Them vs. Us
This was something I have thought of blogging about in the past, but never got around to. But recently, The Language Guy did a post called The Last Bastion of PC Prejudice and it got me thinking about this topic again.
His post was only partly related to this topic, but in it he talks about how our prejudices can be exercised against other groups by making politically correct (sounding) statements disparaging how others speak. In short, this provides a polite (sounding) mechanism for attacking another social class or ethnic group.
His discussion reminded me about a thought I have often had about how we instinctively--is it really an instinct?--divide the world into them and us. And, more specifically, how in some cases we seem to have certain common indexes for making the decision about who is them and who is us. And language is one of those indexes.
Look at it this way. Let's suppose that we evolved this tendency in order to survive in our cave man days. Now I don't have any idea if that is actually what happened, but let's say it is for argument's sake. Let's say we needed a way to differentiate between groups whose collective DNA we want to help preserve and groups whose DNA we should be hostile to. Well, if we don't have common indexes, then differentiating becomes very haphazard.
Let's say for example, that we have 4 cavemen, Fred and Barney who are part of the Bedrock community, and Og and Zog who are members of the Cave Bear Clan. If there is no common index for determining who is a member of us and who is a member of them, then it all becomes very haphazard, and social groupings become difficult to manage. Let's say, for example, that Barney differentiates us-ness vs. them-ness based on toe shape, and Fred bases his distinctions on beer preferences. In such a case, Fred and Barney would have a hard time determining who to be nice to and who to be hostile to. Fred and Barney would have a devil of a time coordinating hostilities because they couldn't be sure who is friend and who is foe. More importantly, since they don't share any common indexes to determine who is us and who is them, they would be completely unable to even maintain a distinct social group. If Og and Zog, by contrast, did maintain a common set of markers, then their social grouping would have an edge over that of Fred and Barney.
One thought that I find interesting is that it may not even matter too much what their indexes are, as long as they have common ones.
What all this has to do with the Language Guy's post is that, I suspect, we do have these common indexes, and language is one of the key ones. Of course, looks and grooming behaviors would be another. If language is a key index in determining them-ness vs. us-ness, then it seems likely that part of the reason we behave the way the Language Guy describes is that we have a special propensity to think that way.
Of course, it could be argued that I am providing a justification for such behavior as he describes (in his post) by suggesting that it is hardwired. Well, I suppose a person could interpret things that way, but the truth is, I do not condone prejudice. Rather, I am trying to fight it. Starting with myself. I am fighting it by trying to understand it.
I am not actually claiming that it is hardwired. More that it's softwired. I am suggesting that we may have a strong tendency to make distinctions, based largely on specific indexes, such as language and appearances, to treat some people as us, and to treat others as them. And we do this even when the basis for that distinction is not germain to the defence of the real needs of any important social groupings. In other words, we tend to treat others like outsiders, and with hostility, for really stupid reasons.
I am suggesting that we do this partly instinctively--without realizing--but we shouldn't. We needn't. It is part of our stupidity that we do this. It is a recognizable error that we can catch ourselves doing. Even if our instincts tend to lead us in this direction, our higher brains, our sense of decency, should steer us right again.
I wanted to give some examples, but as I often do, I have droned on without carefully planning my exit strategy. And it is now almost midnight so I just have to bring this to an unceremonious and abrupt end.
So in closing, let's just forget that I'm us and you're them. For tonight and tomorrow, let there only be us -- and you're included.
Spread the word.