endogamous groups that are further divided along occupational, sectarian, regional and linguistic lines. Collectively all of these are sometimes referred to as “caste Hindus” or those falling within the caste system. The Dalits are described as varna-sankara: they are “outside the system”—so inferior to other castes that they are deemed polluting and therefore “untouchable.” Even as outcasts, they themselves are divided into further sub-castes. Although “untouchability” was abolished under Article 17 of the Indian constitution, the practice continues to determine the socio-economic and religious standing of those at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. Whereas the first four varnas are free to choose and change their occupation, Dalits have generally been confined to the occupational structures into which they are born.
What is extraordinary about this report, aside from the obvious inhumanity it describes, is that any non-Indian would be hard pressed to discern the caste of someone in India, aside from the obvious marks of poverty, and even this would reveal little about caste. And although there are a large variety of physical differences in people across India, these do not map simply unto the caste system. Even an Indian would struggle to tell one caste from another if they were dressed and groomed alike.
Those who are members of “scheduled castes and tribes” are free to punish or humiliate the Dalits with impunity. Even though such atrocities are prohibited in the Indian constitution, they continue with local police “looking the other way” or even contributing to the atrocities. The Dalits are both treated with humiliation and feared. They are considered an automatic source of pollution by their very presence, and everything possible is done to keep them away from other Indians.
Even where hard work and education have—against all odds—allowed someone to escape the oppression and poverty, still they are feared. The same report cites this example:
The message sent from the judiciary on caste discrimination is equally grim: in July 1998 in the state of Uttar Pradesh, an Allahabad High Court judge had his chambers “purified with Ganga jal” (water from the River Ganges), because it had earlier been occupied by a Dalit judge.
Many professional individuals I have known from India have made it a point, sometime in our friendship, to make sure I knew that they were from the Brahmin caste, and even that their families live in Brahmin compounds in their home cities in India. To them, it was on the order of letting me know they were princes by birth, above the ragged mob and poverty of their homeland.
This looks to us like racism, but it is really a super-category to racism. It is fear of the other built into the explicit structure of a culture, above simple racial distinction. The force of law has been of little moment against the force of this cultural rule.
As appalling as this caste system seems to us at a distance, perhaps equally surprising would be the discovery of how many people in each class would defend the system, either explicitly or implicitly, including even some of the Dalits. This is not unrelated to the defense of one’s parents and family structure often heard from an abused child.
Further, though it differs in degree, we also have a caste system in the United States, with some mobility available from one class to another, although those moving to one they are not born into are often regarded with scorn. For the “upwardly mobile” the class one is leaving often criticizes the ambitious person with expressions like “he’s too big for his britches,” “she thinks she’s too good for us,” and “he’s got Champagne tastes but a beer pocketbook.” The people born into the class one is trying to enter will be equally critical, saying things like, “You can take a man out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of a man,” or “they are so obviously nouveau riche, who do they think they’re fooling?”
Even more, most classes look with disdain upon other classes, including any above or below them in the perceived cultural hierarchy. Working class laborers talk about “suits” who “never get their hands dirty.” Middle class workers talk about people who “always have dirty fingernails,” as well as “trailer trash.” People in upper management scorn “middle managers” and “bureaucrats.” People with inherited money joke about “working stiffs.” People without much money regard people with a lot of money as “bloodsuckers” who - they believe - got rich by stealing money from them. People in the entertainment industry, who tend to be liberal in their social views, look upon middle America as a “white bread” audience clearly too unsophisticated to comprehend reality as it really is, and therefore in need of pandering to their backwardness, as well as forced enlightenment. Homosexuals call heterosexuals “breeders.” Heterosexuals call homosexuals "fags" and "queers." Southerners scorn Northerners, and vice versa, in virtually every country. American fantasy monsters in children’s book have often been “slant-eyed demons.” Japanese children’s books have “round-eyed demons,” often also blue-eyed and blond. Liberals look at conservatives as mean spirited and dull witted; conservatives accuse liberals of giving in to the culture and pandering to laziness. Every one of these groups has jokes about the others (and every one of the others returns the disdain), and heart-wrenching “true stories” that support their worldview, and nasty tales of the suffering caused by those with whom they disagree.
We have classes—castes—by the thousands, interpenetrating and overlapping, and we regularly justify the ones we’re in, and look down at all the others. Our fear of the other is pervasive beyond the bounds of race.
Illustration #2: The obvious evil and inferiority of blacks. Or whites. Or…
This second illustration of this “pervasiveness beyond the bounds of race” comes not from real life, but from a science fiction morality play—an early Star Trek episode, one so cleverly posed that it escaped the watchful eyes of the vigilant censors of its day. It is on point and compelling, especially on the issue of race, although it transcends race by the power of its metaphor.
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield originally aired on January 10, 1969, and has the starship Enterprise searching for a stolen shuttlecraft, and arriving at a distant planet, Cheron, where a man, played by Frank Gorshin, appears on the Enterprise in pursuit of a “criminal” named Lokai (the thief of the shuttlecraft). Gorshin plays commissioner Bele, and he is starkly half white and half black (see photo), as is the political prisoner, Lokai (Lou Antonio), that he has been tracking for 50,000 years.
It turns out that these two represent opposite sides of a long and bitter race war. Bele argues for law, order, responsibility. Lokai argues that his people have been oppressed and taken advantage of, the subjects of injustice and hatred.
At one point, Gorshin tells Captain Kirk that the differences between them are obvious. Just by looking he should be able to see the inferiority of Lokai. His whole race is lazy and criminal. Kirk is bewildered, because to him they look identical. But he has never seen them together.
The two men finally face off. Here is a portion of their dialogue:
Bele: You're finished Lokai. Oh, we got your kind penned in on Cheron in a little district. And it's not going to change. You half-white.â€¨
Lokai: You half-black
It turns out that Bele is black on the right, white on the left. Lokai is the opposite. This is the source of their 50,000 year old racial fear, distrust and hate.
They are “other” to each other.
Despite all of his efforts at reason and reconciliation (and even threat), Kirk is unable to get either to budge toward ending their animosity and disdain for each other. They leave the Enterprise for the planet’s surface to continue their battle.
This is a clever telling of how we fear and judge each other, because of the belief in the obvious evil and inferiority of blacks. Or whites. Or half-whites. Or half-blacks.
The Exploitation of the Problem to the Benefit of Self-Aggrandizing Leaders
One of the obvious difficulties the well-intending “white” community in the U.S. has with the leadership of the “black” community is the presence of leaders whose self-promotion often seem to be at least as important as the interests of the community they claim to represent. People like Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan (and even Jesse Jackson) are often the target of such accusations. And even though there are many blacks who would also be critical of self-seeking black leaders, when white leaders criticize Sharpton, Farrakhan, Jackson or others, immediately there is the retort from the black community: “don’t we get to pick our own leaders? Why do you think you should get to choose?”
One is reminded of George W. Bush’s pronouncement that Yasser Arafat should no longer lead the Palestinian people, or the opposition of J. Edgar Hoover and others to the leadership of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. There just seems to be something intrinsically wrong about anyone having a say in choosing the leadership of their opposition. Naturally, any self-respecting Machiavellian would work to put either lackeys or ineffective leaders in authority with those he opposed.
With that said, however, one of the obligations of leadership is integrity to the cause, and anyone who allows his or her own self-interests to be promoted at the cost of the cause, or who becomes too slick or publicity-seeking, has both weakened the ability to lead and opened himself or herself to criticism from friends and especially enemies.
If nothing else, compromised leadership makes negotiation and agreement more difficult. Most leaders would prefer difficult and even acrimonious negotiation with a long-standing opponent who is known to keep his word, than with a slicker and more agreeable leader who first looks out for himself, and who—after agreement—fudges and reinterprets and whose “yea” is not “yea” and whose “no” is not “no.” It is the reason double-agents are trusted by no one.
This is a different issue than that raised by Griffin, i.e. that “well-meaning” white leaders were calling him, and failing to call local black leaders who would have more knowledge of local needs and desires in the local black community.
Thus, there is clearly a need for leadership to arise from within any oppressed group, but also a danger that the leadership does not always act with integrity, and may at times put personal gain ahead of gain for the group. This unfortunate fact begins to illuminate a related long standing problem: the struggle for power, and the use of others to maintain it. This has two faces, both of which take advantage of the oppressed.
Face one: Thomas Sowell quotes John Stuart Mill at the very beginning of his book, Conquests and Cultures. Mill says, “Now, if there be a fact to which all experience testifies, it is that when a country holds another in subjection, the individuals of the ruling people… think the people of the country mere dirt under their feet…”
Eldridge Cleaver puts even more force behind this idea, and shows that it applies not just between countries, but within one as well:
The police departments and the armed forces are the two arms of the power structure, the muscles of control and enforcement. They have deadly weapons with which to inflict pain on the human body. They know how to bring about horrible deaths. They have clubs with which to beat the body and the head. They have bullets and guns with which to tear holes in the flesh, to smash bones, to disable and kill. They use force, to make you do what the deciders have decided you must do.
Every country on earth has these agencies of force. The people everywhere fear this terror and force. To them it is like a snarling wild beast which can put an end to one’s dreams…
“The people,” however, are nowhere consulted, although everywhere everything is done always in their name and ostensibly for their betterment, while their real-life problems go unsolved. “The people” are a rubber stamp for the crafty and sly. And no problem can be solved without taking the police department and the armed forces into account. Both kings and bookies understand this, as do first ladies and common prostitutes.
And Thomas Merton narrows this focus and makes it particular, in this excerpt focusing on Harlem, quoted by Cleaver from Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain:
Here in this huge, dark, steaming slum, hundreds of thousands of Negroes are herded together like cattle, most of them with nothing to eat and nothing to do. All the senses and imagination and sensibilities and emotions and sorrows and desires and hopes and ideas of a race with vivid feelings and deep emotional reactions are forced in upon themselves, bound inward by an iron ring of frustration: the prejudice that hems them in with its four insurmountable walls. In this huge cauldron, inestimable natural gifts, wisdom, love, music, science, poetry are stamped down and left to boil with the dregs of an elementally corrupted nature, and thousand upon thousand of souls are destroyed by vice and misery and degradation, obliterated, wiped out, washed from the register of the living, dehumanized.
What has not been devoured, in your dark furnace, Harlem, by marijuana, by gin, by insanity, hysteria, syphilis?
Merton details disturbingly the corrosive and relentless effect of oppression and marginalization, and uses the icon of Harlem to show the effects of this over the centuries, and the draining of the life blood and vibrancy of a people living under such conditions.
After quoting Mill, Sowell looks at the same issues of dominance and oppression, and fleshes out in considerable detail the origins and breadth of modern slavery, and the appalling inhumanity of the slave-keepers toward the slaves. What is extraordinary and telling about this study is how readily people are enslaved, and how little regard is typically paid by slavers to issues of color or origin.
Essentially, those willing to enslave other human beings are color-blind, equal opportunity oppressors. The only occasional requirement seems to be that the slave is “other” than the enslaver: another tribe, another religion, another culture. Even this is ignored if the profit to the leader is great enough. Racism has little to do with it; profit has much to do with it.
It is this truth that Cleaver seems to see most clearly when he says: ‘“The people” are a rubber stamp for the crafty and sly.’
This implies that much of racism is not ignorant prejudice so much as it is maintenance of power by force and propaganda, both out of fear of the "other" and out of a selfish, or self-aggrandizing effort to enrich or empower oneself at the expense of others—the “others.” That is, riches, power and security can be enhanced and protected by the application of force, and by lies.
Face two: Followers will follow even a corrupt leader if they fear the “other” enough. This principle can be applied with success by both an oppressor and a leader of the oppressed, if either leader is fundamentally self-promoting and Machiavellian in his leadership.
Cleaver, at the time of publication of Soul on Ice in 1968, was Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, and an advocate of violence to overthrow the oppression of African Americans in the United States, and other oppressed people worldwide. It was an era of much revolutionary theory and rhetoric, and much success of indigenous (and imported) revolutionary movements worldwide.
Cleaver was wounded in a shootout with Oakland police and fled to a series of socialist countries, including Cuba, Algeria and Vietnam, where he was welcomed as a hero. While abroad, though, he became disillusioned with socialism and opposed to communism, and underwent a deep conversion to Christianity, recounted in his later book Soul on Fire. He returned to the United States, where his final years were marked both by conservative political reform efforts, and by significant personal struggle. He died in 1998.
In his latter years, he no longer believed in violent struggle to end racism and oppression. He had seen and experienced that the leaders in socialist and communist countries took advantage of the common people in much the same way, and to the same degree, that he had believed the “capitalists” did before he fled the United States.
He experienced and realized more fully what he had said prophetically in 1968:
Which laws get enforced depends on who is in power. If the capitalists are in power, they enforce laws designed to protect their system, their way of life…
If Communists are in power, they enforce laws designed to protect their system, their way of life.
It is then that he says,
“The people,” however, are nowhere consulted, although everywhere everything is done always in their name and ostensibly for their betterment, while their real-life problems go unsolved.
The unfortunate reality for “the people” is that both their oppressors and some of their own leaders have a stake in their continuing oppression, and in the ongoing conflict, and both use fear of the other to motivate their followers. It is not a formula for success for the oppressed, but for the enrichment of corrupt leaders.
Overcoming the Universal Fear of the Other
Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, offered the opinion that the greatest total volume of wealth for the nations was produced when individuals acted freely in their own self-interest with little or no restraint from cartels or governments, aside from certain needed governmental regulation. This gem of an insight, from a vast book on economics, demand, prices and more, is one of the theoretical underpinnings of capitalism. Though it is thus repugnant to many socialists and communists (and monopolists), history has shown it to be true. That is, capitalist countries produce more wealth per person than do socialist or communist countries, though the distribution of that wealth is claimed (by socialist and communist leaders) to be less equitable. Further, the assertion that each should act in his or her own selfish interest inclines a society to be competitive, and this will eventually rise to the level of power struggle, conflict and even violence, with the competitors becoming the “other” and fear being used as a weapon to control followers and oppress enemies. Marx and Engels had a field day with this (class conflict) but never provided a superior solution.
What we seem to have here is an argument (from Smith) that justifies the behavior we have witnessed in packs of dogs, Star Trek morality plays, Indian castes, and between races, classes, countries and tribes. We might rationalize that it is the price we pay for our affluence.
This is a terrific excuse for those in power. For those consigned to oppression, however, it stinks, and if anything it seems to doom the oppressed to a future of poverty and abuse.
On the other hand, it could be argued that Smith was simply describing reality, not prescribing it. He saw that people acted in their own best interest, and that when this was given essentially free reign, the greatest amount of wealth was produced. Socialist and communist counter-arguments lost their force when their leadership consistently proved to be self-serving—a kind of capitalism for the leaders and serfdom for the population they led.
A Theoretical Framework for a Solution
However, the apparent success of Smith’s argument does not prove that it is the best of all possible economic approaches, only that it has thus far been the most productive. An interesting insight to this was authored in 1950 by John Forbes Nash, Jr., who 44 years later won the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on game theory. (He is the subject of the biography by Sylvia Nasar, A Beautiful Mind, recently made into a popular movie.) It seems to come from left field but is highly applicable. Nash’s thesis is largely impenetrable to non-mathematicians. A colleague of his at Princeton, Avinash Dixit, explains it this way:
Game theory studies interactive decision-making, where the outcome for each participant or "player" depends on the actions of all. If you are a player in such a game, when choosing your course of action or "strategy" you must take into account the choices of others. But in thinking about their choices, you must recognize that they are thinking about yours, and in turn trying to take into account your thinking about their thinking, and so on…â€¨â€¨This science is unusual in the breadth of its potential applications. Unlike physics or chemistry, which have a clearly defined and narrow scope, the precepts of game theory are useful in a whole range of activities, from everyday social interactions and sports to business and economics, politics, law, diplomacy and war. Biologists have recognized that the Darwinian struggle for survival involves strategic interactions, and modern evolutionary theory has close links with game theory. (emphasis mine -GBK)
â€¨â€¨Game theory got its start with the work of John von Neumann in the 1920s, which culminated in his book with Oskar Morgenstern. They studied "zero-sum" games where the interests of two players were strictly opposed. John Nash treated the more general and realistic case of a mixture of common interests and rivalry and any number of players…â€¨â€¨
[Nash’s] theory constructs a notion of "equilibrium," to which the complex chain of thinking about thinking could converge. Then the strategies of all players would be mutually consistent in the sense that each would be choosing his or her best response to the choices of the others. For such a theory to be useful, the equilibrium it posits should exist. Nash used novel mathematical techniques to prove the existence of equilibrium in a very general class of games. This paved the way for applications. Biologists have even used the notion of Nash equilibrium to formulate the idea of evolutionary stability.
So what is the applicability of this game theory to fear of the other, and how that plays out in racial conflict, including the racial struggles of blacks here in the United States? In this way:
It has been a tenet of many tribes, families, countries, cities, classes, castes and corporations that their success comes at the price of someone else’s loss, or conversely, allowing progress for the oppressed comes with a cost to the oppressor. The rich want to stay rich or get richer, even if it means the poor stay poor or get poorer. In fact, they generally assume that this must be a necessity. It is seen as a “zero-sum” game, such as that studied by von Neumann and Morgenstern. It is the theoretical basis of the notion of “redistribution” of wealth—taking it from the “haves” and giving it to the “have nots.”
Opposing groups strategize and negotiate and battle each other based on the false assumption that there is a fixed and limited amount of wealth to go around, and therefore they must struggle to get or retain as much of it as they can. Some even assume there isn’t enough for all to survive or prosper. This is the foundation of animal competition and all pack behavior—even among humans—that there is a limitation or scarcity of wealth (which in the case of animals and primitive man, is primarily food).
Nash revised and broadened this thinking (and the related mathematical theory) in adding the realistic aspects of a mix of common interests and competitive interests. That is, he considered the outcome for both sides and concluded that there was a superior solution for both sides if this realization were a part of their negotiations. In this case, their relative outcomes could always be at least as good for both as they would be if there was no cooperation at all. But even Nash assumes—at "equilibrium"—a distribution of a limited set.
Business people often talk about “win-win” in negotiations, realizing that if helping their opponent to fulfill his desires will help them fulfill their own, then it is a wise investment to help the opponent get what he wants. It helps us get what we want. This is the “common wisdom” version of Nash’s equilibrium, at least in part.
Perhaps a broader and more realistic way to think about this problem is this: as humans we gather into groups based on common values, interests, bloodline, nationality, culture, and so on. These groups, because of the creative capacity of their members, have the ability to produce wealth (coal, trucks, art, music, space stations, medicine, clothing, food, etc.) by conversion of the raw materials of the earth, plus energy supplied by the sun (indirectly by oil, gas, wood, solar power and wind, and more directly by sunlight) into products that bring benefit to other humans. That is, the supply of wealth—including food—is not limited to what can be hunted or gathered (as with animals and primitive man), but can now actually be created, such as by agricultural and industry. This distinguishes us fundamentally from animals and primitive man, though we seem to continue to act like animals, assuming scarcity and therefore zero-sum based competition.
But this is wrong. Humans can create wealth. Because this is a creative act, the amount of wealth any individual can produce is affected by his education, skill and opportunity, and the wealth produced by any group is the sum of that produced by the individuals within it. A trained, skilled potter will produce many usable pots—usable by many other people, thus adding to the total wealth of the world. An unskilled potter (or one restricted from productive work by oppression or lack of training and opportunity) will produce few, if any.
When one group, for racial, cultural or other reasons, subjugates and oppresses another, the wealth output of each group is reduced: of the oppressor, because of the expenditure of resources in controlling the oppressed; and of the oppressed, because of the limitations imposed on their free action and creativity by the oppressors (as in Merton’s description of Harlem), as well as by the time and effort that is expended in resisting—passively or aggressively—the oppressor.
The Economics of Symbiosis
The route of wisdom here is thus not a socialism or communism where individual productivity, creativity and reward are held in check by governmental regulation, but a modified capitalism where the strategy of negotiations for each party is the maximization of the total wealth of the “opposing” parties, a kind of symbiosis rather than competition—and it extends well beyond purely economic systems.
This is a surprising twist to the issue of racial prejudice or its foundation, fear of the other. But it is how we move beyond fear of the other to cooperation—symbiosis—not because it is the “noble” thing to do (although it is), but because it benefits all of the parties the most.
People of good will may desire to end oppression, even if their efforts and willingness are flawed or limited. But not all people or groups would seek to “share the wealth” simply because it is a noble and proper action. And even people of good will may fear for their own security and longevity if they imagine a fixed and limited amount of wealth is to be “redistributed.”
The benefit of this understanding of “the economics of symbiosis” is that it need not assume good will on the part of the opposing parties. Enlightened self-interest is sufficient, that is, an understanding that helping my opponent to be as productive and successful as possible will increase all of the wealth available, including mine, and may even create some products that I would desire, but am unable to produce myself.
Jesus, the Fear of Other, and Agape—Entering the Promised Land Together
When I arrived at this unexpected conclusion, I had an eerie sense of deja vu. I had heard this idea before, in the teachings of Jesus. Whatever our religious heritage might be (including none), it is readily apparent to most readers that Jesus taught some radical and astonishing things, and this, it turns out, was one of them.
When Jesus taught that we were to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, he was not just opining that we should be religious and nice. In fact, the illustration he used to articulate this teaching was deeply unsettling to those who were listening. It overturned their worldview.
Jesus defined "neighbor" explicitly as those “others” with whom his listeners had been in racial and cultural conflict. He told the story of the "Good Samaritan," a highly offensive parable to his listeners. Today's version would be equally offensive to many: telling a group of Israelis about the "Good Palestinian" who aided a wounded Israeli that had been ignored by his own countrymen.
Similarly, the players in Jesus' story were bitter opponents, but the Samaritan took the time and spent his own money to help a Jew who had been beaten and robbed and left at the side of the road. No one would help him, including his "own kind," but the Samaritan did. The Samaritan invested in the recovery, health and well being of a Jew: he helped his opponent to heal and become productive.
Jesus intentionally illustrated "love your neighbor as yourself" by choosing an opponent—one for whom there was fear of the other—as the focus of the "love" in "love your neighbor as yourself."
This brings us to another revolutionary thing Jesus taught in this parable: the word he chose for love was the Greek word “agape.” Agape is not representative of a feeling, but of a course of action. That course of action is to help the “other” to succeed, to do to them as we would have them do to us. By designating the “other” as our neighbor rather than our enemy, he forces on us a new way of thinking: in effect, our negotiations go from our success at their expense, to our mutual desire and cooperative effort for common, symbiotic success. By fostering the success of the “other,” we mutually create more wealth for both of us to enjoy—from raw materials and energy and we end the fear which has been so costly, and caused deprivation for both of us.
Paul, a follower of Jesus, reinforced this approach to common life with his forceful admonitions to submit to one another, esteem others more highly than ourselves, and to "build one another up."
Jesus and Paul saw this and articulated it two millennia ago. Perhaps at last we're beginning to get it. I don't believe that their prescriptions, like other instructions in scripture, are rules that we’re supposed to follow for arbitrary, legalistic and ritualistic reasons, but because they produce wealth and harmony among human beings. Surely this is a better application of scripture than using it to incite conflict with others.
Followers of Jesus ought to renounce racism (and all forms of fear and oppression of the “other”) simply because it is so at odds with God’s love of all of his children, as Jesus taught. But beyond this, if we comprehend and employ this fundamental truth about the maximization of our own wealth by working to help the “other” succeed, we will begin to be applying, in an understandable way and with practical results—even for non-Christians—the truth contained in Jesus’ teachings about loving God, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is an economics of symbiosis that should fundamentally change the goal and the strategies of conflict resolution and negotiation.
Those in conflict around the world could begin to learn from and apply this model.
War, Oppression and Terrorism
Consider the radical difference in outcome if opposing parties in any conflict, including Irish Catholics and Protestants, Israelis and Palestinians, the United States and Iraq, etc., if one side announced unilaterally that it no longer intended the defeat of the other, but rather foster their prospering and success, and committed its resources wholeheartedly to making that happen?
Not only would lives and property not be destroyed, but the ability of the "opponent" to produce new wealth for the whole of human society would be magnified. We would all gain by following this economics of symbiosis to its conclusion, rather than imagining (wrongly) that "defeating" them is in our best interest.
This is not a silly Pollyanna dream, but very much practical, common sense. Revolutionary, to be sure, compared to the moronic way we have all behaved—but clearly to our benefit as well as theirs. Isn't this worth testing?
For people who believe in God, and even for those who don't, this is a means to bring everyone into the Promised Land, with no one left behind. We end the fear of the “other” because we see that it is to our greatest benefit to do so.
 Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice, More Than Equals, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993)
 Perkins and Rice, 13
 John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1960 and with Epilogue, 1977). Portions originally appeared as articles in Sepia magazine in 1960.
 Griffin, 179
 Griffin, 179
 Griffin, 180
 http://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/india/ Broken People, Caste Violence Against India’s “Untouchables,” Chapter III, from Human Rights Watch, copyright 1999, no page number available.
 Human Rights Watch, no page number available.
 Star Trek, Episode 70, Stardate 5730.2, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, written by Oliver Crawford (from a story by Lee Cronin), directed by Jud Taylor. Air date January 10, 1969.
 Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures, An International History, (New York: Basic Books, 1998)
 Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1968), 128-9
 Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1948), 345, quoted in Cleaver, 34-35
 Sowell, see especially Chapter 3, “The Africans” for an extensive look at slavery across and out of Africa.
 Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Fire (Dallas: Word, Inc., 1978)
 Cleaver, Soul on Ice, 129
 Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Edinburgh, 1776)
 Meaning, in this technical sense, the conversion of raw materials into usable goods.
 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/nash/sfeature/sf_dixit.html. Dixit is the John J. F. Sherrerd '52 University Professor of Economics at Princeton University.
The conclusions reached here were startling to me at first, as they have been to others who have read and have begun to apply them. The underlying theory continues to evolve; more of it will appear here as it is completed, including some of the mathematical equations (in game theory) that derive from this. The first draft of the mathematical version of this is here. Feel free to write me with comments and suggestions.