2007-09-15

Doing body counts: limited by our evolutionary inheritance

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by Neil Godfrey

Evolving as we did in small close-knit bands, evolution appears to have failed to equip us with an instinctive universal moral compass when it comes to the fates of masses of foreigners. It seems only the more enlightened about the true nature of “masses of foreigners” can summon some level of outrage.

Imagine if the the only means by which citizens of the United States were informed about the total numbers of troop deaths they suffered in Iraq were from from polling surveys of U.S. households once a year. People would obviously wonder: Does no one care? What are they trying to hide?

Yet that is the only source available about the numbers of Iraqi deaths from war. Maybe no-one cares about Arab deaths or maybe “they” think it advisable to hide those.

The latest polling by ORB can be read here.

Last year’s Lancet poll can be read here. [Link is no longer active. See Wikipedia for references. 3rd August 2015]

One particularly obscene feature of this obscene fact is that so many fundamentalist Christians who zealously support the neo-cons lust for war in the Middle East are as ignorant of and immune to compassion for Arabs as Moses and his god were for anti-authoritarian Israelites and those foreign Midianites, Amalekites and Canaanites.

It’s a little bit like saying that we have a right to hang a German officer who shoots a dozen civilians to save the lives of his men, but we can admire our technological progress and intelligent leaders who snuffed out tens of thousands of civilians in an instant — for the exact same rationale as the German officer’s murders — in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There’s something about masses that we are not evolved to handle intuitively. Recently the Australian government hired an SAS person to help ensure demonstrators did not get “out of hand” at the gathering of heads of governments at APEC. In a television interview he publicly said that demonstrators are well organized, placing the women and children in the front lines while those with the weapons are using them as shields by hiding in the rear. It was as if his flight or fight mode was turned on instantly by the sound of rustling of leaves in the night.

Having been to many such demonstrations and having helped organize some, I know not whether to laugh or cry at his fear and ignorance. Anyone on the Left who has attempted to organize rallies, movements, campaigns, knows damn well that organizing radical or free thinkers is like trying to fill a wheelbarrow full of hopping frogs or like trying to herd cats! 🙂

In the event the most serious arrests made seem to have been one person for jaywalking, another for squirting tomato sauce on others, and some for masquerading as an official motorcade for a bloke dressed up like Bin Laden and all carrying passes prominently stamped “This is a hoax! This is a false pass!” and making it through two security areas up to President Bush’s hotel! I wonder if the SAS person will ever wake from his nightmares, however.

But wouldn’t it be nice if fundamentalist Christians could help out in humanity’s need for moral progress by throwing out those Bible verses that enjoin separating themselves from “the forces of darkness” and shining the torches of their own humanity and seeing how much they have in common with those on the other side too.

(I used to be a kind of fundamentalist Christian once and in hindsight I’m ashamed to admit my prayers and beliefs surely did or freely permitted far more harm than I could ever once have admitted.)

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Neil Godfrey

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