This is a work under progress!
At the New York docks after World War I, my father once saw a job announcement that listed three levels of wage: the top pay was for whites, Italians earned a little less, and blacks the least of all. During that period, after one hundred years of welcoming immigrants from the four corners of the earth (the lines “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore” are inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty), racism was once again rearing its head. The tragic consequences of the upsurge of racism in Europe are, sadly, all too well known, but even in the United States eugenic proposals were politically very successful. These proposals aimed to improve the human species by encouraging reproduction of the “best” and reducing that of the “unsuitable.” In the 1920s, the eugenicists launched a press campaign and put pressure on Congress to pass racist laws and set up immigration quotas to limit entry into the United States of almost all immigrants, except northern Europeans (who, on the whole, were perfectly happy where they were and had no reason to emigrate). Complaining that many immigrants were mentally deficient, they cited IQ results to prove that immigration from southern and eastern Europe was filling the United States with savages.
The constant changes in power throughout history show how shifting it is and how difficult it is to keep for very long. Usually, success and power go hand in hand. The euphoric sensation of belonging to the world’s top nation, or at least one of them, with all the associated advantages, easily induces us to believe that this supremacy is objective, innate, destined to last, whereas in reality it is the result of clever and lucky policies that may well prove ephemeral. History shows that these fortunate periods don’t last-indeed, that they are destined to melt away, sometimes rapidly. With success gone, where does that leave the alleged superiority? It no longer has one sound argument in its favor. It is unthinkable that in the few generations it takes for even the greatest civilization to decline, the genetic code of a people can change, perhaps as a result of racial inbreeding-in particular with blacks or Orientals-as Gobineau thought.This alleged biological superiority of the successful nations of the day, which no one can prove, stems from the confusion of culture or civilization with genetic makeup, and nation with population.
If people could choose their activity freely, making the most of their personal talents, we would have greater hopes of creating a secure and pleasant existence that not only encourages a variety of tastes, inclinations, and activities but also minimizes the injustice and cruelty repeatedly perpetrated around the world. History shows that civilizations flourish where variety of expression and very disparate contributions are exploited; they decline when intolerance and the inability to interact with those who are different prevail.Political, religious, and racial persecution daily fill the world stage. Racial persecution, which today is particularly acute, is even more monstrous than religious or political persecution, because if we cannot avoid violence from groups stronger than ourselves, at least in case of danger we can change or hide our politics or faith; but not our race.We all recognize the importance of knowing the past, because history holds the key to phenomena and expressions of human life that would otherwise appear incomprehensible. The biological history of humankind is that of its evolution, and cultural history is an integral part that has both influenced it and been influenced by it. The two must become inseparable if we wish to avoid our heartrending ocean of suffering. The animal part of our nature, often lacking in restraint, is responsible for many of these excesses, but our cultural history should teach us how to avoid them.Where can we find a guide in our doubt and consolation for misfortune when it strikes? The traditional source is religion, an activity that appears to distinguish humans from animals. We naturally mm to the faith we were taught from birth in a given region or social environment. Many rely on religion for comfort, but this does not always seem to create a better environment. On the contrary, each religion’s conviction that it is the sole repository of the truth has generated the worst conflicts of all. The respect felt for the religion that we happen to have inherited can hardly come from its dogmas, which are for the most part a useless, if not actively harmful, superstructure, nor from its history, which is checkered with violence and contradictions. On the contrary, it comes from the belief that the majority of religions share a common ethical substrate, also shared by many philosophies, which is simple, easy to grasp, and able to resolve most everyday moral issues. Many so called pagan peoples accept the same principles.At the end of the day, problems of individual moral behavior are relatively easy to solve on the basis of very few ethical principles, which more or less all of us do learn. Decisions of importance concerning a social group, or, worse, the whole of human society may present more difficult moral problems, and in addition, unusual technical ones, arising from the need to predict the long term consequences of an action. It is the responsibility of every human community to predict and prevent potentially dangerous uses of its economy, science, or technology, by developing prospective and preventive methods and early warning systems. This alone will allow us to achieve a more peaceful existence, and to enjoy the wealth and variety offered by the balanced development of human potential.
“Moral improvement can be understood in terms of what the philosopher Peter Singer calls ‘the expanding circle.’ People have steadily expanded the mental dotted line that embraces the entities considered worthy of moral consideration. The circle has been poked outward from the family and village to the clan, the tribe, the nation, the race, and most recently (as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) to all of humanity. This expansion has happened for a number of reasons. As people in more parts of the planet become economically interdependent, the hatred between them decreases, for the simple reason that you can’t kill someone and trade with him too. Our sympathy response can also be cranked up by new kinds of information demonstrating that other folks are similar to ourselves. Words and images from erstwhile enemies can make it impossible to continue to believe that they are subhuman. A historical record can warn against self-defeating cycles of vendetta. ….. An expansion of sympathy may come from something as basic as the requirement to be logically consistent (and hence taken seriously) when imploring other people to behave in certain ways. People come to realize that they cannot force others to abide by rules that they themselves flout. Egoistic, sexist, racist, and xenophobic attitudes are logically inconsistent with the demand that everyone respect a single code of behavior.”