Chapter 4: Prejudice: Any Remedy?

Prejudice might not have direct viable solution since it is a social ill based on selfishness. There’ll always be selfishness as there’ll always be that undying urge for self-defense. There’s no way to imagine total eradication of selfishness in human society. That’s absolutely impossible. Selfishness is part of man and could not be possibly eliminated from man by man.

We therefore could agree with Ayn Rand on the virtue of selfishness. At a pause, some people might ask, “Is there any virtue in being selfish?” The simple answer is emphatic yes. We have to realize that selfishness is the instinct in man that helps him to adjust himself in the society and to protect his own interests above any other. It is a survival strategy which every living organism possesses from vegetative level to appetitive level, up to rational level which man is deemed to belong.

But when selfishness is born out of excessive prejudice, it is no more virtuous because such prejudice is not exactly to protect oneself but to harm the other persons in the process. Thus, the adjective “excessive” should be emphasized here as the vice behind the selfishness. If prejudice is a positive quest for survival and self-protection from external aggressions, then we might consider such prejudice as good like Rand rightly pointed out while giving her notion about selfishness.

Rand believes that the elements of human self-interest are objective. All human beings have objective biological and psychological needs, and one’s actual interests are identified by reference to these needs. Mere whim-fulfillment is therefore not constitutive of human well-being because one’s whims might be at odds with one’s actual needs. Moreover, the character traits of the “selfish” brute are not compatible with any human being’s actual, rational interests. Humans live in a social world; in order to maximize the value of their interactions with others, they should cultivate a firm commitment to the virtues of rationality, justice, productiveness, and benevolence. A commitment to these virtues naturally precludes such brutish behavior.[1]

There are various ways by which prejudices we have about others could be eliminated or rather be reduced to barest minimum. Ego in us might sometimes pose selfish defense in order to deter us from moving out from our needless prejudices, but when our minds are fully awakened by enough illumination and knowledge of truth, it will produce enough wisdom capable of helping us in no small measure to get our mindsets free from prejudices.

Certain things in our lives aggravate prejudices in us, and probably if they are corrected, prejudices in us would simply go away. Though these are hypothesis, yet they have been proven to be working in many cases.

  • Self-esteem hypothesis: This hypothesis is trying to propose that if people have adequate knowledge and proper education, it will raise their self-esteem and this would invariably make their prejudices to disappear. Seriously, self-esteem hypothesis isxk one of the greatest means of eradicating prejudices though it might not be guaranteed as we know that knowing is very different from doing. Prejudice is formed when we don’t have proper knowledge or wrong information about others. Proper information, positive formal or informal educations are good catalysts in eliminating prejudices because they rise out of self-esteem. When people see themselves as inferior to others, they can try to bring them down through poisoning their minds and that of others they could convince against their perceived rivalries. Some of these rivalries could even turn bloody most times because most people erroneously consider their rivalries as thorns in their flesh which must somehow be eliminated. But rivalries when it is healthy breed competitions and competitions bring developments. Thus, I believe that if we are well educated and upgrade our ego little bit above average, we can cross many barriers of prejudices and overcome them.

 

  • Contact hypothesis: It proposes being in contact or coming together as assured ways of eliminating prejudices we have for each other. When people from different groups, especially those that are constantly in conflict with each other cross barriers and come together for discussions to know each other better, the prejudices they had been nursing from distances about each other would be eliminated. When people are brought together, they share ideas which include their similar interests. That would be a good starting point to enlighten their minds. The starting point would always be emphasizing the similarities before tackling the differences among them. From what is common among them, they might find out their deviations and then find better ways of discussing their differences in the mirrors of their similarities. This hypothesis was exactly part of the ideology that brought about the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme in Nigeria in 1973, which was about 3 years after the unfortunate Nigeria-Biafra civil war that ravaged the country in 1967-1970.

 

The NYSC scheme was created in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Nigerian Civil war. The unfortunate antecedents in our national history gave impetus to the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps by decree No.24 of 22nd May 1973 which stated that the NYSC is being established “with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity”[2]

 

  • Cooperation hypothesis: This could be possible when there had been contacts. It is only when there are contacts between the two groups that they might discover more similarities about themselves, and emphasize on the similarities instead of their differences. Discussing their similarities could bring about cooperation which would make them to focus much more on what binds them together, rather than what separates them. The two warring groups are therefore encouraged to drop out their selfish interests and begin to see things objectively, as only through objectivity could there be any visible change and harmonious co-existence between them. When they come out of their selfish interests and begin to see other perspectives of the same issue, then would they know why other people took their various stands that seem not in alignment with their own. They would realize that a point of view that one stands can blur and affect his sense of vision and thereby alter his right judgment.

 

  • Legal hypothesis: Mostly, people prefer to opt for this hypothesis whenever they think that their individual or collective rights have been jeopardized or infringed upon. They sought for redress in various neutral and approved courts of justice. Though legal process sometimes could also be blurred or prejudiced by the law of the land, yet there’s no way it should be left out of emphasis. That seems to be the most acceptable civilized manner for settling issues legally. Legal hypothesis can remove prejudice or reduce it to minimum, if and only if laws of the land had not been already altered and developed out of prejudice itself. Enforcing laws against discriminative behaviours would only be visible in a place where law makers understand the situation at hand, and was able to figure out the whole processes that are likely to emerge if certain laws are made and how the law would affect the social development of their people in general. Thus, such laws would be critically constructed to avoid prejudices ab initio. Since laws are made for humans and not humans for laws, any law that is made without considering the impacts it would have on people is not good enough for humanity. Mainly, the characteristics of good laws in the society should be to protect the minority rather than to do the will of the majority. When laws therefore are drafted to oppress harmless minority for any cause it might be pursuing, then such laws should be considered as not good enough.

We can always say that “It is unfortunate that prejudices against racial and ethnic minorities exist, and continue to flourish, despite the “informed” modern mind. One well‐known example of discrimination based on prejudice involves the Jews, who have endured mistreatment and persecution for thousands of years. The largest scale attempt to destroy this group of people occurred during World War II, when millions of Jews were exterminated in German concentration camps in the name of Nazi ideals of “racial purity.” The story of the attempted genocide, or systematic killing, of the Jews—as well as many other examples of discrimination and oppression throughout human history—has led sociologists to examine and comment upon issues of race and ethnicity.”[3]

The worst excuse one can ever tender anywhere in the world is that excuse that made him to kill, discriminate or wanting to dominate others. No viable excuse has ever stood firmly as good defense for such untamed barbaric behaviour. People hate others due to their personal reasons, and this is why it has never been successful for change in discriminations and prejudices to happen in individual levels. Even when a group with certain kind of prejudices against others has been banned or sanctioned, it doesn’t still prevent having the same kind of prejudices in individual minds. What therefore could be eradicated or least being reduced is discrimination through synergic efforts of a group or association or race. Individuals might still have their hatred or prejudice about the same issue, but they should keep it to themselves since laws would prevent them from selling such harmful ideologies to other people in the society.

Human race has evolved out of state of nature as described in Leviathan by the 17th century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. The human society is no more in state of nature where “every person has a natural right or liberty to do anything one thinks necessary for preserving one’s own life; and life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”[4]. Our society has gone well beyond the state of nature and has been continuously evolving, but it beats one’s imagination why there has been stagnancy in areas of tolerance in a society that has changed so drastically in almost every other sectors of human endevours.

“Changes in the law have helped to alter some prejudiced attitudes. Without changes in the law, women might never have been allowed to vote, attend graduate school, or own property. And racial integration of public facilities in America might never have occurred. Still, laws do not necessarily change people’s attitudes. In some cases, new laws can increase antagonism toward minority groups.”[5]

[1] Objectivist Centre, “Virtue of Selfishness”,  http://www.objectivistcenter.org/cth–406-FAQ_Virtue_Selfishness.aspx, 13/01/2017

 

[2] NYSC Website, “About the Scheme”, http://www.nysc.gov.ng/about/about.php, 13/01/2017

[3] Op. Cit, Cliffnotes.

[4] Wikipedia, “State of Nature”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_of_nature, 17/11/2016

[5] Op. Cit., Cliffnotes.

 

About Author /

Ugonna Johnbosco Ezeomedo (ojombo) is a philosopher, poet, educationist, web developer and social & political analyst. He lives in Awka – Nigeria. He loves working with computer and other creative works.

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