Geneva Diaries #23

War, Prejudice and Human Nature

Subject: Re: TR: Calvin Sloan — A Doctored History: An Interview With William F. Pepper

On Jul 17, 2010, at 12:22 PM, “Roger Stevenson” wrote:

Dear Purnima,

Here is an interview that Charlie sent me about Martin Luther King’s death.


by: Calvin Sloan, t r u t h o u t | Interview


Dear Roger

However much I admire the noble idea of egality, political and social equality, living through a socialist system, India in the 70’s, 80’s, I found the political and governmental expression fell far short of our ideals.  

It’s not just a matter of being rewarded for ones efforts and creativity, which is what you have managed to achieve in the US, I believe it’s a much deeper need, where man is not only rewarded (and this can be done in many ways other that the familiar material manner which can be as rewarding if not more)but, has an avenue for the expression of his art and efforts. A system where man can freely and fully express himself with minimal governmental involvement and where his efforts and expressions are protected. He should not need to get special licenses or sanctions which can be blocked or used as an excuse to extract when he goes about quarrying marble for the Sistine chapel (for example) or attempts to source the much valued blue pigment. While building he must be assured that his designs and diagrams are protected. The final result of course, where such unhindered support is offered by the state is not just of value to the citizens and the sculptor but the state. The value of providing such a platform for free expression can never be overstated as it needs a certain environment to be fostered, and is often stirred from the passion of the soul. The artists art is often his real compensation and the rest sustenance. The case is similar for industry, science, education and all other expressions of man. 

However, pursuant to our discussions, I firmly believe that the driving motive must be reviewed, from value set on sheer numbers and productivity, a move to a more sustainable model, yes the Sistine chapel in natural biodegradable materials sourced and constructed in a environmentally sustainable manner. 

What do you think?   



Prejudice and Human Nature

Dear Purnima,

What a wonderful treat to awake to two marvelously crafted, as usual, emails.  And I really appreciate your thoughts on looking back at our roots and the difficulty one often has of adapting and being fully accepted in a different culture.  I’ve given all of this a great deal of thought over the past several years, especially after moving to France and viewing the States from a much different perspective.  I grew up in an America that was quite Pollyanna in the image that it created for itself both at home at abroad.  I think I actually bought into that myth of “manifest destiny” that was so often bandied about by fervent nationalists from various political and religious camps: America was special and had a divine calling to bring order and freedom to the rest of the planet.  It’s the land of milk and honey and opportunity, and you can throw in a few gold rushes here and there, the great melting pot where the homeless and poor from around the world are welcomed with open arms and encouraged to join together in this pursuit of idealistic hubris.  It was a country where even a lowly peanut farmer could be elected president and where justice and freedom reined for all.  My journey to awareness and a more complete understanding of all the forces that shaped the country was long and arduous and, for the most part, the product of living abroad and seeing ‘my country’ through the eyes of others.  I now realize that the racial inequality that supposedly ended with the Civil War was a distinct blemish on the American landscape.  The assassination of Martin Luther King (I was shaving in a hotel in Avila, Spain the morning I heard of his death).  I am now fairly convinced that he was not simply the victim of a white racist, but that he was eliminated by the powers in charge of what was fast becoming a plutocracy controlled by huge financial interests.  What King had set in motion and the kind of civil disobedience he was ready to unleash on the country was intolerable.  He couldn’t be allowed to continue.  But immigrants of many ethnic backgrounds were supposedly welcomed to the country, only to suffer the indignation and injustice of a society that was truly racist in so many ways.  The Chinese immigrants were used to build the railroads in the west and when they were finished, it was made perfectly clear to the Chinese that they were far from being first-class citizens like everyone else and were, in many instances, hounded out of communities where they were no longer needed.  What the country did to the Japanese living in America during WW II was unpardonable.  And I won’t take the time to go into all the military incursions, invasions, secret missions, assassinations abroad, massacres, etc., etc., etc., in order to provide a favorable climate and financial structure for American business interests.

But you really did hit the nail on the head when, in responding to my first bit about V’s experience with the US Embassy, you said that it was all a matter of mucho big bucks.  That’s all that has really ever mattered.  The other memes and narratives about idealism, freedom and democracy for all, were simply furthered by a propaganda machine involving the complicity of the main stream media.  It was really the advent of the internet and made it possible to look beyond the rhetoric.

I could go on for some time, but I’ve got to go fix some lunch for myself.

Thanks for the links to the two videos.  The Poumy film on Youtube was really great.  I can’t, however, say the same about the tune “Just an Illusion”




Dear Roger,

Its great to wake up to two responses from you and oh so quickly!

I have been on a long search for a synonym for prejudice across the spectrum of languages that I am familiar with in order to understand the word (and the cultural reference) a bit better. It’s incredible how different people interpret emotions so differently, which is then captured in language creating its own unique universe, a fun exercise for us to embark upon especially when there are no roots in common. And still on fun, think of these various languages as the people of America who come together to live, love and work thinking in different tongues where much is lost in translation.

During my numerous French lessons, I quizzed endlessly asking for a French translation of prejudice. I came across the word stigmate (in bill boards surrounding Geneva when I first arrived two years ago) which translates as scar, mark, not sure if that is the same as prejudice as we understand it assuming what we understand is the same, then I encountered honte which is really shame disgrace, and now the dictionary tells me its prejuge. Would love to get your feedback on the French.

Yes, I am more than aware that the US is riddled with prejudice, often as a shield, a cover for ignorance and a sense of inadequacy.  This immediately gives the wearer a sense of elevation as he identifies a distinction (not necessarily a weakness or flaw, but often just an difference that he is unable to identify or relate to exposing his inexperience and inadequacy) and used that distinction as a cause to discriminate. Of course, the discriminator must be either in the majority, thus setting the standards for the “acceptable” or in a position of power or influence.

This takes me back to my last email where I was pouring over identity and allegiance. Could you for a moment slip into my shoes understand my dilemma as I view your nation and ponder: to embrace or not to embrace. The print media, television, even film seem to keep generating the most hideous images of bewhiskered banditos jumping up and down in black petticoats brandishing blades and bazookas. I look forward to one morning where I don’t have to confront these hobgoblins with my morning tea. These of course are presented alongside with perfectly manicured Europeans in Italian designer suits who are debating how best to deal with the baddies! Bizarre, non? What is even more incredible is that these supposed banditos happen to come from Tora Bora and my neck of the woods. Where I come from, the markings of high culture(similar to your French obsession), reflected in art, poetry, literature, architecture, and even our cuisine, is pervaded by Persian influence over a millennia across the subcontinent specifically from the Mughal court and exists even today as an integral part of our culture. Whenever I think of Persia, I think of paradise, a land with fountains, art, poetry and verses of life and love. I think of miniatures (have you seen the Mughal miniature paintings?) delicately drawn highlighting a fine bone profile wielding a certain sophistication with elegantly dressed men and women in luxurious robes of silk and fine jewels a universe away from the images projected in the media. Our children and grandchildren, uncles and aunts who come from communities across the spectrum, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians, have Persian names, such a universe away from your “islamist” profiling. Such is a culture of a place and a people, and I wonder how I would explain myself, fully fit in to your universe…and so two decades later I hold out, I wait.

More on this topic later.




Dear Roger,

Still on the subject of prejudice, I revisit Strasbourg. Yes, I admit I was much to anxious to complete my email which stretched onto the early hours of the morning that I left out a most important experience, something I was keen to share and which prompted me head back to the writing table in the first place…a revelation!

As I wandered around the old town, the grand island, making my way to the breathtaking Cathedral, in what must have been the hottest day in Europe, a searing 38 degrees, I found myself questioning the series of unusual events that seemed to be unfolding around me which I have been unable to rationally comprehend. I sensed that the earth and the air wished to share their secrets, so I questioned them about prejudice as I walked around the cathedral asking why is it that people hate. Do people need to hate, do people look (find excuses) to hate, does hating something satisfy some innate convoluted desire within man, is there a receptor in the brain for hate (which unleashes serotonin and adrenalin) giving us a sense of satisfaction and a high?

See below the interior of the Strasbourg Cathedral:

What if the above is true and man looks for reasons to hate because it satisfies something within him? What if this is an integral part of human nature (I wonder how that puts us in any evolutionary advantage)? What then is the fate of our species if the “desire to hate”/prejudice is so integral to us? Thus recognizing this trait, what if man is fed with the excuses (catalyst) he unknowingly seeks that foster hate? 

As I walked around for the cathedral once again, exploring prejudice further in all its colors and excuses,  I saw in it a reality, a truth, an expression of human nature resulting in the world we see around us today of anger, bloodshed and war. Confirming to myself that we do look for an excuse to hate, to express our prejudice and this can be based on nothingness, a figment of someone’s imagination, a fantasy, so shallow is this emotion but equally strong is the need to vent/express it.

Good night.


See below an artwork by Ian Burn titled Xerox Book that best expresses this “fantasy” or “nothingness” basis for prejudice that when copied is magnified exponentially just like the blank sheet of paper in the Xerox Book which is copied a 100 times, and with each copy the visual noise is replicated till it turns from a blank sheet into a black one.


Dear Purnima,

Ah, my dear, you have opened that nasty can of worms of genetic, innate behavioral traits versus culturally acquired patterns, not to mention the dubious question of universal  tendencies as opposed to individual actions and beliefs.  I really don’t know if there is a definitive answer to the question you raise about prejudice.  My gut reaction is that it is mainly a cultural adaptation that individuals pick up during their formative years – they tend to react as those around them react to any given situation, and I doubt that there is a receptor in the brains for hate.  At least I hope that is the case.  However, when you look at the world around us and the increasingly frequent examples of prejudice towards others, which often leads to unspeakable acts of violence against another ethnic or religious group, it certainly give one cause to wonder.  And yet, there are many, many people who seem to be motivated not by hate and some kind of perverse pleasure derived from hating, but by a sincere desire to express empathy and compassion for others and to try and make the world a better place.  I have to assume that the very existence of such individuals who were not motivated or programmed to hate would be evidence that your conclusion in Strasbourg is not totally valid.

You asked earlier about a translation for prejudice.  Your final suggestion that préjugé might be the best one is right on.  If you break the word down, it really means a pre-existing judgement of something or someone = avoir des idées préconçues.  And I would put forth that most of those preconceived opinions are acquired rather than innate.

I tried to think if I truly hated anyone.  While I certainly could state that I have cause to hate a few individuals, George Bush Jr. for example who started the war in Iraq that eventually led to the death of Sergio Vieira de Mello – one of the finest individuals I have met in my lifetime.  I think I truly hated GWB the night Sergio was killed, but I don’t derive any kind of pleasure from that emotion, and don’t dwell on it very much.

I read an article in The Guardian last week about the very best all-time great drama series produced for TV, and the top of the rather long list was the BBC’s adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.  I have downloaded the entire series and started watching it.  It stars that delicious actor Jeremy Irons, and is one of the most literate and marvelous adaptations of a novel I have seen, and I am savouring every moment of it.  And I see that your fellow countryman Aravind Adiga has a new novel out, Between the Assassinations.  Have you read it ?  I’ll have to pick it up and add it to my ever-growing pile of books on my nightstand.

Have a great evening,


Dear Roger

As I lie between my two slient bed partners in the cemetiere du roi, Candolle seems to stir pointing me in the direction of “natures war”, the precursor to Darwins survival of the species and the struggle for dominance.

Do you think perhaps we are still continuously in a state of war, programmed to be so? And that we use excuses like prejudice to engage in war (especially since we have created power hungry structures that close all other avenues for conciliation), thereby asserting dominance and control aspiring to do what has been done throughout evolution, ensure our specific genes retain an advantage.


See below Candolle resting at the Cimetiere de Plainpalais in Geneva, Switzerland:


Dear Purnima,

So war is the means by which the strongest elements of the species maintains their superiority over the weakest elements.  Does that work for conscious beings who are capable of making reasoned and rational decisions ?  Is there a ‘war gene’ that somehow programs us to mount armed conflicts that will guarantee the survival of the fittest ?  What a conundrum !




Envoyé : lundi 19 juillet 2010 10:43

Dear Roger

You said in the previous email: 

“It was really the advent of the internet and made it possible to look beyond the rhetoric”

You do mail some juicy tidbits that I can’t afford to lose, I would love to hear more! And of course about that intimate story that brought out such an intense emotion. 

Still on the topic of the Internet, I think that this could possibly be our salvation (or suicide, u tell me) If we do possess that innate trait to engage in war. 

However rational and logical we might appear( and you had brought this up as mankind’s saving trait, I am not quite sure), have we not heard those very same rational voices being deployed through history to persuade the persuadable (with our thirsty receptors aching for an excuse), to engage in war. 

Perhaps, we could live not only our passions but fears and aggression through the virtual world. Fighting, acquiring dominating chatting and perhaps even having sex. 

  Its very possible that we will create this alternate reality to live as we are perhaps innately programmed to do and use our “real” world to sleep. Flipping life as we know it. Would that make a better world?

On my way home this afternoon, hope to see you very soon!



Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Published by Purrnima

Travel Writer - Art Blogger - CyberSmurf

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