Can our brains evolve in time?

I seem incapable of coating my thoughts and opinions on this blog and Facebook with a sheen of political correctness.

Who have I disturbed with my writings?

  • Jews of all persuasions (but primarily Zionists).
  • Palestinians who object to the mirror I hold up.
  • Democratic Party bosses who find me “disgusting” for my opposition to Hillary’s candidacy.
  • Democratic Party loyalists who find me misguided.
  • Republicans, Libertarians and probably every political party could take exception to what I have written at one time or another.
  • Family members have taken offense, labeling me anti-Semitic in one case, and insensitive in another.
  • Long-time friends in “real life” have scolded me for the opinions I have shared on Facebook.
  • Professional colleagues have shunned me for my advocacy on the Israel/Palestine issue.
  • Palestinian activists have “unfriended” me for failing to follow the party line in their version of “standing in solidarity” with Palestinians.

When did “unfriend” become a verb? When did I stop caring?

In every case, it came down to a disagreement over our different worldviews. I touched a nerve and disagreed with their position, whether it was politics, religion or something else. (Except in one case that I can recall where my criticisms of the American lifestyle was taken as a personal criticism.)

BUSH

The predicament we humans find ourselves in at this stage of our evolution might be summed up in George W. Bush’s infamous words.

We want to see a world where reality is black and white. We are right, the “other” is wrong. We are good. They are bad.

Our human brains are hardwired to see the world this way. The evolution of human thinking has failed to keep up with the complex challenges we are facing today, many of our own making, which demand more complex thinking.

Survival skills are no longer limited to building a fire for warmth in the cave, hunting and gathering food for our family’s sustenance, and protecting ourselves from those who wish to do us harm, although each remains vitally important.

Today, survival requires that we understand and empathize with the “other.” Why is this different from centuries past?  Three reasons come to mind.

  • There are many more people bumping into each other on this planet today, competing for a finite and diminishing resource base.  Eons ago when our brains were learning and adapting, we had plenty of space to call our own and everyone else had their space. We could easily avoid each other if we chose.
  • Technology has overtaken us in many cases. We can create, design and build amazing things but we don’t have the brains to adjust to the new reality we’ve created with this technology.
  • The physical challenges confronting us today, primarily as a result of climate change, are not limited to discrete parts of the planet, but are impacting us all wherever we might call home. There’s no escape.

sinking boat

Let me explain how our brains are not working consistent with today’s reality.

There are countless examples, but I’ll begin with the Muslim Brotherhood. I’ve talked with many Egyptians over the past five years about the Muslim Brotherhood. These Egyptians come from all walks of life — urban, rural, formally educated, uneducated, professionals, laborers, women and men, young and old. One even acknowledged that he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood!

Unsurprisingly, there is a considerable diversity of opinion.

On the one hand, some believe the Muslim Brotherhood are peace-loving people who have been persecuted for many, many years, and imprisoned and killed for their beliefs.

On the other hand, others believe the Muslim Brotherhood has been a cancer on Arab society since its founding in 1928. They must be excised from the body politic before they create chaos and harm in the country.

Some Egyptians believe President El-Sisi’s government (which overthrew President Morsi – a member of the Muslim Brotherhood) is illegitimate. El-Sisi is rounding up 1000s of Egyptians from the universities, their homes and off the streets, and torturing them and “disappearing” many. Their families will never know what happened to them. Other Egyptians support El-Sisi and believe he is taking necessary measures to safeguard the nation, and it will take time.

Where is the truth?

Maybe the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t as evil and as dangerous as some think, but neither perhaps are they the innocent victims of persecution as others assert. I don’t know, and I’m in no position to know, but my point is that we must suspend our disbelief and our certainty to allow a more complex picture to emerge.

The human brain doesn’t seem capable of doing that.

These two very different discriptions of the Muslim Brotherhood are as true to the believers as the sun rising in the East is true to you and me. These two versions of the truth about the Muslim Brotherhood are mutually exclusive and can’t coexist, and so it’s unlikely that the people who hold these different versions of the truth can coexist, at least not easily, without conflict, tension or fear of the other.

IMG_5710

Permanent art exhibits at the Library of Alexandria

Another example.  Hamas.

If you’re a consumer of the mainstream Western media, you likely share the official line that Hamas is a foreign terrorist organization. The U.S. government formally designated it as such in October 1997. Israel’s Netanyahu takes every opportunity to remind us of this “fact.”

On the other hand, if you talk with some Palestinians themselves and with some pro-Palestinian activists, you’ll hear that Hamas is a legitimate resistance and political organization duly elected by the Palestinians 10+ years ago. They are using every means available, including weapons, to resist an internationally-recognized illegal occupation. Some people seem to believe that Hamas can do no wrong.

Where is the reality? Is Hamas evil and the embodiment of the devil himself? Or is Hamas wearing the white hat of a noble resistance movement? Or maybe it’s not as simple as that. If our response and actions towards Hamas are based on a flawed analysis, shouldn’t we expect the results of our actions and responses to Hamas to be flawed as well? Of course, we should.

Most people seem incapable of holding contradictory notions in their minds at the same time. It’s either black or white, no shades of gray.

Brain

Scanning of a human brain by X-rays

There’s alot of color in this world — beautiful people sharing all sorts of ideas and holding many different beliefs that make this an amazing time to be alive on planet Earth.

I’m not suggesting that we all must agree with one another, but we must be willing to suspend our disbelief, listen to the “other” with an open mind and an open heart, and process all of the information we receive respectfully. We must challenge ourselves and each other to “think outside of the box” and to question, question question all assumptions.

Our future survival as a species on this planet really depends on it.

Returning full circle to my original point — that I’ve disturbed many people with my writing on Facebook and this blog. My intention is to challenge belief systems, and to question assumptions and the “common wisdom.” Yours and mine.

This may be disturbing but it should always be respectful.  If my writing crosses the line into disrespect and demagoguery, I want to hear about it. If my writing challenges your comfort zone and makes you feel uncomfortable, well, that’s the goal.

A friend shared the following poem with me. It speaks to me, maybe it will speak to you.

We and They
Rudyard Kipling
FATHER, Mother, and Me
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And every one else is They.
And They live over the sea,
While We live over the way,
But – would you believe it? – They look upon We
As only a sort of They !We eat pork and beef
With cow-horn-handled knives.
They who gobble Their rice off a leaf,
Are horrified out of Their lives;
And They who live up a tree,
And feast on grubs and clay,
(Isn’t it scandalous?) look upon We
As a simply disgusting They!

We shoot birds with a gun.
They stick lions with spears.
Their full-dress is un-.
We dress up to Our ears.
They like Their friends for tea.
We like Our friends to stay;
And, after all that, They look upon We
As an utterly ignorant They!

We eat kitcheny food.
We have doors that latch.
They drink milk or blood,
Under an open thatch.
We have Doctors to fee.
They have Wizards to pay.
And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We
As a quite impossible They!

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They !

 

 

 

 

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6 Comments

Filed under Peaceful, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Can our brains evolve in time?

  1. I agree that this is an excellent post. I have a somewhat nuanced answer to the question. We all live in relative harmony with people we disagree with under certain circumstances: 1) they are family and we prioritize family harmony 2) they are not family but we do not perceive them as threatening us. Those politicians currently creating an atmosphere of fear around others cause polarization to increase. The more we fear the other the more we retreat into black/white, right/wrong. The less we fear them, the more tolerant we are. The more we love them, the more differences retreat into the background. It’s not brain development. It’s love vs fear.

  2. Lora-I think this is an excellent post that goes right to the heart of the human condition. Why can’t we have tolerance for opposing beliefs and why do we so fervently insist on our rightness about things. I personally believe this is a limitation of being human. We are immersed in time and must reflect on things over time in sequence and this creates differentiation, things that are (true) and those that are not. I don’t think we can ever evolve to hold in mind opposing things at once. The best we can do is to admit our fallibility in being unable to do this, that is to be humble and not so invested in being right. In the US right now there are fiercely warring sides about police violence against minorities, both convinced of their rightness and as you know it has become so bad that people on both sides are being killed.
    Looking forward to seeing you Monday but unfortunately you are leaving one furnace (Cairo) and entering another (Baltimore).

  3. Lora, I loved this column. The first comment, in my opinion, was a good illustration of the issue you are addressing.

  4. In Palestine, the equation cant be but either us or them…. there will NEVER be place for 2 states or 2 people in one state …. Czechoslovakia lived the mirage of “peace” then came the flood of blood against the Bosnians..

    There vwill NEVER EVER be any kind of peace with the zionist occupiers of Palestine, not even when they are a gib minority … but only when they are a tiny minority respecting themselves and ONLY when they stop to be racist and look at themselves as the “chosen people” …

    Probably the jewish racism is the reason they never were respected in any nation they lived in .. and will never be respected when they are lifting themselves (because of a racist old book) above the humans …

    In politics, “israel” is a functional state that was established by the West to dominate the Muslim Middle East and keep it underdeveloped and enslaved for the Western politics and overseas companies … once the zionists fail to do this job as the guard-dogs of the West. they will cease to exist.

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