Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why Should They Care? Addition

When I posted Why Should They Care? last week, I was trying to capture how recent and rare the whole "brotherhood of man" approach is, and how humans outside a narrow grouping actually seemed to our ancestors. It occurs to me that we can only approach their thought if we imagine sentient non-human species. Even those may seem too close, such as has been the influence of Star Wars and other interplanetary fiction, suggesting that we might indeed be pals with non-humans.

But for a moment, imagine there are only a few hundred of us humans left, and all of them of your tribe, known to you, and of similar values. Their life is ever-precarious and the other sentient or semi-sentient species you encounter are not nice, or noble, but mere competitors for resources. Trading partners at most, wary allies only when under pressure from some worse oppressor.

You would, quite frankly, not care much what happened to the dog-men or those thieving fishy creatures who often prevented your tribe's access to water. If they experienced pain or want, that would be their problem and no concern of yours. If you needed to use them or take advantage of them you would do so, much as we saddle a horse or cage a chicken now.

An this would be an entirely rational approach on your part. The gradual expansion of who is considered important enough to have rights is the aberration. When we wonder how people could mistreat servants, or even own slaves, or torture other humans for amusement, we assert what an amazing and blessed time we live in, that such ideas barely have a foothold in our thinking. Not only time, but place, as most countries of the world are more like our ancestors than like us in this. They represent far more the lot of mankind than our present arrangement.

Actors like to trouble directors by complaining about a bit of stage business "What's my motive for this?" I ask that for our entire fondness for other humans: "What's our motive for this?"


james said...

Seconds after I read your post I read these at the BBC site this morning: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16175877



Texan99 said...

Maybe I'm cynical as a result of my own rather shallow level of caring for strangers (I have to work hard on warmth even among my intimate circle!), but I suspect for most people warmth toward strangers is something that's likely to give way rather quickly when there's not enough safety to go around. Strangers are all very well as long as you're pretty sure they're no threat to your children, or their food supply, or their livelihood.

Some very few people rise above this state of nature, but I don't think the accomplishment is anything like widespread.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

I ask that for our entire fondness for other humans: "What's our motive for this?"

This might have something to do with it:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That's what I am wondering, sponge.

Many cultures have traditions of hospitality to strangers, but I am not thinking of any generalised goodwill toward mankind beyond defined relationships, except for those which take the Biblical quote seriously.

OTOH, even we did not seem to take it very seriously for most of our history. Is the embedding of this idea in culture just something that takes generations, even if there are specific religious commands?

Kitten said...

I see this in the on-line role-playing world Eberron as well. The difference from older worlds/systems is that no given member of any species (orcs, elves, etc.)_has_ to be good or evil. All are independent moral actors, although some races goals are more likely to run counter to those of the "civilized races".

The developers show everyone living in _realative_ harmony but my thought on that is "just wait 'til a plaque breaks out and see how long it takes for the Kobolds, already living in the sewers with a name as thieves and insurgents, to be completely driven out or exterminated.

In general, I love playing the game but have a sneaking gratitude that in real life there are no dragons and only one sentient race. I don't think the world, or humans at least, could handle the competing needs/desires of upwards of a dozen races while maintaining the sort of populations of each that is needed to accomplish anything.

Sorry for the length, I javen't had a cjance to share my thoughts on the subject in a while.

Kitten said...

Arrgh. *_haven't_ had a _chance_*
morning fingers.

Der Hahn said...

I'd extend Texan99's remarks a bit.

Once you get to that default level of safety a tribe that is atleast hospitable to outsiders (until they prove themselves hostile) is likely to obtain advantages through trade in goods and knowledge. Repeat that enough times over generations and you will wind up where I think we are .. a general agreement that other humans should be accepted coupled with a more situationally specific wariness about engaging with that particular group that just wandered over the hill.

In other words, "trust but verify".

Kitten said...

I clearly need to not post until I've had my coffee. The point of comment 6 was to say that dragons and gargoyles aren't the only fantasy going on in these games. People need a _reason_ to view others as more than competition and I agree that "Love your neighbor as yourself" is a large part of what makes it possible for that to happen now.

Lelia Rose Foreman said...

I grew up singing, Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight...

I remember a Muslim from India asking me how I could adopt, especially children who were a different race from me and my husband. I was appalled to find out that Sharia forbids adoption.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Almost six years ago I posted about the Indo-European root *ghosti. "It refers to the ambiguous interactive relationships between strangers. From it we get our words ghost, guest, hostile, hostel, and host (in several senses). Meeting a stranger was fraught with peril. Is he an enemy? A trader? The acceptance of hospitality created a mutual obligation that was protective for both parties. Gift-giving created similar obligations. To accept a gift was to imply that you would shortly give one in return. Native Americans practiced a similar obligation of exchange, and when they gave a gift expected one in return as a sign of unity and peace. When Europeans were not forthcoming with a reciprocal gift, the Native American would demand his gift back. Thus the term Indian Giver, resulting from that misunderstanding.

This contractual binding undergirds much of informal legal custom, and became a foundation for our legal systems. The words "legal" and "ligament" derive from the same root.