Over the course of human history, xenophobia has been a dynamic catalyst for various, seemingly unrelated incidents. It has caused war, economic catastrophe, segregation, persecution, extermination, riots, unrest, religious and ethnic feuds, and countless other occasions of human depravity. Everything from the rise of American exceptionalism to the holocaust can at least be partially explained by humanity’s suspicion of non-conventional individuals or groups. One must ask themselves: What is the cause of all of this? What is the engine that drives this seemingly unnecessary and counterproductive social phenomenon?
In the case of this question, one has to look no further than our most primal origins and conditions. Since the initial proliferation and diversification of our species on the rugged African savanna, and subsequent Middle Eastern steppe, humanity has relied on a complex social apparatus based upon personal familiarity with each individual and conformity to the general group. This particular social structure was most likely embedded deep into our psyche by evolutionary factors, molded to mirror the requirements necessary for the prolonged survival of our species. It is easy to see why this is so. As an individual, as person is weak and vulnerable to a multitude of dangers, but as a group we are strong and able. The obvious benefits of communal existence created a natural advantage for the individuals who chose group structure of isolation.
Over time, the solitary individuals were out competed for resources in the classic Darwinian fashion, leaving only the people who had the desire to congregate and work together toward a common goal. Once groups of the prevailing individuals encountered each other, they most likely competed for resources and territory. In this environment, the group that maintained the tightest cohesion, loyalty, and mistrust of outsiders succeeded. This simple fact allowed xenophobia to become part of our primal identity, a safeguard to be resorted to in times of great distress and tribulation. In essence, we are at heart a pack animal, prone to responding to crisis by conforming to the group and working toward a mutual solution, regardless of the intellectual or moral merit of the conclusion.
In short, xenophobia was a positive, commendable trait to have, as the ancients did not posses a code of laws or any other form of protection against brutal assault or annihilation. However, that is certainly not the case now. Through the progress of our technology, and thus, our society, we have learned other, more benign ways to care for our needs. Also, we have expanded transportation as never before, allowing new ideas and various groups of people to spread across the globe in an unprecedented amount of time. This stunning new ability has also, both in recent past and today, opened up an opportunity for repression, prejudice, and maltreatment to flourish.
At this point in our development, in an ideal world, our xenophobic tendencies should disappear, becoming nothing more than a vestigial memory of a bygone age. As much as we may wish this to be true, that is certainly not the case. Even today, nearly every human being is at least slightly xenophobic. People may judge others based on the clothes they wear, behaviors we deem unacceptable, the color of their skin, their sexual preference, the nature of their political persuasion, their religious identity. Many judgements are subconscious, and therefore nearly unwitting in nature.
No matter the amount of effort one could place into losing this irrational bias, our primal tendencies will still be broiling away, never far from the surface. In short, xenophobia, an antiquated defense mechanism for antiquity, is still a dynamic force in human society, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. It is a part of our identity, of our genetic code, and therefore it is extremely difficult to completely erase. Until we can effectively alter our genes synthetically, we have no viable chance of eliminating this specter of the past. However, we can learn to live with ourselves and our imperfections, because, after all, that is what truly makes us who we are.