Cynthia Oi Under the Sun

Cynthia Oi

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

People like you
vs. people like us

JUST before the elections, a remarkable story caught my eye. Scientists had discovered a new species of human ancestors who lived on an Indonesian island called Flores.

These were tiny beings, no more than three feet tall. They had heads the size of a grapefruit, but despite their small brains, scientists believe that Homo floresiensis weren't bumbling dimwits.

The limestone cave in which a complete skeleton of a woman and bones of six other individuals were found also contained stone tools, like awls and blades. Animal bones indicated they used these tools to hunt and evidence showed they knew the use of fire, suggesting far more sophistication than their Neanderthal cousins.

I was intrigued because the find supports legends and folk tales about small people like Hawaii's menehunes. Even more interesting was that they lived as late as 13,000 years ago, inhabiting the Earth, as one paleoanthropologist put it, with "people like us."

In this context, that phrase suggests a connection. It binds modern beings to a diminutive race that was part of the astonishing complexity of human evolution.

It was jarring then to hear the same phrase used by many Americans after the election to describe a deep separation.

The words came from a 29-year-old Ohio father of three who proclaimed the re-election of President Bush as "a victory for people like us." They were used by a New Yorker who lamented that heartland dwellers seemed "so alienated from people like us."

What did the Ohio man mean by "us?" "Normal people," he said, "white Evangelicals," but not the "religious kooks" as blue-state, coastal types might see him.

Coastal types, meanwhile, define "us" as people who are "more sophisticated" and knowledgeable about a spectrum of national and international issues, not "cultural elitists" as the Bush faithful might regard them.

The presidential campaign and election sure did shatter the veneer of America's unity. Our so-called "one nation" now seems truly divisible with those in power reserving liberty and justice only for people like them.

A large part is due to the president, who characterized those who opposed his unreasonable policies in terms of good vs. evil, who repeatedly split the country with such utterances as "either you're for us or against us," who cast dissent as an attack on "moral values," who mutated America's tradition of tolerance and acceptance into exclusivity and condemnation.

Bush gave license to a bigotry cloaked in morality, where it became acceptable to categorize his supporters as patriots cherishing family values and human life, and his critics as homosexual- coddling, government-dependent heathens.

I'm puzzled by those who declare their Christianity while they issue judgments of others when the Bible instructs that judgments be left to the supreme being they worship. When they lay claim to their righteousness as "people like us," they cast off the rest of humanity, including gays, Buddhists, lesbians, nonbelievers, liberals, agnostics, Muslims and anti-war disciples as well as millions of others.

Unlike Homo floresiensis, "modern humans" will leave a written history of a society. Future scholars and researchers will not have to speculate about our depth of intelligence or extrapolate from artifacts the details of our existence. But I wonder if they will understand why a tribe who produced plenty would let some of its members go hungry, why a majority would impose upon a minority oppressive laws that intensified their suffering, and why -- with an amazing abundance of diversity in a civilization -- a powerful segment would choose to squelch entire communities, why a people who had developed such big brains would have such tiny hearts.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at: coi@starbulletin.com.



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