A considerable portion of our brains is dedicated to recognising faces at a distance because our most dangerous predators are others of our species. That friend-or-foe protocol atrophies when we become habituated to living in civil society. But put a rifle in a man’s hands, or a pistol on his hip, and that protocol is reactivated. And good that it is, because we want him to bite the hand of the enemy. But that incurs the risk of his biting ours by mistake. Plato thought we could reduce this risk the same way we do with our dogs. They need to be hardwired to distinguish friend from foe, and attack or defend accordingly.
In an entry entitled “Police Relations Made Simple”, I joined Plato in this suggestion and proposed we condition our police to bond with the communities they serve. And one way to do that is to billet white recruits with a black family for the duration of their training. In the threads to that entry, Pamela has rightly taken me to task on this suggestion. It’s naive, she points out, to suppose there are no yes-but-what-ifs?s.
Of course there are. Nevertheless the core of the proposal has a long history of success. The longstanding hostility between English and French Canadians has almost completely disappeared. How? By nothing more than the federal government sponsoring a summer high school exchange program.
As Pamela point out, things can go south. As I’m sure things must have gone in that exchange program. But I especially appreciate Pamela’s concession that “maybe this messiness is just what we need to see each other’s humanity.”
That exchange program was aimed at a linguistic divide. Race relations in America is a cultural one. Cultural divides are harder to collapse, but it can be done. It starts with eating breakfast together.