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Alfonso Troisi

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date: 09 May 2021

From the perspective of evolutionary biology, diversity is an intrinsic feature of any living species and a target on which natural selection can act in opposite ways: either decreasing it (stabilizing selection) or increasing it (diversifying selection). This duality is reflected in our emotional attitude toward diversity. This chapter summarizes current knowledge on the evolutionary origins of emotional reactions to physical and behavioral diversity in human cultures. After a preliminary discussion of “alternative strategies” observed by ethologists in primate species, the chapter explores the biological roots of intolerance, xenophobia, racism, discrimination, and other forms of rejection of diversity. Findings that have linked ethnocentrism to primitive defenses against infectious diseases are reviewed. Subsequently, the chapter describes how a bias toward “normality” has always lived alongside a powerful attraction to diversity. The chapter closes with reflections based on recent psychiatric and anthropological reports that show how the issue of tolerance of cultural diversity is an unsolved problem, in spite of reassuring claims of the advocates of cultural relativism.

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