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The Human Race
       Prejudice is far too strong a force in our society. As Carl Sagan said in his introduction to The Outer Edge, “Prejudice is making a judgment before you have looked at the facts. Postjudice is making a judgment afterwards. Prejudice is terrible, in the sense that you commit injustice and you make serious mistakes. Postjudice is not terrible. You can’t be perfect of course; you may make mistakes also. But it is permissible to make a judgment after you have examined the evidence. In some circles it is even encouraged.” Life would be better if more people could take this perspective.
       William James noted that “the deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” At the same time, another all-too-true aspect of human nature is finding it easier to blame others for our shortcomings. Throughout history, despots have risen to power by collecting followers who appreciate pointing fingers at others. That is how Hitler and other despots gained power by blaming scapegoats. As Robert A. Heinlein stated in Revolt in 2100, “You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.”
       In a 1965 satirical message making fun of National Brotherhood Week*, Tom Lehrer sang “Oh, the white folks hate the black folks and the black folks hate the white folks. To hate all but the right folks is an old established rule.” All too often, this has been true for centuries for too many people. However, as Eldridge Cleaver pointed out, “The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less.”
       T.H. White, the author of The Once and Future King, died in 1964. The final chapter, The Book of Merlyn, was published posthumously in 1977. In it, he addresses this issue in an interesting manner: “We find that at present the human race is divided politically into one wise man, nine knaves, and ninety fools out of every hundred. That is, by an optimistic observer. The nine knaves assemble themselves under the banner of the most knavish among them, and become ‘politicians’; the wise man stands out, because he knows himself to be hopelessly outnumbered, and devotes himself to poetry, mathematics or philosophy; while the ninety fools plod off behind the banners of the nine villains, according to fancy, into the labyrinth of chicanery, malice and warfare. It is pleasant to have command…even over a flock of sheep, and that is why the politicians raise their banners. It is, moreover, the same thing for the sheep whatever the banner. If it is democracy, then the nine will become members of parliament; if fascism, they will become party leaders; if communism, commissioners. Nothing will be different, except the name. The fools will be still fools, the knaves still knaves, the result still exploitation. As for the wise man, his lot will be much the same under any ideology. Under a democracy he will be encouraged to starve to death in a garret, under fascism he will be put in a concentration camp, under communism he will be liquidated.”
       Other scholars have viewed the role of the ‘wise man’ differently. For example, Marie Curie said “you cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individual. To that end each of us must work for his own improvement and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity.” Dr. Albert Schweitzer noted “I do not know where you are going or what you will do in life, but I do know this: that you will never fulfill your potential or be really happy as human persons until you have learned how to serve others, especially in their human needs, wherever you go, whatever you do.”
       Some had a move negative perspective. H.G. Wells had the view that “human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” A century later, Stephen Hawking added that “unless we can use our intelligence to control our aggression, there is not much chance for the human race.” These views do hold the position that knowledge and intelligence can help save our future. However, this places a responsibility upon those who do not merely follow the crowd and the innate traits previously noted. This means that concerned individuals need to take active roles in what will occur.
       Society generally views race as a grouping of humans into identified categories based on shared physical or social qualities. The term originally referred to common languages and nationalities. Four centuries ago, it more often referred to physical traits, such as the color of skin. Scientifically, we are all only one race. I liked the view of Alexander McCall Smith in Tears of the Giraffe: “We are all children of Africa, and none of us is better or more important than the other. This is what Africa could say to the world: it could remind it what it is to be human.” When electronically filling out my census, there was an entry where I was asked to go through the list and mark my race. My decision was to mark the last box, labeled “other.” I then entered “human” on the blank line.
       * If you have never heard Lehrer’s song, I urge you to look it up on the Internet and listen to it – at least once.
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