Essays and Theories

Evolutionary Psychology and The Origins Of Bigotry And Prejudice
Perhaps, Evolutionary Psychology Unravels the Mystery©
William A. Spriggs
August, 1995

I've just had a most enjoyable experience. I have just finished reading Stephen Jay Gould's 1981 book, The Mismeasure of Man. Throughout the book, Mr. Gould gives a brilliant performance in debunking scientific ranking methods used in the establishment of the preeminence of a particular sub-species in the modern Homo sapiens. That subspecies, unfortunately, is myself and my fellow white males. In some ways it is almost comforting to tear down the walls that have kept an uneasy truth away: the truth of my own prejudice. I suppose the reason for that comfortable feeling lies inside the brain, where a corrective process is unfolding as I write this essay. This correction, it seems, is the turning of half-truths, stored deep in my working memory, into truths: my consciousness is being raised. Hence, there is a realignment of brain maps to their proper place, and the resulting release of new brain chemistry cascading through my brain and putting proper balance to my soul. A computer expert explained it to me in another way in how we humans learn various functions and complexities of computer usage: "...And then, all of a sudden, it will come 'crashing' down and make sense to you when you 'understand.'"

Mr. Gould takes us on a magical mystery tour of Craniometry, the measurement of heads -- both in and around; body measuring, to determine similarity to apishness, which somehow, in the minds of the late 19th century testers, led to criminality; the hereditarian theory of IQ; and of course the development of various IQ tests, inaugurated by the army mental tests for draftees of WWI. This essay will attempt to explain, from the standpoint of evolutionary psychology, why we do these things to our fellow humans; why we continue to pigeonhole, rank, test and classify them.

In The Mismeasure of Man, Mr. Gould gives these forms of scientific measurement a label. He calls the whole process biological determinism. In his introduction, Gould comes agonizingly close to giving us the ultimate reason why we create and practice these ranking order methods.

The one thing that I regret about his book is that it was not brought into the debate during the recent publication of the "popular" book The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles A. Murray (1994). Had it been included, it would have given some heavy ammunition to Murray's opponents. (After writing this essay in August 1995, the book The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and the Future of America, Basic books, Nov. 1995 was published. Within are 19 rebuttal essays to the Bell Curve Book by some of America's best writers--including Mr. Gould!. Buy it.)

Here I must make at least a half-hearted defense of all the scientific testing and ranking that Gould attacks. Mr. Gould could find no evidence of deliberate manipulation of data in order to justify results. He did find, however, that cultural beliefs of the day were so strong that bits and pieces of information were somehow overlooked, not included, or realigned in some manner as to distort the final results. His belief, and mine, is that, in their unconscious minds, researchers who studied these tests were so convinced that their studies would prove their cultural beliefs correct; because of this, somehow, some way, data was directed to the results that they wanted. But, the scientists behind these ranking studies had no doubts of their outcome, nor did any of their colleagues attempt to quantify their results. The result is prejudice and bigotry. The remaining question is how does such prejudice originate in our consciousness.

I speculate that prejudice and bigotry began in the immune system. God designed this system to determine chemical friend or foe on a cellular basis. This internal, molecular, chemical identification method then developed into an external comparison mechanism. The first external identification most likely verified kin, and, thus, gene comparability. Once the patterns of kin recognition were established, slight variations of these same mechanisms were then used as the basis of establishing friend or foe. From these patterns followed the development of conscious conceptualization. (For an excellent study on kin recognition, see the article "Kin Recognition," by David W. Pfenning and Paul W. Sherman, Scientific American, June, 1995.)

After our species evolved into a conscious conceptual creature identifying external friend and foe, I believe that prejudice and bigotry were then the result of hoarding resources in times of shortage for (in order of importance) one's self, one's clan, one's tribe, and one's village. (I call this behavior The Resource Retention Theory -- those that have the gold, do everything within their power to keep the gold for their benefit).  In times of plenty, of course, the opposite occurred -- generosity, or altruism towards one's fellow creatures. What is often called "greed" by moralists springs from one's desire to live and to perpetuate one's own genes into the next generation. Our bodies can't live forever, but gene transference is the closest we come to succeeding. The "conceptual extension" from self to clan to tribe to village naturally continued, finally including one's nation, which is what we call nationalism. Simply, this "extension" merely represents that we are conceptually expanding our "turf." The larger turf area that we "possess," the greater the feeling of security in the area in which we physically live. The greater the area of security in which we live, the greater our feelings of comfort. Comfort and serenity allow our brains to think, to process new information at maximum efficiency. Sitting under a shade tree in summer with a cooling breeze can be very pleasant. We can more easily focus on problem-solving within the sphere of a calm situation, than we can while dodging bullets in a gang war.

The wellspring of bigotry and prejudice is the survival of the self: my struggle, your struggle. The unfortunate traits of prejudice and bigotry, I think, were born in times of famine and pestilence after abundance. These two conditions forced a temporary rejection of altruism in favor of a pure selfishness which relied on strength and stamina. Since the battle being fought was for the survival of "self," the enemy became the "non-self," the "other." These "others" were not of your immediate genetic line. The easiest method of determining "others" was to see, to hear, and to smell them. After determining "others," came the problem-solving methods of keeping them away from those things that kept you and your genetic line alive. The more famine and pestilence, the more aggressive the attempt to keep "others" away. Today, the practice has evolved from violent rejection of others to more subtle methods. The reason I say "evolved" is that the method of one's cultural bigotry depends on the cultural environment in which one lives. All one has to do is point to the ethnic war in Bosnia as a perfect example. The war there was basically fought between two different cultures and their beliefs; two genetic and two cultural lines. Please take note that the war in Bosnia was played out after the economic collapse of Communism, which previously gave stability to the region. Lack of economic stability on a national scale is a precursor of "bad times."

In the U.S., which is blessed with abundance, this rejection of the "other" takes form in more subtle ways. For example, in the various forms of IQ tests; in banks refusing to loan housing funds to minorities; and in job preferences for one's own race. In each case, the reasoning is the same -- "expanded selfishness"/inclusive fitness, or what I have named The Resource Retention Rule Theory: "Our clan has the most resources, therefore our clan, tribe, or village must be superior, and therefore we are entitled to win the evolutionary race. Since you do not have the resources, and it is obvious by your coming to us that you want the same things we have, therefore our assumption must be correct." The major problem is that the clan/tribe/race/ with the most resources does not know the conscious reason of why it keeps hoarding the resources and providing advantages to their own clan/tribe/race.   They firmly believe that they deserve all that they have struggled to achieve. The controlling or dominate clan/tribe/race has evolved a group conventional wisdom that it has successfully stored vast resources by hard work and by playing by the rules -- this is true -- but the controlling group does not consciously acknowledge that the playing field and rules have been stacked in their favor to accomplish this task. And by overlooking this "minor" fact, that group feels that they are "naturally" superior and that others are not deserving of survival. Prejudice and bigotry have their roots in a combination of imbalances of resource distributions and the physical and/or social mechanisms practiced to keep those resources secure for one's own future clan/tribe/race generations. In our modern world, it is not about skin color, but money and economics -- what we evolutionists call resources.

To give strength to my argument that skin color has nothing to do with the rise of bigotry and prejudice, I want to give you several examples.  The first the the history of Rwanda and Burundi in regards to the two dark-skinned Hutu and Tutsi clans.  When the Belgians took control of the area in 1956, they picked one group to serve as their proxies.  Even though the Tutsi clan was in the minority (14%), the Belgians picked them to run the governmental organizations based on the "pseudoscientific" studies in vogue at the time that led them to think that the Tutsi were biologically superior. Taking advantage of their dominate position, the Tutsi took all and gave little back to the Hutus.  The result of this resource separation was dramatically played out with the 1994 holocaust between the two clans.

The second example that I want to cite are the April 97 incidents in East Palo Alto California where the Hispanics went before the East Palo Alto California school board, which is controlled by African-Americans, and demanded better education for the children. In particular, the Latinos wanted better bilingual instruction and a greater say on the school board.  Ten years ago, East Palo Alto California was 85% black, but in 1997 the city is 70% Latino.  What is basically happening is that the African-Americans, by right of hard work and prior territorial positioning, became the dominate culture in the East Palo Alto school system.  If the Rule of Resource Retention holds, then the African-Americans will do all they can to maintain that resource advantage.   On the other hand, the influx of Latinos that is pressing up against that culture is demanding better resources for their own children and causing the increase of ethnic and racial tension in that city.

As a third example, The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, May 18, 98, ran an in-depth report on how immigration has changed the racial climate of South Central Los Angeles.  The report by Michael A. Fletcher focuses on  the Latino population of Compton California, which is now in the majority there, struggling with blacks for jobs. "Here, black and Latino civil servants square off over public jobs.  Black activists and Asian store owners fight over control of local businesses.  And Latino and Asian gangs battle for control of their turf." Once again people, you must go back into our primal history to understand racial disharmony.  Bigotry and prejudice are not about skin color nor ethnic origin, but the control of resources by the dominance of one culture that has the advantage over the submissiveness of another cultural unit.  The skin color and ethnic origins are there, but they are merely "markers" (like in DNA) to identify territory and similarities that would be to the advantage of both cultures, but primarily to the dominates.

As a fourth, and last example, I would like to point out the article that appeared in the Time magazine, June 15, 98 issue p. 34: The report titled "Revolt of the Gentry" by Tamal M. Edwards on the growing class war that is evolving over the effort to equalize public school funding in Vermont is most interesting.  This "class warfare" is between members of the white race. 

Under the planned Vermont Act 60, which has created the rise in tensions, rich communities face higher taxes and reduced school budgets, while working-class comminutes would expect the reverse.  The result is that the rich are crying the loudest, including novelist John Irving, who was quoted as saying: "This is Marxism. It's leveling everything by decimating what works..."   while the poor are cheering that it is the right thing to do.  The Irving quote is very typical of wealthy conservatives who repeat over and over, that, what works well, should not be penalized. Let me pound this into your heads until it hurts: it's not about skin color nor ethnic origins that appear on the surfaces of most conflicts, but we must go back to the  primate struggles over limited resources. It is about the perceived differences between those that have the advantages of the resources creating a resource differential stress with those that do not have the resources

But none of this is inevitable; we can change our behavior. Since the original cultural practice of hoarding created a genetic predisposition to do so, changing the thought concerning the practice will eventually change the predisposition. Hence prejudice and bigotry can be reversed once they are brought out from our deep places, examined, and then reclassified. Unless science can inject us with new genetic codes to correct the problem, we will have to go through the old fashioned process of replacing  new genetic instructions; and that won't happen overnight.  The logical question here, of course, is how long does it take a cultural norm to become a genetic code? Will the human spirit, so eager to soar, be willing to wait for the transformation? If we find it takes too long, will we try to hurry things along? If so, will we do it right? Do we dare, with no fear, like little children, to try and fit into God's shoes and walk around the universe?

Origin: August 1995
Updated: June 14, 1998

Former Title: The Origins of Bigotry and Prejudice©
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