06 May 2008

Running against the wind down the irrational alley

Many years ago, my mother had an older friend who had a rather dark complexion, because her father was a descendant of the African slaves employed by the Ottomans, mostly for domestic work, until the late 19th Century. Sadly, this woman had never accepted her heritage or come to terms with her skin color; instead, she was forever resentful to her mother for having married that dark-skinned man, her biological father. It apparently never dawned on her that she was a unique and chance product of those 2 special people and that had her parents never mated with each other, or even, for example, if they had happened to have mated on another night she would not have been born.

What made her mentality especially disturbing to me was that she taught biology at a high school. Imagine having her as a teacher.

Nevertheless, I had always assumed that this woman’s distorted notion of her identity was an isolated case and that most normally intelligent adults would not fall into the same logical trap.

Just recently, however, I came upon another example, but this time in a fictional setting. A couple of weeks ago, I started reading the Turkish author Kemal Tahir’s novel Esir Şehrin İnsanları*. One of the secondary characters in the book, a Turkish man, visits his ex-wife, an Italian woman who, years earlier, had taken their small daughter and left him. The man goes out to lunch with his daughter, now in her late teens. She doesn’t recognize him and is instead under the impression that he is a friend of her father. During lunch, the man asks his daughter what she thinks of her father.

She became sullen. She said she couldn’t comprehend how her mother had done such a wrong thing...A Turkish father...
I can only hope Kemal Tahir, often labeled an intellectual, was aware of the absurdity of the young woman's thinking.

*People of the Captive City, first published in 1956, is a novel about the incipient nationalist movement in Istanbul after the 1st World War when the city was under British control. As far as I know there is no published English translation of it. A Turkish account of Tahir's life and works is here.


Bruce from Boston said...

This theme is at the core of lots of popular american fiction - including osme dramatic detective stories from the 50's, 60's and 70's.

I am afraid that this is not as isolated as you had thought.

If you want a few titles, let me know - and keep up the work: This is a great blog, and will be one of the required site sources for my marine science and public policy courses this summer at BU:

It is also particularly popular with my visiting foreign graduate students from Turkey.

Bruce from Boston

xoggoth said...

Is predudice necessarily an irrational thing though?

In the absence of proper facts it makes sense to base views on whatever limited information (or misinformation) one has. I would not trust a large sum of money to a Nigerian I did not know or for that matter, a young child to the care of an Englishman I did not know.

Does one buy a car one has heard is unreliable? Of course not, so why should be people be called racist or predudiced for applying the same logic to other humans?

Irrationality/predudice would only apply if one clung to that view when further knowledge suggested it was wrong or continued to apply it to an individual who did not fit the perception.


Bruce: Could you list some titles? Thanks.

xoggoth: I don't see this as a case of prejudice. If it is, then the person is being prejudiced against herself, which still doesn't make sense.

bruce from boston said...

Little Scarlet, by Walter Mosley
Paper Doll, by Robert B. Parker

Self hatred isn't logical, but pretty common.