Being retired, I daily indulge myself in several harmless vices. Possibly these are a waste of time. Yet I seem compelled to do them. One vice involves solving two or three crossword puzzles per day. Almost as an addiction, I scan four newspapers while having my morning coffee. This isn’t the best way to start a new day. The news seems uniformly grim. In addition to natural disasters, famines and politico-economic upheavals the world is full of strife. Shiites are killing Sunis in the near East. Hindus and Moslems are warring over Kashmir. Religion based conflict continues in the Sudan. The Moslem Uigers are attempting to throw off the yoke of the Han Chinese. Jews and Palestinians continue their low level war. Almost all of these conflicts arise from differences of ideas. Humans appear not only eager but willing to kill those who believe or look differently from themselves.

Here in the west we attribute these disturbances to primitive cultures and tribalism. It is easy to forget the inquisition, the slaughter of Huguenots and Albigenses, the bloody crusades and the religious wars of previous centuries. In modern times we could focus on the fratricidal wars between Ulster and Erin or between Jews and arabs Smaller scale tribalism extends to the world of sports. Riots erupt at soccer games. Here in Los Angeles fans of one team almost beat to death a man who was wearing a shirt of the rival team.

One facet of tribalism is the concept of race. Although all of us are biologically homo sapiens, differences in skin color and physiognomy partially define us. Racism is not unique to American or the West (in fact my travels convinced me that America is one of the least racist countries on earth.) Prejudice based on race seems to be universal. Brahmins regard the darker skinned untouchable as almost subhuman. I have heard Chinese denigrate the Uigers . Kikuyus call the Masai uncivilized. Most cultures have derogatory terms for groups other than themselves and make denigrating jokes about them. Perhaps we are not so different from other social mammals who are protective of their own group but wary or hostile toward members of an out group. A strange lion who attempts to enter a pride that is not his own risks life and limb. Racism and tribalism are likely hard wired in humans and evolved as a survival mechanism for the species. Our instincts tell us to be wary of persons who seem different from us. They may be dangerous. This is further fostered by voluntary isolation of the in group from other groups. Feelings of superiority toward those different from ourselves helps to maintain the separation.

In no way do I wish to condone racism by these comments. I only want to create awareness that it exists and seems universal. It is not solely an American problem. It also appears to have ancient evolutionary roots. To combat its destructive aspects requires continuous reinforcement of the idea that all men are brothers and equals. I will make further comments in my next blog.

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