I live in the Bronx, where yesterday a horrible terrorist plot was foiled.
Domestic terrorists. They were angry about Afghanistan so they decided to kill some Jews. Only a terrorist sees the logic in that. One of the two synagogues they planned on blowing up houses a large preschool which is open to the entire community. How killing Bronx three year olds will solve a problem in Afghanistan is something beyond my imagining.
Can science help explain it?
Evolutionarily speaking, we are built from older, simpler animals. New structures develop out of old ones. Civilization provides ritualized ways to deal with our very ancient drives – to eat, to defend ourselves, to beat out rivals, to procreate. War is even ritualized in many ways. Uniforms, code words, chain of command. The mammals we were when dinosaurs walked the earth had no idea of any of that.
There must be an evolutionary explanation for why people hate so blindly, so fully, and so destructively.
ScienCentral News has touched on the topic with stories on research investigating whether there’s something different about a killer’s brain, or if it’s something in the genes. (Of course, one does not exclude the other.)
Sharon Begley, a science writer for the Wall Street Journal, wrote a nice summary of research showing how we are born instinctively classifying other people into “us” versus “them.” It turns out we can manipulate who us versus them is to a certain extent.
Other research has shown that simply knowing the geography and physical proximity of “us” versus “them” may be all you need to predict when a region erupts into violence and war.
And in brain scanner studies, it turns out that hatred shares neural circuitry with love. (check this out for a brief description of the paper) So once you decide to hate someone who is not one of “us,” that passion can become pretty consuming, like love.
Wars hardens hatred. I spent a couple of years studying what causes political reconciliation after war when I was an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Diplomacy Fellow in the mid 1990s. We were worrying about the aftermath of Rwanda, the Bosnian war, and the imminent implosion of Haiti at the time, in addition to all the other usual wars and simmering, not-quite-but-almost wars. We found that when people stopped worrying so much about their safety and security, when they had a reasonable chance of economic survival, and things like that, it helped. But it was not enough. You needed people on both sides to be convinced that the war was over and the other guys were not about to come and get you. You needed to see or hear images that could only happen if peace was breaking out. After that, new ties need to get made.
None of this is shocking, is it? What is shocking is how fragile every step is, and how easily people can fall back into killing each other.
I wondered then and I wonder now – how can we understand each other better, how can we understand our minds and hearts well enough to prevent hatred and violence?
One approach is taken by a couple of Franklin Award winners. Click the links below to see how they use artificial intelligence and other computer technologies to help promote better understanding.
What do you think – how can science helps us understand and combat hatred best?Stumble | Share on Facebook | Tweet This |