Saturday, July 16, 2011

Incredible Diversity

This happens roughly every other year—whenever I have an unusually long wait at an airport and, as a consequence, see unusually large numbers of people. I suppose you have to be at a major city’s airport. Detroit certainly works, and I’ve seen the same both east and west and in Chicago too. One sees every race, age, and every conceivable body type, male and female—and for each of those categories, in addition, I also see them in quite ordinary American dress and in traditional garb from all over the world. It’s amazing. I first had this feeling—namely that humanity is extraordinarily—and physically—diverse when perusing one of Jared Diamond’s books (I think it was Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed); there I saw photographs of all kind of people from around the globe thickly clustered, and the impression was striking. Now airports are enough to bring the feeling back. Hasn’t always been so. In the heydays of my travelling (1970-80), the fabulous diversity was beginning to appear. Now in a community like Detroit it is the norm, especially in summertime, when families visit from all corners of the world. Reminds me of a fascinating discussion of human nature Mortimer Adler presents in Ten Philosophical Mistakes. He invites us to consider animal species. Looking at each, he says, you would note differences. But…

The dominant likeness of all members of the species would lead you to dismiss as relatively insignificant the differences you found, most of which can be explained as the result of slightly different environmental conditions.
He then invites us to make random drop-in visits to look at human societies.

You would come away [from such a venture] with the very opposite impression from the one you took away from your investigation of the populations that belonged to one or another animal species. You were there impressed by the overwhelming similitude that reigned among its members. Here, however, you would find that the differences were dominant rather than the similarities.
Adler was, of course, not talking about physical differences—but they’re also present. As above, so below.

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