Excerpt from The Supremacist Syndrome

“In this absorbing, passionately argued, and deeply researched volume, independent scholar Peter Marsh examines the supremacist thinking that underlies the structures of oppression, and argues for equity, engagement, and reciprocity among peoples and in relationship to other animals.”—Jim Mason, author An Unnatural Order

Overcoming Supremacism: What We Can Do

Here are some things each of us can do to bend our world toward equality and away from a cutthroat, supremacist-dominated dystopia:

Participate in and support programs that foster positive contact between people from different groups.

The founders of the United Nations believed that sustaining peace after World War II depended on increasing contact between people from different groups to dispel the suspicion and mistrust that could arise when they were unfamiliar with each other’s ways. As expressed in the constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO):

That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed;

That ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war;

That the great and terrible war which has now ended was a war made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men, and by the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men and races.

Since that time, hundreds of studies undertaken all over the world have consistently shown that contact between people from different groups can indeed be a powerful tool to reduce levels of prejudice and conflict. Skeptics’ belief that intergroup contact isn’t powerful enough to affect the attitudes of the most biased people has proven to be mistaken. Studies have shown that even intolerant ideologues can benefit from contact between groups at least as much as less prejudiced people. They’ve also shown that the beneficial effect of intergroup contact holds true across different cultures and that intergroup contact can reduce prejudice directed at many different groups.

Analyses of data from these studies revealed that contact reduces prejudice the most under the conditions Gordon Allport identified in The Nature of Prejudice. Other studies have added another requirement. For the optimal reduction of intergroup bias and conflict, the contact must be more than just a pleasant experience; it must address (and potentially redress) the social inequality that can inflame members of dominated groups. Whenever people from an elite group get more than their fair share of valued resources, those who get less tend to resent it, not unlike the capuchin monkeys in Frans de Waal’s inequity study, who protested when they saw a peer get a grape for performing the same task they had, for which they had only received a piece of cucumber. Although contact between groups can scale back prejudice, it seems to be not powerful enough to make members of dominated groups forget the discrimination and inequality they’ve suffered. Reducing levels of prejudice can, however, lead groups to work together to eradicate the underlying inequality.

Things we can do: To foster positive contact between groups, we can participate in cultural exchange programs, join intercultural activities in our community, or simply become friends with people from other groups.

Support humanitarian policies and programs for refugees.

People in record numbers are now fleeing their homeland to escape from violence and persecution. The vast majority of refugees flee to a country near their own. This has resulted in some countries with limited resources providing a place for millions of refugees to live, while others with much more ability to help welcome relatively few. According to statistics compiled by the United Nations, in 2016, people living in countries that provided shelter to more than eight million international refugees had only 2.5 percent of the world’s income, while the United States—with more than 25 percent of global income—hosted fewer than 300,000.

This isn’t fair. Or sustainable.

Although some refugees can return to their country of origin, while others manage to make a permanent home in the country where they’ve found asylum, the best option for many refugees is resettlement in a third country. In 2017, more than 1.2 million refugees needed resettlement, but only 6 percent of them found a country that welcomed them. People living in countries that provide homes for an equitable share of international refugees not only enrich themselves by increasing contact with people from other groups, they also encourage countries hosting large numbers of refugees to keep borders open by sharing the responsibility to help refugees.

Things we can do: We can help refugees living in our community and financially support organizations like the United Nations Refugee Agency and nongovernmental refugee assistance organizations. If our own country isn’t resettling its fair share of refugees, we can work to get it to do that.

Support environmental and humane education programs for children.

As mentioned earlier, studies have found that people who endorse social inequality and dominance by one group are also more likely to support the exploitation of the natural environment in unsustainable ways.

Programs that include animal- and nature-related activities can have a beneficial spillover effect on a child’s relationships with other children, as shown by the program mentioned earlier that increased the prosocial behavior of first- and second-grade students in China. Another study found that Australian college students who expressed the most concern for the welfare of animals tended to have more empathy for the welfare of other people too, prompting the study’s authors to suggest that humane education programs could be used to break cycles of antisocial behavior and engender empathy between people.

Things we can do: We can work to make sure environmental and humane education programs that emphasize the capacities other animals share with humans are part of every young person’s education. Positive contact with farmed animals through activities and visits to farm sanctuaries may prove especially valuable.

Support public officials who work to establish egalitarian policies and programs, and discourage those who don’t.

Overcoming supremacism begins with recognizing that supremacist ideologies aren’t only wrong but endanger all of us by igniting conflict and violence that can spread like wildfire. The most durable rejection of supremacism occurs when public officials repudiate the exploitation of one group by a stronger one, as the Belgian Parliament did when it took over governance of the Congo region from Leopold, and as the British Parliament did when it enfranchised women. 

Politicians don’t often admit it when they prefer social inequality and their own group’s dominance, but there are often several telltale behaviors that betray their real attitudes and beliefs. Those high in social dominance can suffer from a supremacist syndrome that leads them to have racist and sexist beliefs, support exploitation of thenatural world in unsustainable ways, deny the climate crisis, and support nationalist policies. Officials who favor egalitarian policies and programs can reduce conflict by fighting racism and sexism, working to stop human exploitation of the natural world, and supporting multilateral organizations.

Things we can do: We can work for and financially support officials and candidates who support and implement egalitarian programs; in contrast, we can work against those who support inequality and dominance by an elite group.

Reduce our own carbon footprint.

The climate crisis is irrefutable evidence that when it comes to our planet’s future, we’re all in this together. Because people living in less prosperous countries usually contribute less to the continued warming of the Earth, they usually have fewer opportunities to mitigate it. Those of us who live in countries that are better off can (and need to) do our part. Global warming can serve as a spark that ignites social kindling by causing groups to compete for increasingly scarce resources—like water, food, and arable land. However, our shared fate can also bring us together in cooperative initiatives to fight the climate crisis. Individual countries can help a great deal by exceeding the targeted levels of carbon-footprint reduction they agreed to reach under the Paris Climate Agreement. We all can make it easier for our country to do that by reducing our own carbon footprint.

Things we can do: We can recycle what we use; we can reduce our use and waste of energy, water, and food; and we can refrain from consuming meat, eggs, and dairy products. As Michael Pollan said: “The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world.”

Buy the book here: https://lanternpm.org/books/the-supremacist-syndrome/