Is Bigotry Intrinsic? Much has been done in Ireland in recent years to reform our laws and reshape social norms to reflect a new set of values sought by the majority – values of tolerance, pluralism and inclusivity. But reminders of the stubborn persistence of prejudice and hatred in our society are never far away.
These are the issues that concern many people after a week of shocking reminders that the specter of violent homophobia has not gone away. Far from it. Just ask Evan Somers, the 23-year-old rugby player who was the victim of an unprovoked attack in Dublin city centre.
From the facts we know about the case, Somers seems to have found himself on the receiving end of a random stranger’s brutal homophobic anger. He recalls being called a “faggot” and other insults during an ongoing assault in which he suffered a fractured eye socket and two fractured ankles.
Speaking from the hospital, he referred to an unacknowledged epidemic of bigotry directed against his community.
“I think it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that Ireland is this perfect, kind of small, accepting country,” he said in a radio interview.
“In many ways it is – the marriage equality referendum and everything in 2015 was obviously amazing, but it’s easy to think the story ends here or the fight ends there, but clearly we still have a long way to go.” us.”
He called for a change in the law, currently being accelerated by Attorney General Helen McEntee, which would mean that violent crimes deemed motivated by bigotry or prejudice would be defined as aggravated and therefore carry higher penalties.
Describing his recent experience as a kind of loss of innocence, he said: “I think it’s a lot more common than I ever would have believed before this weekend.”
Perhaps uniquely in Ireland, there has recently been an optimistic mood about the goal of social progress, that the goal of reforming society to make it more egalitarian, less misogynistic, less bigoted and less violent is achievable and within our reach .
We have witnessed so much positive change first hand over the past few years that confronting these incidents feels deeply disorienting – reminders of a powerful and destructive collective ID still at work despite our best intentions.
After the Evan Somers case, the incredulous refrain in the media and social media mirrored the comment he himself had made.
“It’s 2022!” he said. “You shouldn’t be attacked for being different in any way.”
But of course, the notion that progress in this country will be an orderly march toward a more enlightened future is both utopian and naïve. Recent research on the origins of prejudices about difference suggests that they are ingrained and have an evolutionary basis.
Distrust and even hostility towards individuals belonging to another social group is a behavior common to all human societies as well as other social primates such as rhesus monkeys.
According to evolutionary psychologists, there is overwhelming evidence that the human brain is “wired for prejudice.” This does not mean that narrow-mindedness is a persistent problem that we should not change, but rather that adapting to a new way of living together is a longer, more drawn out and more ambitious process than we might hope. However, there is solid evidence that progress is not only possible, it is real. This evidence also comes from the fields of anthropology and evolutionary psychology.
In his book The world until yesterdayGeographer and author Jared Diamond, explains that not long ago in human history, any encounter with an outsider of a person’s known social group almost inevitably erupted in violence—the status of outsider itself was viewed as significantly threatening to justify an attack.
A long-term view of human history offers reassurance that progress towards a gentler society, while not linear, is the path we are taking. While it’s true that humans are hardwired to respond to perceived threats or to assert their dominance with physical violence, the beast in us, while still there, has no doubt been pacified and tamed over millennia of evolution. Not only is it possible for us as a species to become more prosocial, tolerant, and less violent—this process has been a central feature of human evolution.
We are appalled, and rightly so, by violent, unprovoked attacks on others based solely on their differences. They create a culture of fear, of persecution for the affected groups and raise the specter of mindless mob violence.
Legal reform will help minorities feel safer. But despite these setbacks and their dire consequences, there is reason to be optimistic about a more tolerant society in the future.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/we-can-conquer-prejudice-and-hate-41560018.html We can overcome prejudice and hatred