When gray tones disappear
People have always performed a mental procedure that is called pigeonholing – that is, lumping certain people together into a few types of categories or mental boxes. In the simplest form of this mental procedure, there are only two categories, two mental boxes, which are often stamped as “the good” and “the bad”, respectively. The trend for such an overly simplified outlook seems to be on the rise. One possible cause may be that people can no longer cope with the complexity of society due to information overload. Or, as it has been formulated, people can´t bear complexity. Another possible cause is the proliferation of ideological echo chambers on social media.
The trend to pigeonhole some groups as all-bad and others as all-good is seen in many fields. For instance, there is a trend to classify some ethnic groups as all black and some groups as all white (not in skin color, but in moral standing). Previously, many Europeans considered themselves as clever and civilized and looked on other people in foreign continents as primitive and barbaric. Today, this view has been reversed 180° among the “politically correct”. Those groups of people who have built our modern, prosperous civilization are now seen as all-black. They are seen as responsible for all bad that happened in the past and all that is bad today. Those who did not build modern society, on the other hand, are seen as good and innocent.
It is erroneously believed that only people of European origin can be racist. This belief disregards that all ethnic groups that are in a position of power tend to have racist opinions of other groups, especially of those that are not in power.
Take for instance the widespread conception of the “noble savage”. The noble savage is depicted as someone with spiritual insight or wisdom, who lives with little aggression and conflict, lives in harmony with nature, and often has a high moral standard. This is all seen in contrast to modern Western civilization.
We may think for instance of the native Indians of the plains of North America, to whom bison hunting was fundamental to the economy of their society. Their utilization of the bison stock seems to have been in harmony with the survival of stable bison populations. But then came the white man, and within a few decades he hunted the bison to near extinction. So, in this set-up, we have the native people who lived in harmony with nature and had done so for thousands of years and the evil white people who destroyed everything on their way to total domination.
Reality is different, however. The native Indians had no inherent tendency to live in a sustainable relationship to natural resources. Since the end of the last ice age, 43 species of large mammals have gone extinct in North America; they nearly all died out after humans invaded the continent for the first time at the end of the last ice age. The extremely rich fauna of the large plains disappeared almost completely – horses, camels, mastodons, mammoths, some species of bison, ground sloths, and many others. The data indicate that the explanation for this is not climate change, and not disappearance of food plants. It is human hunting. Of all the most useful animals that the Indians could hunt and eat, only one species of bison survived. The ancestors of the Indians had exterminated the others. Then came the Europeans, who, along with native Indians to some degree, nearly exterminated even these bison. But some Europeans also had concepts of conservation, and at the eleventh hour they preserved the last bison as a deliberate act.
The same massive exterminations have happened in many parts of the globe. In South America, no fewer than 62 species of large mammals went extinct, apparently due to human hunting, not to climate changes. In Australia, some remarkable large mammals went extinct shortly after the first humans arrived there.
And if there were no large mammals to hunt down, large flightless birds were exterminated instead. This is happened in Madagascar. And in New Zealand, the large moas were eradicated by the Maori , which contradicts popular claims that before the arrival of the Europeans, the Maori lived in a sustainable relationship with nature. Everywhere on the globe, humans invading new territories exterminated large birds or mammals. The lack of ability to manage natural resources wisely is global.
The same is true when it comes to preservation of vegetation. Think of Ethiopia. Historically, forests have been very important for the households of Ethiopian people. They used trees for lumber and for fuel. They also made traditional medicines from trees and other forest plants, and forests were important in Ethiopian religious beliefs. But today, less than 14% of the country is covered by forest. This is not due to any influence from foreign civilizations. Ethiopians have been independent for thousands of years, except for a few years around 1940.
Some tribes of people are relatively peaceful, whereas others are aggressive and belligerent. People living in isolated areas with few attacks from hostile neighbor tribes, with stable climate conditions and few natural disasters, are typically relatively peaceful and have little inclination to submit to strong, aggressive rulers. In the opposite situation, people are focused on producing many children to compensate for losses, and they more readily submit to strong leaders and to strict rules. There is no particular trend that particular races are more belligerent than others. Peaceful as well as belligerent and imperialistic populations may be found anywhere on the globe.
It is probably an innate trend in humans to try to expand their territory, if necessary at the expense of others. Everywhere on the globe, populations that have been sufficiently fertile and clever to expand into new territories have replaced other populations that originally lived there. For instance, in Hokkaido in Japan, the original Ainu people are nearly extinct now and have been replaced by Japanese.
In Rwanda in Africa, the original inhabitants were a type of pygmies, the twa people, who lived in the forests. About 1,000 to 2,000 years ago, the area was invaded by the hutus, a tribe of bantu people, who were farmers. They cleared forests, thereby driving out twa pygmies, and also imposing their culture and language on the twa. About the 15th century, a pastoralist people, the tutsi, immigrated into the area and gradually took away land ownership from the hutus. During the genocide in 1994, many of the few remaining twa people were killed or forced to flee, and today they – the original inhabitants – make out less than 1 % of the population.
Similarly in the southern parts of Africa, the original inhabitants were san and khoi people. In major parts of southern Africa, these were gradually displaced by invading bantu people who invaded the region 1,000-2,000 years ago, long before also Europeans arrived and contributed to the decline of the san and khoi people. During the time of European colonization, not only Europeans, but also bantu people killed khoi and san people en masse.
In the Chatham Islands east of New Zealand, European settlers lived in relative harmony with the original inhabitants, the Moriori, who had a peaceful culture. But in 1835, a group of Maori people from New Zealand, with their much more belligerent culture, went by ship to the Chatham Islands in order to colonize them. They immediately took the land from the original inhabitants, killing off many of them, and forbidding the rest to marry each other, thereby effectively eradicating the original Moriori population.
Some religions aim at making people more kind and peaceful. Christianity urges people not to kill others and to be kind to their enemies. This did not prevent the Spanish conquistadors from decimating native Indians in Central America, and to do so in the name of God. Buddhism is usually considered to be a peaceful religion, but this has not prevented Buddhists in Myanmar from driving out the Muslim Rohingyas.
The keeping of slaves has been widespread in many parts of the globe. For instance, the native inhabitants of North America kept slaves. Arabs have kept and traded black slaves for thousands of years, much longer than the Europeans. It is ironic that some American black people take on a Muslim identity as a sort of protest against the mainstream Christian culture, considering that Muslims historically have been more active slave traders than Christians.
The increasing focus on identity politics has made it ever more common for black people at American universities to claim some sort of moral superiority based on their victim identity. Because their ancestors were oppressed by white people, they argue that white people, having formerly been slave owners, are morally inferior.
I agree that slave ownership makes you morally inferior. But things are not just black and white.
First, many people of European descent sacrificed their lives in the fight against slavery. The American Civil War was a war about abolition of slavery, and the white casualties were enormous. 360,000 people from the North died in the war (and about 200,000 from the South ). So, huge numbers of white people died in the defense of the human rights of black people.
Second, the living conditions of black people in the USA today are better than those of black people descending from liberated slaves elsewhere. Consider what happened when liberated slaves went back to Africa and founded the state of Liberia. Today, their descendants are being suppressed by other black tribes. After a military coup and a civil war, the GDP per capita in Liberia plummeted to the third lowest in the world. The country is still plagued by poverty and extensive corruption.
Or consider Haiti. Inspired by the French Revolution, black slaves started a revolution against the French slave owners in 1791. In 1803, the French were finally defeated. Many people of European descent died during the revolution, and most of the rest were executed or fled afterwards. Since then, Haiti has been governed by black and mulatto people. It is now one of the poorest and most badly governed nations in the world. This is in contrast to the neighboring state of the Dominican Republic, with a population mainly of mixed race, and also with many people of European descent.
Altogether, the descendants of liberated black slaves today have the worst living conditions in those countries that are governed by black people. The conception that white people are all bad suppressors, and black people are all innocent victims, does not fit with reality. Reality is not black and white.
When there was an outbreak of ebola in West Africa in 2013-2014, local people and local authorities were unable to fight it. The epidemic threatened to become a massive humanitarian disaster. But the import of Western health care workers with their advanced logistics helped contain the epidemic, and by an intense research effort, medicine against the virus was developed. This effort was a help from the Western world to Africa. But such positive actions are rarely mentioned in ordinary debate. Ordinary debate is often a hate campaign against all the evil things that men of European descent have caused.
Summing up, human nature has good and evil aspects, and the evil aspects are not confined to particular groups of people or particular races. You can find something good to say about any group of people, and you can find something bad to say about any group of people. Any discourse along the line that some populations are mostly evil, and others are mostly innocent or good, is misleading. All you can do is to discuss whether certain groups of people in certain aspects are generally a little worse, or a little better, than others. To discuss the merits and flaws of different groups of people in terms of black and white will always be misleading. The only sensible discussion acknowledges mixtures of black, gray, and white.
Historically, many civilizations have gone through phases of expansion, stagnation, and ultimately decline. The expansive phase is characterized by a certain cultural mode that has been denoted as regal . In a regal culture, there is an overall goal of adhering to ancient virtues in order to uphold a strong society. There is a focus on building strong families that produce children so that the population can grow and expand. This means that heterosexuality and stable family units are important, whereas all deviations from this, such as homosexuality, prostitution, or sex with random partners just for pleasure, are banned. People feel that they live for this society and work for the common good, and they willingly submit to a strong ruler – some kind of “king” (hence the word “regal”, derived from “rex”). All aspects of culture, architecture, etc. – follow relatively rigid rules, just as people generally live their lives according to relatively rigid rules.
In recent decades, and especially in the last few years, many people living in Western civilization have turned against the regal aspects of our culture. There is an increasing animosity against precisely those aspects of Western civilization that have made it so successful, so dominant and so proliferating in the past. For instance, some people turn against heterosexuality as an ideal. Historically, the marked progress of Western civilization was and is especially due to the efforts of men, and such men are increasingly hated. For instance, the technical and natural sciences, which are still dominated by men, are increasingly being criticized for being inhuman and carried out by cold men who lack empathy. The general discourse in society today is to focus on all the bad things that men of European descent have done – war, exploitation of colonies, environmental degradation etc. – and to ignore all the good things that they have also done – e.g. the invention of household machines that freed women form tedious household chores, the production of all infrastructure, and the dissemination all over the globe of modern medicine.
The recent trend at universities in Western countries of depicting all colored people as innocent victims and all white people as despicable oppressors has reached a level of wildly exaggerated pigeonholing. White men especially are being derogated to an extent that has the character of reverse racism and sexism.
In large feminist circles, the view on men, especially white men, has become extremely black-and-white. It is ironic that women in great numbers love reading a fictional book with the title “Fifty Shades of Grey”, considering that some other women, especially feminists, tend to lump all men together in the black box, and all women together in the white box, and eliminate all gray tones from their mind.
To illustrate this trend, I will mention three examples. First, some feminist scientists encourage their colleagues not to cite papers authored by white men. Second, some feminist academics express an extraordinary hatred against men. A female professor stated publicly in a large American newspaper that it is OK to hate men in general , and a female associate professor tweeted that white men deserve miserable deaths – their corpses should be castrated and fed to swine. It is not surprising that radical feminists say such things. What is remarkable is that no disciplinary actions were taken against these tenured academics for saying them. Third, a YouGov study in Britain in 2015 asked people for their attitudes toward 48 different ethnic, age and gender groups. One group was considered much less likely than others to possess five positive qualities and to abstain from five negative activities. This group was white men in their 20s. They were evaluated far lower than people of higher age, lower than women, and lower than people of other ethnicities. So that exact group of people that has historically made the largest contribution to progress – young white men – is today the most derided group. It seems that in Western civilization, we have started to deride the very people that have up until now made this civilization successful.