Friday, 20 December 2013

PREJUDICE: North-South Division

The domain of human prejudice falls mostly in the domain of the social sciences, although the hard sciences also have an important say in this area. Clearly, the human proclivity of prejudice rooted in egoism and elitism, both innate and learned behavior must be analyzed to understand the human mind that discriminates. However, there is also the institutional and legal prejudice that feeds the innate in the human condition.  If a society has laws rooted in racial, ethnic, religious, gender, sexual orientation differences of minorities the entire society tends to conform, including individuals who would otherwise be opposed to such tendencies.

Prejudice is hierarchical, starting from the family, to the neighborhood, to the tribe, to the ethnic group and nation and to groups of nations. Racial-ethnocentric divisions have existed for centuries, although the modern form has its roots in the European era of the Commercial Revolution that launched an outward expansion adventure from Europe to the rest of the world. Prejudice, therefore, is subject to historical and cultural factors in a specific sociopolitical context that is both institutionalized and imbedded into the social consciousness.

Ancient Romans entertaining prejudice has nothing to do with 21st century Italians and their own circumstances that lead them to thought and behavioral patterns of prejudice, any more than prejudice by the North-West Europeans conquering much of the Southern Hemisphere. The question is whether in the 21st century the northern hemisphere, especially in North America and Europe is carrying on the legacy of colonialism when it comes to prejudice and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and religion. Considering that the victims of colonialism were people of the southern Hemisphere, and the colonizers from the northern, is there lingering prejudice rooted in a north-south divide? If this is the case, is such prejudice rooted in racial, ethnic, religious and cultural differences, or is it sheer opportunism and economic exploitation that uses race, ethnicity, religion and culture as a pretext to retain prejudiced attitudes?

The term "prejudice" refers to prejudging race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or lifestyle mode before knowing the facts of the case. Although prejudice is as old as civilization, it was not until the 19th century that a more systematic (or scientific, if one prefers the term) approach to the subject started. This is partly because there were biologists and doctors who adopted Social Darwinism and argued that whites are superior to non-whites not just in appearance but biologically as well. Discrimination by the majority at the expense of the minority population was purely political, economic and social, but justified by some of its apologists in the framework of pseudo-science, including Social Darwinism and other extreme theories of hatred that were institutionalized and an integral part of the law and society.

Within the broader term of "prejudice" is the phenomenon called Nativism, which existed in the US during the 19th century, but also in Eastern Europe during the interwar era when pro-Fascist movements and regimes became known as "Native Fascism". At the core of the Eastern European Balkan phenomenon was ultra nationalism under authoritarian regimes with Fascist-style policies. “Nativist” politics and prejudice of immigration are very old in both US and Europe, as are the arguments against immigration. The irony of all this is that the American colonists were invaders and destroyers of native cultures, as were the European Barbarians who migrated from Central Asia to colonize the continent.

As liberal democracies evolved to permit greater tolerance for women, as well as religious, ethnic, and racial minorities that constituted the majority of the population, although the institutional structure treated them as minorities, the legal system allowed for recourse of victims of prejudice. However, prejudice and discrimination are deeply rooted in a society, ingrained into the culture in such far reaching manner that there is a huge gap between what is legal and what is actual. The best evidence of this is the US that remained an apartheid society in practice, especially in the South, for an entire century, from the Civil War until the Civil Rights movement. Not that Europe was above ethnic racial and religious prejudice, considering that in the 19th and 20th century Europe had regimes - from Tsarist Russia to Nazi Germany - aiming at targeting minorities, in some cases totally eliminating them; and all along the majority population going along with such blatant persecution.

But that is far too distant, far too historical and unemotional to have any relevance in the present.
 If indeed the countries of origin would be developed on “self-sufficiency” models instead of globalization rooted in draining their resources and keeping them perpetually underdeveloped, then I would agree with the argument some have advanced against “temporary immigrants.” The fact that there is “permanent and temporary foreign labor” is proof that the countries of origin are not developed in large measure because they exist under exploitative models of integration. This is not to excuse the utterly corrupt public and private sectors of the “countries of origin” (invariably underdeveloped in Africa, Asia, and Latin America), but they do not operate separately and distinctly from the world capitalist economy.

Regarding the impact of private remittances, I agree about their positive value to the country of origin, and thank God remittances are something although they come with the hard work, deplorable living conditions, and exploitative wages of legal and illegal immigrants in the advanced capitalist countries. Be that as it may, are remittances a structural solution to fix the chronic problem? Nor do I believe that trickle-down economics, as the great John Kenneth Galbraith noted during the Reagan-Thatcher decade, works to do much for the lower classes of either poor or rich nations.

I think it is an insult to the millions of Mexicans in the US who have helped build the US economy in the past 200 years to dismiss them as gardeners and swimming pool cleaners for the rich, and to limit their vast and multifarious contributions to the US economy and social fabric. I believe kind well-intentioned people–whether politicians and intellectuals, or the corner drug store pharmacist in Cleveland or Paris, feel less secure when they see or hear about waves of immigrants threatening the status quo. I am not sure why people find it extraordinary that the poor–in this case poor immigrants–commit crimes, given that poverty is the real crime that capitalism precipitates.

And I am seriously concerned when people single out Muslims, Africans, Latin Americans, Asians, or any other group to prove their point about the evils of immigration, and then they ask for empirical evidence to prove that higher percentage of crime is caused by natives instead of immigrants. All of this implies there is something in the DNA of the immigrant that causes him to commit crimes, and that the environment is free of any responsibility. As an emotionally charged issue, especially in this decade after 9/11 and the US-western-led wars against Muslims, immigration on the surface is an easy target for all calamities people believe befall their country, not realizing that as “established natives” they are descendants of immigrants.

That ethnic, racial and religious prejudice is on the rise owing to the global economic crisis of 2008-present entails that a strong trend of ultra right wing groups has been gaining strength across Europe. This is evident by organizations that use the pretext of Muslim terrorism threat to justify anti-Islam hate speech and acts against Muslims whether they are recent immigrant, legal or illegal, as well as residents of Europe. Muslims as well as gypsies have become the scapegoats for all the ills of capitalist society falling apart because its financial structure has experienced enormous strains from within largely because of scandalous practices.

In January 2012, I wrote an article arguing that prejudice is caused by low intelligence. "Scholarly studies have shown that there is a correlation between prejudice of any type from race and ethnicity to gender and religious caused by ignorance, isolation - the absence of cultural diffusion - the environment, and low IQ. One recent study- Gordon Hudson lead psychologist -  emphasizes low intelligence, social conservatism and prejudice. In an era of the war on terror aimed against Islam, the topic of prejudice ought to concern the entire world, but the question is whether a scientist ought to place more emphasis on neuro-biological factors than psychological and environmental, or whether to adopt a holistic approach."

One could argue that a great deal of human behavior can be explained by low intelligence, including why people act against their own best interests.That is true enough, but when the victims of prejudice are primarily from the poor Southern Hemisphere, namely Africans, Asians and Latin Americans, while the perpetrators of prejudice are concentrated in the rich Northern Hemisphere, then the North-South divide is not just cultural, but economic that determines the cultural divide and accounts for the persistence of prejudice. The grossly unequal wealth distribution is at the root of of the North-South divide and prejudice that accompanies it.

Economic hegemony allows for cultural hegemony and permits the mind of those living in the Northern Hemisphere, even those impoverished to feel good about themselves that they are part of a "superior"area in comparison with the inferior Southern Hemisphere. Therefore, prejudice and discrimination are as economically determined as culture and account for the persistence of this divide in the last four centuries. The only saving grace for those in the Southern Hemisphere or with roots there is if their individual class status transcends their racial, ethnic, religious status. White Christians and Jews respect a Muslim from Indonesia who is millionaire and treat that individual with deference because of the wealth factor. At the same time, however, a factory worker in Bangladesh has less worth than the commodity she produces. Despite the emergence of economic strength in Asia and Brazil in the course of the 21st century, it is highly unlikely that the North-South prejudice divide will end. On the contrary, it will intensify as Europeans and North Americans will become even more prejudiced against immigrants from the Southern Hemisphere.

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