Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions/Is intolerance often the result of personal insecurity?

While Hong Kong might hold some dangers for missionaries, there didn't seem to be anything which might threaten a woman of my age. I spent a week in Singapore, and then arrived in Thailand, a culture that turned out to pose a possible danger for some Italians. I emerged from the plane into the heat and humidity of Bangkok. The French tourists in Hong Kong had recommended an inexpensive hotel across the street from the huge, fascinating, outdoor market. There, one could buy live frogs, plastic combs, pig's heads, bronze Buddha’s, tiny birds plucked of feathers and ready to cook, orchids, edible insects and other strange objects. I bought a beautiful Chinese-style, straw hat, decorated with colorful straw flowers. It wouldn’t fit in my suitcases, so I wore it for most of the next three months.

There were no other Americans at my hotel, and I usually found myself with Europeans on local tours. Once, on a crowded bus I got into a conversation with a New Zealander, a member of his House of Parliament. Among other things, he explained that lawyers and lawsuits had been almost eliminated in his country by a prohibition against awarding money for 'pain and suffering'.

“What a good idea! Why should people demand payment for enduring pain and suffering?” I agreed. “We ought to relish the challenges we are able to survive, instead of expecting someone to reimburse us. Besides, lawyers are the ones who get most of the money from such awards,” I added, “and what pain and suffering do they endure? I know one thing, though. No American politician would get on a bus and talk to some ordinary tourist sitting next to him, as you are doing. Members of our legislatures have voted themselves huge salaries and would probably expect to be driven around in limousines.”

"A politician in New Zealand who displays more wealth than his constituents wouldn't be re-elected," he said.

What extraordinary progress I had made in initiating conversations with strangers, I reflected blissfully. Here I was even discussing policy with a member of a foreign government!

The most pleasant way to get around Bangkok was by ferry and water taxi. From the street the Thai Capital was hot, drab and congested, but from the water it was lovely. Temples, hidden behind high walls, exposed their golden splendor to the klongs and other waterways. Intricately carved wooden houses could be glimpsed among the vegetation along the banks. Some had colorful tile roofs and some were thatched. Even shacks with rusty, tin roofs looked picturesque amidst the trees and tropical foliage. People along the rivers seemed to live half in the water, like exotic amphibians. They swam in their sarongs and washed their hair, clothes and food in the river. Water buffalo stood motionless in the cool water as children splashed around them. Ferries ran like streetcars, and women in canoes sold produce, flowers and hot cooked food.

The attractive Thai people displayed a serene manner, reputedly considering anger a sin. They sat patiently in the traffic jams of Bangkok, neither swearing nor honking horns, as people do in most big cities of the world. I'd read that Thai people also had an aversion to being touched. (The climate would seem to discourage temper tantrums or cuddling.) I was not fond of being touched by strangers, and was interested to hear that somewhere in the world the feeling was regarded as “normal”. On a sightseeing trip down the river, the guide told us that a century ago the penalty had been death for touching the king or a member of the royal family. He related a pathetic little story about three royal children who drowned because of this Thai taboo. The children were out in a boat alone, and it tipped over. People stood on shore and watched them drown, rather than touch them.

After a couple of weeks I booked a Golden-Triangle Tour to northern Thailand. The corner where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet receives its name from the opium poppies grown there. I became friendly with a young Italian on the same tour. His culture included lots of touching. He never did anything more than pat the shoulder of our pretty little Thai tour-guide, or lay his hand on her arm, as he did to everyone. Nevertheless I watched her cringe at his friendly gestures. He must surely have been aware of the discomfort he was causing her; the Thai aversion to being touched was discussed in all the guide books. But the Italian seemed compelled to deliberately challenge the tradition.

We rode elephants as they worked a teak forest. We visited an opium-smoking tribe, dirty, dull eyed, pathetic looking people who augmented their poppy growing industry by selling beads and trinkets to tourists. European explorers, during the last century, traded beads and trinkets to natives all over the world, I mused. Who would have predicted that natives would someday sell so many beads and trinkets to European tourists? One afternoon we were on a mountain road visiting a Buddhist temple. Several trucks full of soldiers with rifles came and announced the King would pass by shortly. They ordered us to stand by the side of the road, with our hats off, and respectfully await the royal car. The Italian was talking to our tour guide. I noticed the soldiers' sullen glances as he repeatedly touched her. Then he did something that must have outraged them. He reached over and deliberately patted her on the head. He would have probably attracted less attention if he had patted her on the fanny, where Italians might be expected to pat girls. To a Thai the head is the temple of the soul, and to touch it is an insult. The Italian seemed determined to publicly defy the Thai tradition. The Thai soldiers muttered angrily among themselves and glared at the Italian. They advanced menacingly toward us with their rifles in their hands. Controlling their anger, they ordered us to move back further. The Italian apparently felt no hesitation about offending soldiers carrying rifles. That evening I went to dinner with the Italian. He did wish he could find some spaghetti, instead of all this rice, but we were unsuccessful. As we were eating our rice the Italian asked,

"Aren't your children concerned about you traveling alone to uncivilized corners of the world? I'd sure worry if my mother decided to go off and ride elephants in a Thai jungle."

"My children don't worry," I said with a laugh. "They are convinced their mother is invincible."

Having summoned the courage to face hostile psychologists, I wasn't finding much to fear in a Thai jungle. My children seemed to sense the confidence I had achieved. Nonconformists are forced to develop self-confidence. Either that or conform. My confidence has been bolstered by the fact that, during my lifetime, some of my minority views have been adopted by the majority. It has happened often enough that I hold out hopes for any of my beliefs that are still not widely shared. Perhaps intolerance is sometimes evidence of personal insecurity. I disagree with many commonly accepted beliefs, but I actually enjoy controversies. I would never deliberately challenge other people’s non provable, philosophical views though. I am a religious agnostic, I don't believe in a personal god, but I am disgusted by today’s militant atheists who initiate law-suits to ban expression of the dominant religion in schools and public ceremonies, for instance. I'm grateful to live in a tolerant society, but the majority is still entitled to a few privileges. However, today’s evangelical Atheists sometimes appeal to the courts to prohibit the mere mention of Intelligent Design in a classroom. They scornfully denounce everyone as “an ignorant creationist” who dares to question the concept of life as a mechanical device in which creativity originates as meaningless accidents. Life may be somewhat statistically predictable, but if free-will and consciousness exist as aspects of reality, they will always produce unanticipated surprises and evade mathematical description. I am content to remain agnostic about the participation of a deity in the process of evolution. However if philosophical materialists were really so confident of their Atheism, they would welcome open discussion, in the classroom, or anywhere else, and should have nothing to fear from people who believe life evolves by some form of responsive, intelligent, biological organization. There is nothing supernatural about my own conscious free-will and purposeful creativity, and I see no reason why such a force should be unique to human consciousness. Surely some form of consciousness is an aspect of all life.

Questions edit

The original images may be found on this pdf copy of the book.

Current page: Is intolerance often the result of personal insecurity?

  1. Wouldn’t volition be an essential aspect of creativity?
  2. Could an inherently creative universe, a living universe, ever be defined by mathematical formulas?
  3. How did the laws of nature originate?
  4. Are some scientific concepts too sacred to be debated?
  5. Are intelligence and creativity two separate and distinct processes?
  6. Are psychoanalytic theories profound? Or just convoluted?
  7. If purposeful creativity exists as an aspect of reality, why should we assume it is a process unique to human consciousness?
  8. Can the value of scientific knowledge ever justify enrolling people in research projects without their knowledge or consent?
  9. Exactly what technical knowledge enables psychiatrists to manipulate ids, egos and psyches?
  10. Should "normal" be equated with average?
  11. What technical knowledge enables psychologists to declare people emotionally abnormal?
  12. Are psychologists able to scientifically measure parental love? Or its lack?
  13. Is the universe, including life, an automatic, mechanical process, driven by nothing but the laws of physics and chemistry (the materialist position)? Or do other forces play a role, such as mind, consciousness, judgment and volition - most of which we presently have only have limited understanding?
  14. Should doctors and scientists refrain from expressing skepticism about theories of colleagues in other fields?
  15. Do people generally choose the challenges which force them to grow?
  16. How can we claim to scientifically manipulate thoughts and emotions if we don't even understand how such elusive phenomena relate to physical reality?
  17. What is faith? If belief that God organized the universe is a matter of faith, why isn't the materialist belief that the universe came together by some accidental, mechanical process also a matter of faith? (Or, the Buddhist belief in self-organization.)
  18. Are living creatures constantly evolving as they strive to grow and adapt? Or must evolutionary adaptations passively wait around for a random mutation to accidentally pop up in someone's genome?
  19. Should we have official committees to define scientific knowledge? Or is an ever-changing, constantly-challenged, general consensus our best way to keep our understanding of reality vibrant?
  20. Could lying on a couch and obsessing over a traumatic childhood ever be therapeutic?
  21. Would it even be possible to conduct a scientific study to determine whether psychological treatments are effective?
  22. What is racism?
  23. Does free-will exist?
  24. Would obsessing over a traumatic event ever cure any mental illness?
  25. Could a creative intelligence be an innate aspect of all Nature?
  26. What would define economic theories as materialistic or non-materialistic?
  27. Is intolerance often the result of personal insecurity?
  28. Consciousness and free-will may be defining characteristics of all life, but do we have much understanding of what they actually are?
  29. Can we do other people's growing for them?
  30. Are Western democracies civilization’s ultimate achievement?
  31. Which would produce the most psychologically stunted individuals? Being emotionally challenged? Or never encountering any challenges?
  32. Could the purpose of life be to participate in the growth of the universe?
  33. Can science investigate and attempt to describe a non-materialistic version of the universe?
Current page: Is intolerance often the result of personal insecurity?