In the modern world, the diversity of cultures on this planet becomes more evident when seen in the process of globalization. Both internal and external conflict during this process is certain, whereby overt and covert actions threaten a population’s autonomy, sovereignty, and nationalistic state. The resulting psychological state becomes that of xenophobia. Xenophobia is the psychological reaction of an individual who has a fear or contempt response to anything that is culturally foreign. This reaction can manifest itself from extreme isolationism to extreme aggression. When viewing the process of globalization and multiculturalism in an evolutionary framework, the resulting xenophobia may be viewed as a natural response to cultural incursion. Preservation, as will be seen, is a result of acute perception and successful behavioral adaptation.
Although some psychologists and philosophers, including natural theologians, would be reluctant to admit the pivotal role that biology has on human behavior, the unfolding potentiality of the DNA results in the adaptive behavioral response on both an individual and social level. When viewing an individual as evolutionary chance, the adaptive behavioral responses can be understood in terms of an Evolutionary Stable Strategy. Any behavior that would tend to increase the chance to reproduce successfully would be opted. When expanded to the level of a population, individual cost-benefit analysis would dictate behavioral action. Although similarities in phenotypic expressions (for example, genetic distance) would be a strong motivating factor for group behavior, reciprocal altruism seen at large-scale populations would be influenced by cultural factors that extend beyond close kin-based social systems. Xenophobia becomes an actuality of these intense egoistic tendencies transferred into a population.
Understanding the cultural expressions for this psychological phenomenon is the key for behavioral modification. Although complete modification sought by proponents of multiculturalism can distract from the main issues, the significance of cultural determinates for the individual becomes an integral part of shared group cognition. Although the cultural history of our species can be seen in the archaeological record, these remnants can be seen as a physical representation of active memes. In short, memes are bits of cultural information that are transmitted from individual to individual. These memes take the form of ideas, languages, and their physical extensions. Through the process of imitation, memes have modified the way by which our species exist. Modifications from these memes, which has resulted in genetic variation, gave rise to opportunity for our species to populate the globe. Within historical time, small remote populations of our hominid ancestors would eventually give way to civilization and the development of the state.
With the advent of civilization, our species probably experienced the greatest qualitative and quantitative degree of the xenophobic phenomenon. Although nomadic populations would experience a small degree of xenophobia (for example, in justification of territorial disputes), civilization constructively used the phenomenon as an internal control. Building upon natural tendencies found within our species, each population’s values, expressed in folk, moray, laws, and mythology, creates the deep-seated feeling of nationalism. Nationalism does not only act as a cohesive force, but the guiding level by which the xenophobia is allowed to express itself, defining citizenship and civic duty.
With the expanding social structure and greater encompassing cultural ideologies, individual identity is taken from and contributed back to the social structure. Geographic location, genetic distance, and enculturation become central to group acceptance. When viewed politically, it becomes a question of citizenship. Expressed in terms of a political social contract, the importance of citizenship becomes evident: Acknowledgment of an individual by a political body brings inherent social benefits and obligations. The underlying structure of the cultural base of the nation-state, by which was created and sustains political structure, becomes a pivotal reliance for the differentiated individuals in a population group. Essentially, the individual views others as part of an extended family; not foreigner, but countryman. In the midst of environmental uncertainty, where personal mortality becomes highly probable, having citizen status becomes beneficial. However, citizenship does have a price. Defending and supporting the state against enemies, both internal and external, can be overwhelming; yet, the cost-benefit analysis gives greater weight for political unity. Examples can be seen in the historical analysis of the Greek city-states and the Roman Empire. The two examples show the extremes, the Greek based on geographic location and the Roman based on the acceptance of Roman ideals and culture.
Taking a cue from social constructs, especially seen during the classical period, the development of these united groups creates two distinct categories: us and them. During the creation of these ethnocentric ideals, the outsider is considered to be subservient and inferior. Reflexivity being critical in the psychological development of the self, marginal individuals (for example, slave and lower class) accept the social status. Reinforcements, both negative and positive, continue to regulate and subjugate those whom society has deemed unworthy. Although citizenship is a positive step for those who are disenfranchised, social and cultural acceptance rarely succeed. For the most part, citizenship does provide a meager means for social mobility. In this manner, when people of marginal status acquire dominant values, there is a greater degree for social advancements. This in turn will increase the chances for survival. Accounting for the nature of these biases within social dynamics is the key to our sociobiological behavior of our present and future interactions.
The sociopolitical experiment created by the founders of the United States was a quantum leap forward from the traditional political and ethnic systems of continental Europe and England. Although the original 13 colonies claimed to be Englishmen proper, the combination of both financial and intracultural xenophobia by England had caused rapid deterioration and open conflict. The imperialistic impetus may have reduced xenophobia to flirtation with novelty, yet any action that would directly challenge the sociopolitical structure would be suppressed. As the United States gained independence, internal xenophobia would continue to express itself in both political ideologies and civil law, just as it did in the former mother country, England.
With the creation of a country where opportunities and social mobility were possible, an influx of immigrants (especially during the 20th century) from different cultural backgrounds gave the country a unique identity. However, these segments of populations remained “separate but equal” in the name of toleration. Discrimination and violence (for example, slavery and religious fervor) set the tone for sanctions against those that would deviate from the norm. In this manner, xenophobia could be extended to the puritan ideals concerning religiosity (for example, including sexuality and the occult). Even in the light of newly gained civil freedoms, the cultural flexibility of what was considered to be “American” was from the multicultural ideal. American culture did have a unique flavor that set it apart from its European counterpart; yet the social stratification reflected, to varying degrees, the internal xenophobic reaction. This would remain throughout the development of the United States. However, through liberal and active legislation, the embracing of pluralism and soon-to-be multiculturalism posed as an interesting variable within the social experiment.
The best solution considered for the xenophobic reaction is education. A proponent of cultural pluralism, the psychologist William James (1842-1910) rejected the basis of xenophobia and ethnocentrism as a Darwinian model of social selection. Viewing his public activism, James sought equality for those who were subjected to racist or discriminatory practices. James believed that through education, an environmental factor, the impressions upon the mind could reduce or offset the cultural impressions that occurred during early development. This in turn would reduce or eliminate xenophobic behavior or habits. The degree to which the habit would change is not predictable, due to the weight of individualism within the realm of pragmatism.
Considering this perspective, especially in light of an evolutionary framework, James’s framework must incorporate basic principles of evolutionary thought. James accepted theses basic principles. In this view, natural selection and sexual selection created the basis of the diversity of life. Although he acknowledged the role of religion in an individual’s life, the origin of our species’ social structure was without divine or Aristotelian structure. Viewing social selection as reflecting dominant group values, the resulting ethnicity is seen as an adaptation in progress for the selected group. Although there are many internal contradictions within his philosophical view, the equality in weight of each culture depicted his view of pluralism. This would be extended into areas of moral or ethical views.
In an attempt to reconcile Darwinian evolution with some form of cultural relativism, James, as well as John Dewey, viewed each culture with a sense of understanding. Although rejecting the notion of superiority of one culture at the expense of another, every culture can be seen as reflecting the mode of production by which each society operates. Development, as depicted by growing complexity, still retained the evolutionary perspective; yet there was a given commonality or uniting ties among populations of the world. James warned against romanticizing the “noble savage” and more simplistic lifestyles: He valued them with compassion, but gave the more complex and advanced societies an elevated status among pluralistic cultures. Essentially, each stage of social evolution reflected or retained some essence of previous stages within their evolutionary past. In modern societies, these valued perspectives would be modified or subjected to the process of alienation. Just as seen by the philosophy of Karl Marx (1818-1883), this alienation can manifest itself in various forms of conflict. With social conflict eminent, the role and existence of xenophobia appears to be certain.
As the United States experiences the trials and tribulations of a growing republic, multicultural policies and social integration attempts reflect more of a utopian ideal than a reflection of our species’ social structure. Even though race is understood as being a social construct, the cost-benefit analysis based on phenotypic expressions (whether they are inclusive) is real. Cultural expressions are equally, if not more, important in the psychological stability of a population group. Even though culture and genetic distance do have a great effect upon behavior (reciprocal altruism), sexual selection does have great importance in the “desirability factor” of the process of reproduction. Granting the selective power exhibited in the social realm, individual genetic fitness and expressed variation appear to operate on a more determinate level. The behavior expressed on this level is beyond the confines of culture. Deviants from the sociocultural norm will receive sanctions. The cultural rules become more complex if new cultural variants are added within the population. The resulting xenophobic reactions are patterns of behavior reinforced to ensure the survival of a closely knitted genetic group. Although xenophobic actions can be reduced by diffusion across minor degrees of cultural variation, differences will be seen if independent and distinct states are united. This will be seen within the European Union.
To offset the economic and political power of the United States, the European Union used the same constitutional provisions enacted by the founders of the United States. Acknowledging the American political genius reflected by the creators of this unique document, the European community has attempted to unite the diverse populations and their respective cultural backgrounds. Plagued by centuries of war and strife, a peaceful union among conflicting ideologies seems impossible, yet practical. Can the segmented genetic populations of Europe that are separated by language, customs and traditions, and philosophies unite? Will old rivalries and imperialistic tendencies that support the prevalent economic structure impede the process of uniting? Although our species must remain optimistic and the desire for peace remains strong, the suggestive power of both history and mythology (including religion) will be a source of conflict and present an immovable barrier. When calculating the cost-benefit analysis, the degree of reciprocity will be questioned. Considering the cultural relevance and genetic distance, will the countries of economic and military prowess surrender their sovereignty and position for the rest of the European community? Other than a gesture of good will, the welfare of the industrialized countries will always take precedence over other less advanced or economically sound countries. Any threats to the stability of said country, external or internal, will result in an inversion to a degree of nationalism and xenophobia. Internally and externally, these problems will continue to be present within the mainstream dominant culture.
In order not to oversimplify or underestimate the structure of the European Union, the problems facing Europe are unlike those facing the United States. The United States is dominated by one language (not yet official), tradition (combined), and inclusive geographic location. More importantly, the sovereign states share a common history and growth, perhaps a sense of manifest destiny (1841-1848). The roles of the state and federal governments are clearly defined and practical. Even if multiculturalism is not central to the issues at hand, the resulting empathy is serving as a process of further uniting and seeking out cultural universals among many particulars. Unlike the United States, the European Union does not have a common language, custom, or a sense of cultural unity. In the area of civic history, known past aggressions and alliances serve only to strain the relations among countries in the union, producing mistrust and civil discord. These diverging facts make the attempted union problematic. Unless a union of culture, including language, is attempted, the process of unification will be impossible. There must be recognition of the underlying philosophical role concerning cultural adaptation.
Taking an evolutionary view of xenophobia, the hidden biases steeped within culture are evident. The smaller the population of a group, the greater the degree of xenophobia for cultural purity will be seen in the face of cultural incursion. Additionally, the use of natural recourses becomes another factor in the cost-benefit analysis faced by ethnic groups. Although phobias are considered irrational, the emotional sediment shared at a group level is legitimized politically, sometimes religiously. Whether the results are discrimination or a “holy war” of terror, the xenophobic actions have consequences in the global theater.
As a republic, the United States has shown great restraint toward those who display aggressive xenophobia actions. Attacks upon the sovereignty of the United States (September 11) are a declaration of war. Covert actions coupled with religious fervor sets the tone of future conflicts. This reality, in conjunction with a political socialistic “pie in the sky” mentality, creates a disjunction whereby the enemy and treason can flourish. Were the following statements xenophobic or statement of fact? Although a political statement is certain (conservative or liberal), xenophobic underpinnings are present in form of nationalistic ideology. It is easy to see how such statements can arouse emotional sediment. These alarming words, however functional and necessary they may be, can increase xenophobic reactions in others. In terms of individuality, these actions are not only justified but are beyond moral qualifications. Survival is essential, not optional.
The quandary that faces our species has been the subject for philosophers for centuries. Defining humanity in terms of ontology and teleology has given our species a start into understanding ourselves in relation to the world. Refinements in science have brought new insights into the human predicament. Advancements in biology and the cognitive sciences continue to redefine humanity. Perhaps accepting common values and traditions can be the beginning of reducing xenophobia, but its elimination will require something more critical than education. As evolution produced the question, evolution may someday give the answer.
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