"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, May 31, 2021

Biden’s Foreign Policy–Duped By Moral Exceptionalism And Playing Into The Hands Of Putin, Xi, And The Ayatollahs

President Biden has ‘put Putin and Xi on notice’ – telling them in no uncertain terms that the United States will tolerate no human rights abuses and will counter any xenophobic, nationalistic claims to ethnic purity with all of America’s influence.  Such threats are empty and meaningless in geopolitical terms.  The United States is deeply in debt to China and plans to become even more so with the proposed multi-trillion dollar budget which no tax increases can cover.  President Xi knows that no matter how much bluster about human rights may come from the White House, America will do nothing.  It can do nothing.  The United States is so indebted to China that even calling in a small portion of America’s debt would cause a major disruption in financial markets.  Xi knows that Biden needs China far more than China needs the United States. Washington’s Sturm und Drang is nothing more than the crashing cymbals and big-breasted arias of a Wagnerian opera.

In the past few decades China, whose leaders have wanted nothing to do with moral exceptionalism, mission, or conditionalities have invested significantly in the Third World.  Their contracts would be on a strictly quid-pro-quo basis.  Chinese companies would build African roads, bridges, railways, and ports; and in return China would get long-term, guaranteed access to energy and mineral resources at favorable, unchanging, low rates.  Or, as in the case of the Horn of Africa, the Chinese would farm arable but unused and undeveloped agricultural land, export its products back to China, and return a small portion of the profits to the host country.  There was never a question about governance or civil rights.  Those were internal issues, of interest only to the partner country, not China.

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As a result, Chinese public and private investment now far surpasses American.  By offering these practical agreements, China has both benefited host countries, enriched itself, cornered the market in essential rare earths, and perhaps most importantly, gained an unshakable political foothold in Africa.

At the same time, the United States has insisted that all foreign aid be tied to democratic reform.  Dictatorships in Africa would only get foreign assistance if they agreed to reforming their governance, their judiciary, and their economic systems.  The Big Men of Africa readily agreed but never complied, and billions of aid dollars were simply transited to Switzerland.  The World Bank, burned time and time again on these bad loans, kept insisting that they were on the right moral track and continued to renegotiate them; but each and every time, the loans were non-performing because the funds loaned to corrupt African governments were never seen by the people they were intended to reach.  While continuing to take US generous grants, the Big Men turned to China for even more profitable investments.  They could continue to salt away billions in foreign bank accounts while letting the Chinese take over the development of the infrastructure which would eventually pay handsome rewards.  The price? Guaranteed low prices for oil over and extended period. No problem, since even at below market rates, the price paid would continue to enrich those in power.

Alexander Putin is similarly dismissive of Biden’s moral posturing.  Biden’s cancelling of the XL pipeline and stranglehold on domestic oil and gas exploitation are early Christmas gifts to Russia who now can exert even more political pressure on Western Europe, already dependent on Russian energy.  Without American energy, Russia will be Europe’s biggest if not only gas supplier.  Biden’s exceptionalism is no match for Putin’s canny politics in the Middle East, positioning Russia as a major player between Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey.  America can only watch as Russia extends its political influence and hegemony.

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The ayatollahs already know that the United States is a political infant, negotiating as Obama did a nuclear treaty which gave Iran all it ever could have wanted – a renewed nuclear program in ten years (the waiting period is almost up), desultory inspections, and free rein to support Hezbollah, Hamas, and other client terrorists in the Middle East – and now that Biden has regressed to a Carter-era human rights agenda, it expects to expand its military and political influence and strengthen its intent to destroy Israel.

Now that Trump is out of the White House, Korea’s Kim Jong-Il knows that he has a free ride.  As soon as he announces that he is interested in peace talks with the West and sets massive food aid to the Korean population he has starved as a condition, the American president will come running.

Biden is Kim’s lapdog, an idealistic dupe. 

American foreign policy has always been based on the idea of exceptionalism.  Democracy is not simply a political system based on principles of equal rights and justice; but one of higher moral value.  There is no room for objection or dissent allowed from those countries America is hoping to influence.  There is something immoral, wrong, if not inherently evil about a society which deliberately and persistently denies individual liberty, promotes cultural homogeneity, and insists that individual freedoms will always come second to national harmony and purpose.

Yet country after country is not only questioning but denying America’s exceptionalism.  Democracy is not a value, they say, but a political system which is outdated if not archaic given today's geopolitical realities.  Russia, China, Iran, and other political groupings have asserted that historical culture, religion, or social nationalism trump liberal democracy at every hand.  There is no mistaking either Putin’s or Xi’s imperialist designs and their insistence on cultural and political hegemony.  Putin has dealt ruthlessly with Chechen separatists and have largely neutralized them and other South Caucasian terrorist groups.  Ethnic diversity is the cause of civil conflict and an inhibitor of national prosperity and must be eliminated.

China’s Xi is no different.  He will tolerate no ethnic separatism and has made it clear to the Uighurs and other Muslim separatist ethnicities that they are to conform to secular China and to Han Chinese cultural identity or else they will be destroyed.

Diego A. von Vacano in a  definitive book called The Art of Power writes

Machiavelli is concerned with a more minimalist conception of man; one in which existence is fragile and politics is urgently necessary to safeguard it. Politics is born not from man’s superior qualities, but rather from his weaknesses. He does not see a path for human achievement except insofar as it comes from answering the challenges of the fragility of life.
Machiavelli’s argument is compelling, for even in a cursory reading, history reveals itself as repetitively aggressive and self-serving; and these impulses are at the very heart of human nature.  Neither one reflects any interest in moral regeneration. 

Henry Kissinger, the most eloquent modern apologist for a Machiavellian realpolitik, rejected the idea of values in international politics.  National self-interest was the only path to strength.  He dismissed the moral arrogance of Jimmy Carter and would have laughed at Biden’s reprise of this failed, discredited policy. Jimmy Carter's focus on 'human rights', the antithesis of realpolitik, set back American foreign policy by decades, enforcing a values-first approach to conflict.  None of America's enemies then or now ever subscribed to such accommodating ideas, and we are still paying the price for his idealism.

Even conservative President George W. Bush rejected the idea of realpolitik, and felt that the war in Iraq was more than anything an attempt to spread Western-style democracy and liberal economics to the Middle East.  The Establishment of a democratic regime in Baghdad would have an inevitable effect on the entire region.  Newly prosperous, free, and enterprising Iraqis would show the way.

The war went wrong for many reasons, but principally because it was the wrong war at the wrong time and place.  Although revisionist reasoning is never advised, the ill-advised invasion of Iraq based on American values was completely wrong.  Given the reasoning of realpolitik, the real enemy was Islamic terrorism, and rulers like Saddam Hussein, Assad, and the Egyptian military should have been supported, not attacked.

Biden has not only not learned the lessons of the past, but refuses to even consider them.  Despite millennia of historical evidence and the experience of recent years, he insists that there actually is such a thing as absolute good and that America is its disciple, warrior, and defender.  If millions listened to the messages of Jesus and Paul about good will, compassion, and faith; so will they to him and his message of cooperative peace.

The next four years are sure to see Chinese and Russian imperialism and hegemony, Iranian aggression, Islamic terrorism, and North Korean threats.  None of these countries are beholden to the United States and none are obliged to listen to Biden’s holier-than-thou, sanctimony.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Anti-Vaxxers, UFOs, Armageddon, And Other Lunacies–Americans’ Irremediable Gullibility

Not long ago a journalist travelled to Mississippi to do a series of articles on the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians and their participation in the War of 1812 on the side of the United States against the British and the Creeks.  Andrew Jackson beat the British in the decisive Battle of New Orleans, and then complied with Madison’s order to remove all Indian populations from East of the Mississippi; and the Indian settlements around Columbus, Mississippi were abandoned.

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The Choctaws and the Chickasaws had been well-established in eastern Mississippi for centuries and had developed a middle class which was sedentary, entrepreneurial and relatively wealthy.  Archaeological digs have unearthed jewelry and ornamentation which had come from Europe by way of Spanish traders.   Whatever their relative cultural significance and their unquestionable support to the Union, only traces of them remain east of the river.

The journalist was paired with a free-lance writer from the region, a man who had made the Choctaws and Chickasaws his stock in trade, and over the years had published a number of articles on their history, origins, and social structure.  What the journalist and his newspaper did not know was that the writer, when not focusing on the Indians of the Prairie, was pursuing ‘alternative’ theories of indigenous cultures, most notably their alien origins.  

Most important were his investigations on Nazca Indian culture of the Peruvian altiplano that flourished from c. 100 BC to 800 AD.  The Nazca are perhaps best known for their monumental line drawings depicting scenes from their cosmology.  Seen from ground or eye level, the figures are indistinct and indecipherable, but when seen from a thousand feet up are clearly representational.  Since there were no flying ships in this prehistoric period, it was concluded by some that the original Nazca were descended from an alien civilization. 

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More traditional anthropologists dismissed these theories out of hand and suggested that they were nothing more than a primitive culture’s own expression of their existence and culture to the gods. The desert floor on which the drawings were made is covered in a layer of iron oxide-coated pebbles of a deep rust color. The ancient peoples, say these scientists, created their designs by removing the top 12 to 15 inches of rock, revealing the lighter-colored sand below. They likely began with small-scale models and carefully increased the models’ proportions to create the large designs.

Ancient Pre-Columbian civilizations, most notably those in the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico, lived in a mystical world of powerful, intimidating, threatening, all powerful gods.  The gods were immanent in the high mountains circling the valley and in the violent storms that visited it.  An elaborate system of worship including human sacrifice was developed to appease these vengeful gods and to supplicate them.  A cosmology which included both the gods and their human subjects was common.  

As common but far less primitive and savage was the worldview of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  The gods were not abstractions but vital, living, immortal, and immensely powerful beings.  Worship and admiration of the gods and fealty to them  were natural expressions of the ancient world.

Yet the ‘alternate’ anthropologists who studied the Nazca refused to accept any such terrestrial explanations.  They knew that Earth had been visited frequently by alien civilizations, and that the Nazca line drawings were but one obvious example of their visitation.

Sometime between mid-June and early July 1947 a rancher found wreckage on his sizable property in Lincoln County, New Mexico, approximately 75 miles north of Roswell. Several “flying disc” and “flying saucer” stories had already appeared in the national press that summer, leading the rancher to believe the wreckage—which included rubber strips, tinfoil, and thick paper—might be alien in origin.  Official Air Force communiques, quick retractions, and additional information, far from clarifying the situation only added credence to the theory. 

From that point Americans’ credulousness and persistent ability to believe in the impossible took over, and over seventy years later, the belief that alien flying saucers did indeed land in Roswell, is as strong as it ever was.

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President Biden’ has given new currency to UFOs and has supported an investigation into the possibility of alien invasion.  "We take reports of incursions into our air space by any aircraft, identified or unidentified, very seriously," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters when asked about reports of aerial phenomena in the United States’ airspace. "Certainly the president supports ODNI putting together a report."

Although many political observers winced at this press release – nothing in the Trump years had ever matched this and hopes were high that the new President would base his administration on truth, transparency, and good sense – nevertheless, there it was, lunacy out there for everyone to see.

Biden supporters dismissed conservative allegations that Biden’s dementia had gotten far worse and that he was beginning to see things.  His press secretary explained that the President was not endorsing alien theory, just expressing a desire to keep our skies free and clear. 

The late-night comedians had a field day and were as delighted as could be that this somber, pedantic, and hectoring White House had finally shown some life.  Just as ratings were plunging, they increased.  ‘UFOs IN THE WHITE HOUSE!!’  shouted the headlines of a major tabloid.  “THE ALIENS ARE COMING’ said another.

Why is this a surprise?  A recent Reuters poll found that nearly twenty-five percent of the American public believe that Armageddon will come in their lifetimes.  Less often mentioned is Americans’ persistent denial of evolution, cited by nearly one-third of all Americans (Scientific American poll).  Conspiracy theories abound – the landing on the moon never happened, Oswald did not kill Kennedy, and the Trilateral Commission and the International Jewish Conspiracy are the real governors of America.

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Our investigative journalist happened to meet a local freelancer on one of his trips to Mississippi who told him that he was working on a comprehensive investigation into Russian control of America through fluoridation.  The Germans had discovered the mind-bending properties of fluorides during WWII and had planned to use it as a potent weapon to neutralize political opposition once the Nazis had won the war; but the research fell into Russian hands when they conquered Germany and now they were infusing a particularly virulent strain of the compound into the American water supply.  Fluoride, said the freelancer, has the particular property of weakening human will, and soon the entire American population would be complaisant, complacent sheep, duty-bound only to the will of the Russians.

In an article on the origin of conspiracy theories, researchers Viren Swami and Rebecca Coles detailed the sociological and psychological determinants of conspiracy theories.  There are an astounding number of conspiracy theories that abound today; and for just about every current event, there are many who believe that some dark cabal is behind it.

The truth’, the TV show The X-Files told us, ‘is out there’. Millions of people worldwide seem to agree, disbelieving official accounts of important social and political events. In the United States, for example, scholars have noted a steady increase in the number of poll respondents who believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in killing John F. Kennedy.  In the wake of 9/11, commentators highlighted the proliferation of conspiracy theories about the event, with polls suggesting that more than a quarter of respondents believe the US government knew in advance, participated in, or took no action to stop the attacks.

The reasons for the proliferation of conspiracy theories are many. To the extent that conspiracy theories fill a need for certainty, it is thought they may gain more widespread acceptance when establishment or mainstream explanations contain erroneous information, discrepancies, or ambiguities. A conspiracy theory helps explain those ambiguities and provides a convenient alternative to living with uncertainty. Or that the human desire for explanations of all natural phenomena aids the conspiracist in the quest for public acceptance. The world is simply too complex, too unfathomable for the ordinary American to grasp logical theories.

A ‘monological belief system’ allows conspiracy theorists to easily assimilate explanations for new phenomena that would otherwise be difficult to understand or would threaten their existing beliefs. Those, for example, who more strongly endorsed 9/11 conspiracy theories were also more likely to believe in other, seemingly unrelated conspiracy theories. This is perhaps the most insidious aspect of conspiracy theories – once you have adopted one theory on the basis of internalized feelings, selective ‘evidence’, and socio-pathological needs, you easily adopt others.

All of which leads to the flimflammery of anti-vaxxers.  With no proof whatsoever, and basing their conclusions on hearsay, discredited research, and a wild, collective fear of government perversity and secretive manipulation, these 'alternate realists' are refusing to get vaccinated thus slowing herd immunity, putting their families and neighbors at risk, and adding to their subscription to conspiracy theories.

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Anti-vaxxers, however are true Americans.  We have always fallen for the most transparent of tricks, the blandishments of snake oil salesmen, bearded ladies and two-headed freak show babies.  We are lovers of image, the ideal, the absurd, and the sensational.  Increasingly unbound by any national ethos, by Cato the Elder’s moral prescriptions for a responsible citizenry, or Jefferson’s ideas of the Enlightenment rule of just law, we are free to believe whatever.  Every man for himself in this new amoral and illusionary political universe.  Although Biden has emphasized the importance of truth, clarity, transparency, science, and objectivity, his efforts to reform America are vain.  After all, he is part of the problem.

Meanwhile, freed from intellectual discipline and encouraged by the cult of identity and personal worth, the number and type of conspiracy theories increases geometrically.  We have always been a loony, unhinged, and crazy society, but now all bets are off and absolutely anything goes.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Freaks, Crazies, And Weirdos - Life Without Them In Cancelled America Is Boring And Tedious Indeed

Bearded ladies, babies with two heads, midgets, conjoined goats; armless, legless dwarfs, deformed giants, and cats with fish gills are worth triple the price of admission.  The freak show is fires, crashes, horrible deformities and disease, misfortune, and God’s irony all rolled up into one.   Life without it would be intolerable.

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Every city has its own toned-down version of the weird and unexplainable – its hermits, its morbidly obese; its dumb, clueless, and ugly; and its flashers.  They are nothing, however, compared to those imaginary deformed, those ordinary neighbors transformed by gossip, innuendo, rumor, and one unfortunate miscue into fantastical freaks. 

Emma Sandstrom’s suicide which had only been rumored had become a ghoulish affair where she had hanged herself with lamp cord in the basement or turned a mottled reddish blue from asphyxiation in her gas range or cut her wrists in the bathtub which she had filled with bubbles and lavender scent or eaten rat poison, and consumed with thirst was found head first in the toilet bowl.

The ‘truth’ never came out.   None of the suspicions had any real merit or foundation.  She could have died peacefully in her bed or felled by a stroke; but the rumors of suicide persisted because of her eccentric behavior.  No one in New Brighton ever dressed in funereal veils and Victorian shoes when shopping downtown or drove like she did  around the block three times before pulling the car into the driveway. Her bedroom lights were often on at 3am, shouts and cries could be heard after dinner coming from the basement well, and no one ever came to visit. Put all together her untimely death at age 45 could only add up to suicide, a combination of a deranged mind, a wayward husband, and a ne’er-do-well son. The obituary in the New Brighton Examiner provided no clues.

Emma Sandstrom, beloved wife of Herbert R. Sandstrom, Chief Accountant and Deputy Financial Officer of New Brighton Savings and Loan, mother of Bertrand S. Sandstrom, and daughter of Mrs. and Mrs. Per Carlson of Bayonne, New Jersey, died yesterday peaceful at home. Flowers and condolences may be sent to Pederson Funeral Home in New Brighton.

Poor Mr. Barnes, Headmaster of the Lefferts School where most of the well-to-do children of the West End attended, was rumored to have a dog’s jaw.  The story was that he had been badly wounded in the war by a mortar shell that had torn off the lower half of his face; and quick-thinking field medical officers had fitted him with the jaw of a German Shepherd guard dog which miraculously was not rejected by the immune system of the Headmaster.

Nonsense of course, but no one in New Brighton who attended school functions or met the Headmaster at social functions in Farmington and West Hartford could ever look at him without thinking of his dog’s jaw.   Had anyone looked at his ancestral photographs, they would have seen that  the under-slung, weak jaw had persisted through over five generations.

The residents of New Brighton, no different from those in any other town,  imagined the most unlikely paramours.  There was no way that the local haberdasher could possibly fallen for the X-Ray technician at the clinic, but the many innocent but tell-tale signs were too much to ignore.  Too much idle time together, too many shared rides, standing too close in the elevator – it all had to mean something.

A guest at any dinner party on Lincoln Street would have heard the most improbable stories of doctors gone bad, lawyers covering up malfeasance, questionable sexuality, terminal disease, unreliable war record, and premature dismissal from service. 
None of this would have been surprising, for life on the straight-and-narrow, especially one of fact, truth, and objectivity would be very tedious indeed.

If we have no freaks and live in quiet, predictable places, we have to invent the impossible.  The people of Lincoln Street did not stop at gossip and conjecture.  As strange as the elopement of Marjorie Pettis was – her paramour was only the milkman; and as much as the literati of New Brighton drew parallels between Gunnar Larson and Lady Chatterley’s gamekeeper, it was a strange liaison indeed – it was nothing compared to even stranger associations.  It was rumored for years that the Bartlebys had a badly deformed, retarded son that they kept chained in their basement; and the moans, the howls, and the strange spooky shadows that flickered across the lintel and onto the drawn window shade were all the confirmation that the boys of New Brighton needed.

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Bailey Cross lived in an old Victorian mansion on one of the formerly most elegant streets in New Brighton, long gone to seed as wealthy families left the old, fast decaying rust belt city for the tonier and classier communities of Farmington, Avon, and West Hartford. He had lived there for decades, and for as long as anyone could remember.  The old folks told of a handsome, Tyrone Power lookalike who had moved into the mansion with his young family in the 30s, and lived alone after all of them had died.  Rumors persisted that he had murdered them all; but the police found no trace of any foul play, and when they had been called by a neighbor who heard ghastly cries, sobs, and unearthly shrieks, they found only Bailey, his clothes torn to shreds, his face scored with deep scratches, howling and wandering from room to room. 

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His family never was found, invisible as ghosts, and Bailey, already as mad as a hatter because of his vixenous wife – a true harridan if there ever was one (stories of her upbringing in a watery, boggy corner of the West of Ireland and her run through husbands in both Ireland and New England emasculating each and every one were well-known) – went completely insane when she and her equally evil children set off for parts unknown.  He could be seen every evening, peering from a dormer window, dressed in a nightshirt and holding a candle as identically Old London as any character in Dickens.  No one saw him come or go, the front door was never opened, and food was delivered down the old, unused coal chute.

Now all this of course took place in the politically incorrect Fifties – an era of picket fences, lawn parties, frilly dresses, Holy Communion, and Sunday morning tee times – when conformity was so universal, and social norms so well-respected that the ugly, deformed, and retarded were even more of an oddity than they would ordinarily be.  Had New Brighton been some nasty holler in West Virginia where folks were inbred, stubborn, and poor, they might have paid no attention to Bailey Cross, Emma Sandstrom, or Mr. Barnes, the Headmaster.  Missing teeth, mongoloid looks, and vacant stares would have been taken as normal, the Lord’s way, and the hand of fate. 

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So because we all seem to need distortion – some kind of twisted ugliness or grossly in human behavior – the residents of the well-to-do West End of New Brighton sought it out; and if they couldn’t find it, invented it.  A well-known social Freudian saw this as an inevitable expression of the id which, for so long and so consistently held in check by middle class propriety, could only eke out ways of expression; but laymen only had to look to the works of Sherwood Anderson and Winesburg, Ohio or Flannery O’Connor’s short stories to understand that freaks have not disappeared, but have been cancelled, put into appropriate, careful categories and welcomed into the mainstream.  Only thanks to progressive efforts to open the doors of insane asylums in the name of respect and individual choice, are freaks still wandering the streets.  They are not called such, of course, not even marked as deranged, mad, or insane; but ‘in temporary states of mental disequilibrium.

Black Maria was a late middle-aged woman who traced and retraced her steps along Main Street in perfect rectangles, making tight, perfect, military turns at the corners, disappearing only imperceptibly down an alley or rough side street to pick up food left for her by restaurateurs who pitied her.  Or Beanie Man who had attached himself to wires and gadgets all dangling from a propeller on a multi-colored beanie.  They had recently been inmates at Newington Psychiatric Hospital, released by the progressive governor’s order, given a knapsack with a change of clothes, bottled water, and high-energy protein bars.

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Other than these extreme cases of demented madness, the less disturbed are welcomed as new members of an inclusive community which rejects no one, assumes absolute equality of worth, sensibility, and merit – a grab bag of New Brighton’s worst, although no one would ever admit it or even suggest that such a thing as outliers exist.  Slums do not exist nor does social dysfunctionality. it is only because of the error-prone perceptions of the privileged that such retrograde epithets still exist.

We are told never to comment on weirdness, strangeness, or difference.  Our neighbors whether grossly obese and waddling in rolls of fat, palsied and ungainly, as tall as a tree or as short as a fire plug, smelly, farting, or pimpled are simply our neighbors.

Of course such public opprobrium only forces the sentiments behind closed doors; and people have a jolly old time making fun of everyone under the sun over poker games and boilermakers.  Of course audiences at Grossingers howled with laughter at the jokes of the Borscht Belt comedians who had no brakes on their humor and took advantage of every difference, every oddity, ever weirdness to make people laugh.  No longer.  Comedy, such as it is has become routine, predicable, gross, crude, and totally humorless.

No matter how much censorship, cancellation, or intimidation is effected by the progressive Left, human nature will remain unchanged.  Perhaps the one most fundamental, essential, and ineluctable part of that nature is suspicion of The Other, a natural, self-protective, defensive mechanism that has stood since the Paleolithic.  Driving suspicions underground, suppressing the concept of oddity, and attempting to create an artificial goody-goody world will never succeed.  We are an ugly, warty, weird and deformed race with some bright spots, so the sooner we accommodate that truth, others will more easily follow.