Monday, April 11, 2011

Evolution of prejudice: Study reveals racism in MONKEYS

Racial, ethnic and religious prejudice may lie in our evolutionary past, according to new research using monkeys. Several experiments have found the animals were more wary of outsiders and associated bad things with them. The research was conducted on the uninhabited Puerto Rico island of Cayo Santiago, which has a large rhesus monkey population.

Yale student Neha Mahajan led a team of psychologists to study their behaviour because like humans, monkeys live in groups and have strong social bonds.

Psychologists have always known many of our prejudices operate automatically, without us even being aware of them.

Tests on the monkeys showed that our tendency to see the world in terms of 'us' and 'them' has ancient origins.

Researchers measured the amount of time the monkeys stared at photographed face of an insider (part of the group) versus the outsider monkey. Across several experiments, they found that the monkeys stared longer at the faces of outsiders suggesting they were more wary, according to the Scientific American.

To ensure the monkeys weren't just curious, the team paired familiar outsider faces - monkeys that had recently left the group - with monkeys which had recently joined.

When presented with these pairs, the monkeys continued to stare longer at outsider faces, even though they were more familiar with them. The monkeys were clearly making distinctions based on group membership.

Mahajan and her colleagues devised an experiment to discover if the animals had negative feelings towards the outsiders. They paired the photos of insider and outsider monkeys with either good things, such as fruits, or bad things, such as spiders.

When an insider face was paired with fruit, or an outsider face was paired with a spider, the monkeys quickly lost interest. But when an insider face was paired with a spider, the monkeys looked longer at the photographs.

It was assumed the monkeys found it confusing when something good was paired with something bad. This suggests that monkeys not only distinguish between insiders and outsiders, they associate insiders with good things and outsiders with bad things.

Overall, the results support an evolutionary basis for prejudice, said the Scientific American.


The indispensable freedom of association and "discrimination"

by Jeff Jacoby

BRAD ASKS ANGELINA FOR A DATE, but she doesn't want to go out with him. Should she be legally free to turn him down?

I take it for granted that no one in America thinks the law ought to interfere with Angelina's freedom to say no. Whether she agrees to date Brad or not is a matter of complete indifference to the government. That's true regardless of her reason. She can reject Brad's suit because he's handicapped, or because he's Christian, or because he isn't tattooed. She can discriminate on the basis of race, religion, age, national origin, or table manners. When it comes to friendship and romance, freedom of association -- which by definition includes the freedom not to associate -- is absolute.

Freedom of association is a core human right, and not just when it comes to dating. It would be unthinkable for the government to meddle in our choice of sports team to root for, house of worship to pray in, or neighborhood to move to.

You are free to join a gay men's choir because you like being with gays, or to avoid gay pride parades because you don't like being with gays. You can volunteer for a political campaign, attend a cocktail party, go to the beach -- or not -- and your reasons may be admirable (the candidate's record of public service) or not so admirable (the candidate's skin color). The choice is yours. Other people may disapprove of what you choose or why you chose it, but the law gives them no authority to stop you.

Freedom of association should be valued as highly in our economic life as it is in our social life. When it comes to choices made by consumers, tenants, and employees, it usually is. The government cannot make you buy from a store you don't want to shop in -- and it doesn't matter whether your reason for avoiding it is that the prices are too high, the goods aren't American-made, or the owner is a Jew. The same is true for employees who don't want to work for an employer, or a tenant who declines to rent from a landlord. They are free to say no, and the law doesn't inquire into their motives.

That liberty should be a two-way street, but it isn't. Employers, for example, have nothing like unabridged freedom of association when it comes to hiring. You don't have to work for a woman if you don't want to, but a lawsuit awaits any employer who tries to exercise the same freedom. Federal and state laws ban discrimination on a wide array of grounds, and efforts to enlarge the list are never-ending.

US Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia introduced legislation last month making it illegal to discriminate against job applicants who are currently unemployed. A state legislator in Texas is pushing a bill that would outlaw discrimination against creationists. In Massachusetts, Maryland, and other states, transgender and transsexual activists want lenders, employers, and landlords barred from discriminating on the basis of "gender identity."

It's easy to understand the desire to protect individuals from being discriminated against unjustly. But are lawmakers truly equipped to decide which kinds of discrimination are reasonable and which aren't? Does Big Brother know better than the business owner whose bottom line is at stake whether a given applicant is right for a given job? If the government won't second-guess Angelina's decision not to date Brad or buy from Brad, why should it infringe on her prerogative not to hire Brad or rent to Brad?

Free and competitive markets aren't thought of as promoting tolerance and reducing bigotry, yet they do so far more effectively than ever-more-detailed civil rights regulations. Writing in the 1730s, Voltaire famously described the London Stock Exchange as a place "where the representatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mohammedan, and the Christian transact together, as though they all professed the same religion, and give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts." Gary Becker earned the 1992 Nobel Prize in economics in part for demonstrating that discrimination is economically detrimental -- free markets penalize an employer who discriminates for reasons unrelated to ability and productivity.

Freedom of association is indispensable to making a free society work. No culture is without unfairness. But where men and women are unfettered in their freedom to form or avoid relationships with others -- socially and economically -- tolerance and cooperation increase, and ugly prejudice recedes.


Maybe Britain needs a First Amendment, too

How did Britain reach a situation where newspaper columnists can be investigated by the cops for being offensive?

Last week it emerged that the Metropolitan Police are investigating the Spectator magazine following complaints from a Muslim group about comments made on a blog entry on its website by the Daily Mail journalist Melanie Phillips. Writing about the massacre, in the West Bank, of a three-month-old Jewish girl, her two brothers and her parents as they slept in their beds, Phillips referred to the murderers as ‘savages’ and to the ‘moral depravity of the Arabs’.

Phillips is not generally noted for even-handedness when it comes to writing about the Middle East. She is often polemical, some might even say tendentious, in her support of Israel. She is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, and perhaps you would include yourself in that. Perhaps you feel that she comes too close to smearing all Arabs. Perhaps you even think hers are the sort of views that should be investigated by the police. But then again, perhaps you don’t read her blogs and form your views of the rights and wrongs of faraway bloodshed from other sources. Perhaps you wonder what all the fuss is about.

There are echoes here of the case of another Daily Mail journalist, Jan Moir, who in 2009 upset a lot of people by appearing to attribute the death of the singer Stephen Gately to his lifestyle. Gately was gay. The Crown Prosecution Service eventually decided, about a year ago, not to prosecute Moir, but the whole episode conjured up bizarre images of crown officials poring over words and phrases in a newspaper opinion column for evidence of illegality.

And then there was the case, less well-publicised, involving Douglas Murray, another journalist. He was investigated by the Press Complaints Commission and the police merely for suggesting that the prosecution of an English councillor for telling a joke about an Irishman being a bit dim was ludicrous. And last year, too, a Liberal Democrat councillor was convicted under the 2006 Public Order Act for using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words, with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress’. Shirley Brown, who is black, had called a female Asian councillor, Jay Jethwa, a ‘coconut’, a colloquial term used to denote a person who is ‘brown on the outside and white on the inside’ - someone who has, in other words, betrayed his or her cultural roots by pandering to ‘white’ opinion.

But it’s not merely in print and in the debating chamber that solecisms can have repercussions: cyberspace also has its victims. Think of Paul Chambers, who was fined £3,000 and lost his job for tweeting, in jest, words to the effect that he would blow up an airport if its closure due to bad weather disrupted his travel plans. Or of Gareth Compton, the Tory councillor who was arrested in November when – after hearing the Independent’s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown argue on a radio programme that the West had no moral authority to condemn the practice of stoning women in the Muslim world – he asked his Twitter followers ‘Can someone please stone [her] to death?’, adding ‘I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.’

That some users of social media are discovering, to their detriment, that the online environment does not in fact mirror the domain of the private conversation down the pub was perhaps inevitable. But then, as the Sky Sports commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys – who lost their jobs for making off-colour remarks when they thought they were not being recorded - recently found out, even private conversation is no longer safe from censure.

What is going on? How did we arrive at a situation where giving offence is automatically sackable or worse? Surely the freedom to disagree with a comment or to ignore it is enough. When it is suggested that certain points of view or ways of expressing them might be or should be illegal – or that intolerance should not be tolerated, to purloin the common malapropism – a notion that should chill anyone who holds the principles of liberal democracy dear is given life: the notion of thought crime. Freedom of speech was hard-won in the West; the freedom only to speak inoffensively is no freedom at all.

If UK prime minister David Cameron seemed to grasp this when he spoke of the merits of ‘muscular liberalism’ earlier this year, it is a pity that his government’s Protection of Freedoms Bill – an Act which has been making its way through parliament since last summer and which it is intended will extend freedom of information, turn back the tide of state intrusion into our lives and repeal unnecessary criminal laws – makes no attempt to return free speech to its rightful place at the altar of democracy.

The Lib-Con coalition government may well be less authoritarian than the Labour one that preceded it, but in a way we are still suffering the hangover from New Labour and the ideals it pressed into service when it ditched socialism: diversity, equality, respect. Among the 4,300 new offences put into statute under Labour were those governing ‘hate speech’, or the giving and taking of offence. First came legislation on racial and religious hatred; later, protection was extended to gay, transgender and disabled people. Doubtless heightened sensitivity about Islam in the wake of 9/11 played its part: the Religious Hatred Act of 2006, for instance, extended outdated blasphemy laws to afford people of all faiths, including Jedis, recourse against things they don’t like hearing said or seeing written.

One of the results has been a new culture of fastidious censoriousness in every public body, human-resource department and media organisation in the land. Furthermore, the giving of offence need not be intentional, nor the words (or cartoons) themselves possessed of the propensity to give it in order for it to be taken. Never mind the freedom to speak offensively: people have been invited to believe there is such a thing as the right not to be offended. Never mind that ‘incitement to hatred’ is a grey, disputable thing, and a different thing to incitement to violence, which was already a criminal offence. Never mind that most ideas are capable of giving offence, and that Socrates, Galileo and Darwin were all considered beyond the pale in their time. And never mind that in the marketplace of ideas, ‘hate speech’ can be challenged, debated or ignored. What we now have is moderated free speech at best.

That distinction between incitement to hatred and incitement to violence is a crucial one for Peter Tatchell, one of this country’s most tireless and principled human rights campaigners. When I spoke to him last year he had recently been in the news for defending the rights of Christian preachers hounded by the law over homophobic hate-speech crimes. One American Baptist evangelist, Shawn Holes, was fined £1,000 for telling shoppers in Glasgow city centre that homosexuals were bound for hell; Tatchell, who is gay himself and renowned for his campaigning on behalf of gay rights, called it ‘an attack on free speech and a heavy-handed, excessive response to homophobia’.

He had also spoken up for the five Islamists convicted of showering abuse at British soldiers at a ‘homecoming’ march in Luton, but had elsewhere called for sanctions on extremists who incite violence – including Abu Usamah, who was shown in a Channel 4 undercover documentary advocating the killing of gays and Muslims who leave their faith. But there was no contradiction, he insisted. ‘If someone says “I want to encourage people to plant bombs in Princes Street in Edinburgh”, then that’s pretty clear incitement to violence’, he told me. ‘Saying “I sympathise with al-Qaeda” is not, on the other hand.’

While that view may not be likely to find favour with mainstream political opinion, muscular liberal or otherwise, it makes sense from a First Amendment perspective, if you’re talking American. Britain doesn’t have a First Amendment, of course, but it did produce John Stuart Mill, who wrote in 1859 that ‘there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered’. The limits of such liberty should be defined by the ‘harm principle’, he said, not by social offence. In other words, dealing with offence is part of being a grown-up in a grown-up society.

Liberals nowadays seem to have lost the stomach for such principles, however. The word ‘liberal’ itself has come to denote a much narrower set of ideas: vaguely leftish, environmentalist, irreproachably PC, pro-European, pro-Palestine, pro-Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Technology, meanwhile, may have helped to create a more informed and engaged citizenry, but it has also given a leg up to the power of mob rule. Online forums and message boards foster a culture of outrage, indignation and recrimination; they manufacture and mobilise offence.

The Lib-Cons’ Protection of Freedoms Act will flush away ID cards, biometric passports and the ContactPoint database of children in England. It includes provisions to restrict and regulate the use of surveillance powers, CCTV and the storage of internet and email records and it will restore rights to freedom of assembly, non-violent protest and trial by jury. It may prove to be a watershed moment for liberty in Britain. It could have been a much greater one. It is time to weigh again the value, as opposed to the price, of free speech.


Australia: State government Minister says burka is 'alien', prompting applause from Federal conservatives

THE federal opposition has backed a West Australian minister's controversial comments on the burka, saying the dress goes against Australian culture and should not be worn.

WA Minister for Women's Interests Robyn McSweeney sparked heated debate when she spoke out against the burka at the weekend, labelling it "alien" to Australia's way of life. "I'm saying that it's confronting when somebody's face is not showing and I personally think that they're being oppressed," Ms McSweeney told The Australian yesterday. "I would just love for them to have the freedom to show their faces."

Opposition parliamentary secretary for the status of women Michaelia Cash said the burka had nothing to do with religion because Islam stipulated modesty only, not the wearing of a face covering. She said the dress deprived women of their identity and isolated them from society. "It is inconsistent with our culture and values and I truly believe that women should not do it," she said.

Both Senator Cash and Ms McSweeney said they were not advocating legislation to ban the burka but wanted Australians to have a "conversation" about whether it should be worn.

But Liberal senator Cory Bernardi renewed his calls for a burka ban because the garment was a security threat and restricted social interaction. In Europe to monitor France's anti-burka law -- under which veiled women will be fined E150 ($205) from today -- he supported Ms McSweeney.

Minister for the Status of Women Kate Ellis said the government was not considering a burka ban and there were differing views about the covering. She said her view was that governments should support a person's choice in dress and encourage understanding of diversity.

Queensland Minister for Women Karen Struthers said Australians respected cultural traditions "as long as no one is being hurt". South Australian Minister for the Status of Women Gail Gago said there was no reason to influence a Muslim woman's choice if it were made freely.

WA opposition women's interests spokeswoman Sue Ellery claimed Ms McSweeney was playing the race card. Victorian opposition women's affairs spokeswoman Jill Hennessy accused Ms McSweeney of engaging in "dog whistle politics".



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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