Truth and Consideration: When Homophily is Murder

We were talking about race and different approaches that people take to resolving century old prejudices with modern notions of equality. She argued that people in Austin refuse to discuss race but claiming not to see it as a factor, which simply prolongs predispositions. And if you have been to Texas, even Austin, you know that racism, sexism and homophobia are pretty overt. Erika argued that the key is to recognize and discuss difference and celebrate those differences.

I wrote a blog a while ago on some notable differences between African Americans, their African counterparts and some discussions of evolutionary psychology, which of course is a very tricky subject given that evolutionary psychology has been used to justify racist policy in the past. My brother, Eric, argued that to even to discuss such things is to validate that difference and that was a danger. The mere coverage of it, perpetuated the perception of difference.

To me, the overriding principle in such tricky situations is truth. Intellectual honesty and curiosity is key and that to always consider every way the article can be taken, especially those who are not as intellectually honest, is a poor principle to follow. It subverts the greater good, the pursuit of knowledge.

Well, I struggled with this some more this morning. I am reading an interesting book on my Kindle, called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. One of the chapters is the effect of homophily on decision-making, how people we associate as similar to us can affect our decision making. Now this bears itself throughout history in some well-documented cases. The Sorrows of Young Werther, a novel by Goethe in which the main character commits suicide, prompted hundreds of suicides throughout Europe. Then there is the behavior of people in emergency situations are much more likely to act if there aren’t other people around who are also wondering whether to act or not. It’s group paralysis as we look for social cues on whether to act.

But this is documented in other, absolutely bizarre ways. For example, after a well-publicized heavyweight bout, there is an increase in the homicide rate. Violence on TV, violence in life … makes sense. But what’s fascinating is that if it’s a multi-racial fight, if the African American fighter loses, there is an increase in African American homicide rates, and if the Caucasion loses, an increase in fatalities among Caucasions. So overt violence maybe makes sense, even with the strength of association of race. Maybe we can trigger a natural violent instinct. But is there more here?

This one truly baffles me. After a well publicized suicide, the rates of car accidents and plane crashes in the area goes up. Could such a communicated case, similar to Werther, trigger sub-conscious mimicry? And mimicry in the face of our primal nature to survive? That’s pretty amazing. So if life or death is in the hands of journalists who report on a suicide, should they bury it? Should they be concerned about the potential effects? Should we report on the depravity of the human condition, if it encourages repetition?

Seems like a pretty tricky line that extended could be used for justification of Orwellian policy. That’s why I like the simplicity of honesty, not that's it's always simple. But I guess this answers the age-old adage. “If all your friends jumped off of bridge, would you?” You would. Just hope that it doesn’t end up on the news.