Tuesday, April 09, 2019
Respecting the Other
What had caused him to develop such a jaundiced view of Russia? The reason is easy to guess: his work activity on behalf of the government forced him to focus closely on what his superiors labeled as "the Russian threat." Unfolded a bit, it would no doubt turn out that what Russia threatened was Americans' self-generated fiction of overwhelming military superiority. Unlike the United States, which had developed any number of plans to destroy the Soviet Union (of which nothing ever came due to said lack of overwhelming military superiority) the Soviet Union had never developed any such plans. And this was utterly infuriating to certain people in the US. Was this truly necessary, or was this an accident?
We could take into account geopolitical, military or economic considerations, consider the (no longer relevant) clash of socialist vs. capitalist ideologies or any number of other irrelevancies. Or we could find hints of what's really behind this syndrome from certain efforts to combat it. Consider this lyrics from Sting's 1985 debut solo album "The Dream of Blue Turtles." Sting sang soulfully: "I hope the Russians love their children too." From what mystical source sprang Sting's forlorn hope? That the Russians may be a race of soulless automatons hell-bent on wanton destruction of all life on Earth, but that perhaps there is just a tiny streak of humanity running through their character—they love their children too—and that it will hold them back? Sting's Russia is almost pure evil, but not quite, and a tiny speck of goodness is what keeps the world balanced on the edge of destruction.
Looking at history, a different vista presents itself. Since it first came together as a superethnos (Great Rus) around ten centuries ago, Russia has been consistently attacked and invaded from the west. It has been invaded by the Swedes, the Germans, the Poles/Lithuanians, the French and the Germans again. Note that these are all Northern European ethnic groups; this turns out to be important. All of these incursions the Russians managed to repulse. Russia was also invaded from the east, by a large and diverse group of nomadic peoples collectively known as the Mongols (even though actual ethnic Mongols among them numbered no more than a thousand) and this eventually led to integration and either assimilation or peaceful coexistence.
Why such a difference? Why are the Russians and the Poles like oil and water in spite of both being Christian, neighbors and speaking a Slavic language. Why did the Russians and the Tatars and other Turkic groups fuse together through intermarriage in spite of vast differences in language, custom, religion and geographic origin? Let us propose a daring hypothesis: the reason is organic. Ethnic compatibilities and incompatibilities are not accounted for by any historical, cultural, religious or economic factors. They may be genetic, but they do not necessarily have anything to do with genealogy (relatedness) but could just as easily result from random mutations. They could be part of an innate friend-or-foe identification system—a rather coarse-grained one, that may have evolved at a time when hominids first progressed beyond bands and tribes and started forming the first ethnic groups.
This hypothesis may seem outlandish at first, but upon consideration it explains enduring conflicts much better than do any of the other factors—ideological, cultural, religious or economic. Consider the Thirty Years' War which ravaged Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. Reading historical accounts of it makes it sound as if a set of obtuse theological arguments (far too obtuse for most of the participants to grasp) was resolved largely by slaughtering innocent civilians—an odd way to hold a scholastic disputation. But looking at the result an altogether different purpose becomes clear: that of delineating and separating incompatible ethnicities.
This incompatibility became clear in the New World. On the one side we have the Catholic Europeans (the Spanish, the Portuguese and, to a lesser extent, the French) who happily went native, intermarrying with native tribes and forming new, racially and ethnically fused nations such as the Mexicans, the Brazilians, the Cubans and so on. On the other side we have Northern European, Protestant Europeans (the English, the Germans, the Scandinavians, the Dutch and the Belgians) who refused to intermarry and insisted on forming highly segregated societies that persist to this day.
Acceptance of exogamy by the Catholics and insistence on endogamy by the Protestants (even unto the promulgation of racist laws against "miscegenation" in the US which were highly regarded and emulated by the German Nazis) cannot be accounted for by differences between Catholic and Protestant religious dogma, since these tendencies persist among the religious and the nonreligious alike. A far simpler explanation is that the Northern Europeans are internally compatible but largely incompatible with other groups while the Southern and Eastern Europeans are compatible with a much larger group. The superficial coincidence between ethnic compatibility and Protestantism/Catholicism is an artifact of the Thirty Years' War and similar historical accidents.
What makes the understanding of ethnic compatibilities and incompatibilities important is that if they are ignored the result is a phenomenal amount of mayhem, murder and strife. Incompatible ethnic groups can thrive side by side provided they stay separate and cultivate a healthy respect for The Other. (The plantation economy of the US antebellum South, where a large number of Africans toiled on behalf of a tiny group of Europeans, is hardly such an example). Compatible ethnic groups fuse together through intermarriage and form new nations with no special effort required.
But history attests that mashing incompatible ethnic groups together through an enforced ideology, be it religious or secular in nature, produces very poor results. Yes, it is possible to boost the rate of intermarriage by shaming those who exhibit racist tendencies while rewarding those who intermarry as a way of signaling their virtuousness, and on the surface the resulting society does not appear broken. What breaks is its sense of itself. Being among compatible people, who accept you and whom you accept unconsciously and unconditionally, creates a sense of harmony and well-being, convincing you that the world is a good place and is to be nurtured and celebrated.
But being forced to live among incompatible people, whose acceptance of you, and yours of them, is based on an enforced ideology of sameness contradicted at every turn by your innate sense, creates a sense of disharmony and malaise, leading you to believe that the world is an evil place to be cleansed and purged of all that is offensive, be it your government, your neighbors or ancient statues. The resulting ethnos is a chimera—a nonviable composite entity that is ever in search of a means to destroy itself. The ideologies it generates range from nihilism to violent anarchism, from secessionist movements to revolutionary ones, from apocalyptic cults to devil-worship and from gang rape to cold-blooded mass murder. In historical events such as the Spanish Inquisition or Stalin's purges, it is a waste of time to look for rational reasons for them. But if instead we examine them as resulting from clashes between incompatible ethnic groups, then a much clearer picture emerges.
One of the advantages of this approach over trying to pick apart complex and largely irrelevant questions of history, religion, culture and so on is that it can be based on readily available statistics: rate of intermarriage and viability of outcome (in terms of productivity and positive outcomes of the resulting family units). The inability to identify the organic mechanism underlying ethnic differentiation and incompatibility is, of course, a problem. But perhaps this mechanism will eventually be found, once enough evidence has been collected and cross-correlated with DNA samples. In the meantime, there is much more that is already understood about the nature of ethnos as an aspect of the Earth's biosphere.
I will have more to say on this topic in the next installment. In the interim, I propose that there is just one safe and valid way to act when you sense another's otherness: respect the otherness of others—and try to leave them well alone. Set aside your ideology of "humanity as a whole" (should you have one) for it will only cause trouble.