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Why Do People Dislike Other People So Much?

Tony Lavely

September 17, 2013

Category: Philosophy and Religion > Belief Systems

It seems like a contradiction to welcome diversity of all types, only to see the animosity and even violence that people of different beliefs perpetrate upon one another.  Whether it's politics, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual persuasion, the air and the airwaves are full of accusation and vitriol, not to mention bullets and bombs.  I've been trying to understand why this is so, and why it seems to be getting worse by the decade.

At a Class Council meeting last year, Tony Lee recommended a book to me, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard.  It went a long way toward helping me understand the fundamentally tribal origins of this country, even as the US is still thought of as a "young country."  As I have lived in a number of different regions (Northeast, Midwest, South) and spent time in 47 of our 50 states, I can readily see these differences. To gain a deeper understanding, I read another book (and reciprocated by recommending it to Tony Lee) entitled, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.  Haidt shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals and conservatives have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right.  He argues that conservatives actually have a wider moral basis for their beliefs than liberals.  This was not exactly what I was expecting to learn!

Neither of these books provides a basis for the apparent increase in, and an intensification of, divisiveness and animosity among people of differing beliefs.  I think this trend is the result of the Internet with its Moore's Law of exponential increase in the capabilities of many digital electronic devices.  Accordingly, the speed with which information, opinions, and beliefs can be communicated is instantaneous.  Like-minded groups can then rally around a code of beliefs and attack those who don't subscribe. The recent reach of mobile devices and social networks to all parts of the globe gives these phenomena the power to divide, corrupt, and deceive, as well as the benefits they provide. Combine this speed of communication with money in American politics (as classmate Bob Kaiser argues so persuasively in his wonderful book, So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government), it's no wonder that politicians don't want to take risky positions.

Clearly, we are never going to return to the days of the Pony Express, so is heightened conflict inevitable? Will tribes and money prevail, driving the level of attacks and violence even higher? We were taught that religion is the basis for morality and improvement in human behavior, yet so much of religion today sets conflicts in motion all over the world.  I don't have an answer, and that makes me pessimistic about the future.