Are We Only Human?

Published: 2023-11-26
Tagged: essay thoughts progress

AI-generated oil painting image of a city street at night with a warm glow coming out of the windows of a bar

Two days after Thanksgiving, NYC still had an empty feeling to it. Some residents were only just returning after visiting faraway relatives. Many more were just emerging from the unreality of feasting on turkey and Black Friday deals. An icy wind kept foot traffic sparse.

My friend and I were enwombed in a hip bar in Greenpoint when he brought up racism. European racism, of the contemporary kind, to be precise.

He expressed mild surprise that such a thing even exists. I suspect it conflicts with the memes around how Everything in Europe is Better: trains, socialized healthcare, higher food standards, less obesity, etc. He had also just learned about the Holodomor, though I don't know if that's connected to the racism he had in mind.

I brought up the coerced sterilization of Roma women in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. That's some ugly history right there. Recent too: 1966-2012.

I then said, about the presence of racism, that it's to be expected. We're only human after all.

"What's the ideal amount of racism in society?"

"Zero," he replied.

That struck me as such a charming American thing to say, and I mean this in the best way possible. My tired Eastern-European pragmatism crumbled away, leaving a trace of shame.

Only-human my ass. Here we are sending people into space and teaching robots to carve beautiful statues. Sure, these are examples of hands-on technical change. But the undercurrent here is one of changing perceptions: to make anything never before made, one must think thoughts before unthought.

Without people like my friend, now and throughout history, we would never have gotten to where we are. But there's so much more left to do.


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