In the Blink of an Eye

From philosophy professor Fred Feldman’s review of “Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity are Revolutionizing Our View of Human Nature”, by Douglas Kenrick, New York, Basic Books, 2011:

Chapter 4 (“Outgroup Hatred In the Blink of an Eye”) follows the same pattern. Kenrick begins (41-2) by describing an “attractive dark-haired” Jewish girl that he dated in his youth. His mother had not been to mass for over a decade “since divorcing my shiftless Mick of a father and marrying a Protestant”. (42) So Kenrick was surprised when his mother revealed her anti-semitism. In connection with Kenrick’s subsequent marriage to a Lutheran, his new mother-in-law revealed her “tribalism”. She wanted nothing less than a Scandinavian Lutheran for her daughter. In a beer-soaked discussion of ethnic tolerance with his new family, another of the wife’s relatives said, in a thick Swedish accent “Hitler had the right idea!”

Experiences like these piqued Kenrick’s interest in racial and ethnic discrimination. He proceeds to sketch some of his research that is in one way or another related to the tendency to feel hatred or disgust for members of other ethnic groups. He speculates that some of this invidious discrimination might be explicable by appeal to facts about the circumstances in which our ancestors evolved. He concludes by saying (58) that “an evolutionary perspective can help us understand why humans are so universally inclined to feel prejudice toward other groups…”

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