Monday, July 13, 2015

Types of Racism: Mental Laziness

In my last post I wrote about what I called "fear racism". Mainly, I wanted to point out that even a person with the best of intentions can act in a racist manner if they are under the grip of an irrational fear. One other point I wanted to point out is that it can be fostered by a type of very sloppy thinking process. I used the example of the terribly unprofessional journalism used by Fox News to justify it's panic over the so-called "knockout game". The terrible reporting that Bill O'Reilly used to justify his description of a "disproportionate percentage" of young black men as out of control points to something else I wanted to focus upon.


The "ur philosophy" (unconscious worldview) of our society is partially based on the idea that each individual citizen is an atomic individual who is capable of looking at each particular situation that confronts her in an objective, rational manner. Our society believes that on the basis of a thoughtful calculus an individual makes a "free" choice to take one as opposed to other possible actions. This assumption is the basis of our legal system, which punishes individuals for the choices they make, partially as simple retribution, and, partially as an example to deter others from doing the same thing. In other words, when someone does something we assume that they "freely" chose to do it as opposed to something else.

I totally reject this understanding of human nature. Instead, I would argue that human beings are creatures with hormonal drives, past history, and cultural conditioning that predisposes them to act in specific ways in given situations. A person who, for example, has PTSD as a result of massive childhood abuse has a much harder time controlling their temper than someone who was raised in a nurturing environment. This is not even remotely controversial in modern psychology, yet our criminal justice system does not take this fact into account in any of its deliberations.

I would argue that human beings have very little control over the "macro" elements of their lives----that is, the "big choices" that confront them. Instead, I would argue that what choice we have comes from our "micro" choices. Those are the myriad of little choices we have every day to be a little more diligent, a little more thoughtful, a little more disciplined---a little more aware. This is the Ideal of "kung fu", or, "yoga". Both are ideas that disciplined effort over an extended period of time is necessary to gain any sort of insight into what it is to be a human being.

The idea of kung fu and yoga is that each and every moment of our life we have a choice to "do the right thing" or not. That choice can be to take that extra rep when we are exercising, try a little harder to do your job right, make a little more effort to understand what the person in front of you is trying to say, find a little bit better way of flavoring the soup you are making, and so on. It is not, however, trying to be a perfectionist, because perfectionism involves doing "too much" or "more than the context would warrant". People performing kung fu understand that the "larger context" is also an important part of whatever they are doing.

Just to illustrate what kung fu is about, I would draw readers attention to the fact that I attempt to do this blog as an act of "kung fu". I do try my utmost to be clear and precise in my language and the ideas behind it. I realize that I only have a limited amount of time to devote to it, but within that framework, I try to make sure that I never consciously "bend the facts", use rhetoric, or, fallacious reasoning in order to make a point. This is because I understand the idea that "you play the way you train". That is, the way I think in this blog trains my mind in how it acts when I am confronted with a specific situation in the rest of my life. If I "cut corners" in this blog, I will have a greater tendency to "cut corners" when I deal with people at work or with family and friends. If I do that, I will do more things that are damaging to my life, my community and Mother Nature.


Now with regard to the issue of racism, I have drawn the reader's attention to various sloppy things that Fox News did when it reported on the "knockout game". First, it used hearsay evidence in the opening part of the YouTube clip of Bill O'Reilly. Secondly, it repeated showed clips of someone being beaten without making any attempt to explain who was involved or the context of the beating. Instead, they just assumed that the incident in question was an example of a totally random event done simply for "kicks". They also assumed that this was not an isolated incident but instead indicative of a much larger phenomenon and went on from there. From there they constructed an entire narrative explaining its cause (single parent homes) and why only they are reporting on it (politically correct "liberal media" being cowed by "race-baiting" civil rights leaders.)

The problem is that this elaborate story falls to pieces if you look at the YouTube videos with something like an objective, skeptical eye. First, the videos are clearly not the result of gangs taking videos and posting them for "cred"---simply because many of them were obviously taken by security cameras. Second, there is not "huge number" of videos in YouTube, just the same ones repeated over and over again. Third, even the videos that are shown over and over don't all seem to be random attacks but rather some appear to be as the result of some sort of interaction between the victim and assailant. Moreover, if someone reflects for more than a moment, they have to realize from reading the 'police blotter' in their local newspaper that a certain amount of random and random-looking violence happens at any given day in a country as large as the USA. Statements about a "trend" like the "knockout game" have to make an effort to separate incidents that relate to that trend from the "random noise" of routine violence.

I would argue, therefore, that the sort of racism that the "knockout" game is based on is the result of a lot of very sloppy thinking on the part of reporters and the consumers that just accept what they are told. This sort of crappy thought process extends to other issues. Consider the following editorial cartoon (just click on it and a new window will pop up that will allow you to read the balloons):

The basis of the cartoon is that someone really does have to be quite dense to not realize what the confederate battle flag was all about. If you read the declarations of secession from the United States by the Confederate states, it was very clear that the "states rights" that the South wanted to protect were pretty much all about preserving slavery. So the war was about Slavery. And the Confederate flag was used to rally troops to the cause of preserving slavery. Moreover, the flag was pretty much moribund all over the South until the early 1960s when it was resurrected by various states to show their opposition and defiance to civil rights legislation that was imposed upon them by the North as a result of non-violent resistance by blacks. Finally, it was promoted heavily by overtly racist organizations like the White Citizens Councils and the Ku Klux Klan. A person has to be pretty dense to not understand the connotations. Indeed, a podcaster I follow has interviewed people who live in Arkansas who have made the point that it serves a useful purpose in identifying anyone who displays it as being "mean and stupid".


Having written the above, I want to bring in the issue of "kung fu" again. When I say that a person has to be "pretty dense" to not understand what the Confederate flag really means, I was not being fair. In fact, all they have to be is someone who has not put a lot of thought into it. And for someone to not put a lot of thought into it, all they need to be is someone who plays along with the dominant narrative in their society. Children are not taught to be skeptical or to practice kung fu or yoga in their daily life. Adults are not encouraged to think for themselves. And the educational systems that they come through do not, as a rule, put a lot of effort into a: teaching the actual history of the Confederate battle flag, or, b: encouraging students to do their own research and think critically about what they are exposed to.

But having said that, lots of people do develop a critical understanding of the world around them. This comes about because of situations where someone experiences "cognitive dissonance". This is the sense of discomfort that someone experiences when they are exposed to information that contradicts a key narrative that they have built their life around. At that point, the person has a decision to make. They can accept the new information and change their worldview, or, they can reject the new information and ignore it.

This rejection can take many different forms. One behavior that I've often seen is bullying behavior. That happens when someone makes a threat to the other. This can often be unconscious and be in the form of anger. It is a way of telling the other person "keep raising this point and I will do something to you that you won't like". Another is to simply act as if the information was never mentioned at all. This sort of like the apocryphal story of Galileo asking the Pope to look through his telescope and see the moons of Jupiter for himself and the Pope refusing to do so.

The moment of cognitive dissonance is one of those important moments in life where people can choose to either embrace their fear and move on, or, back away from it and remain stuck in their rut. Probably the best example from literature of this choice comes from the movie "The Matrix", with one important point that needs emphasizing.

When Neo takes the red pill, it is portrayed as being an irreversible step. In real life this isn't the case at all. Every single moment of our life we have to choose between the red and the blue pill. And, the future choices that are presented to us are conditioned by the previous one. Once we take a red pill, we have an opportunity to peel away an even deeper layer of illusion. But if we take a blue pill, we pile another layer on top. Every moment of our life we are confronted with the choice. And the little choices progressively "paint us into a corner" when it comes to the big choices. The big choices are heavily influenced by our culture, but the little choices allow us more freedom and independence.

This is why I have a tendency to ignore the big choices that people make in their lives, but get angry about the little ones that they make. Every time someone takes the "easy way out" of not thinking things through, not being a little more curious, not reaching out to try and see things from the other person's perspective, they are taking the blue pill and rejecting the wonderful gift of cognitive dissonance. Most religions have a metaphor for taking on the "red pill". In Daoist literature you will sometimes find stories where students are forced to eat foul substances, or who are boiled alive in cauldrons, etc. All of these are metaphors for the personal pain that a person feels from the cognitive dissonance they feel when something contradicts the internal narrative that they have built their lives around.

And if someone refuses to accept the pain of cognitive dissonance and use it to stretch their worldview, and, this leads to racist behavior, then they are being racists. Not because they freely choose to do the racist act of denying a job to a black person because of their skin color, or because they call someone the "N" word, or anything else. But because many times in their life they were confronted with the small choice of either ignoring or embracing an instance of cognitive dissonance and they took the blue pill instead of the red.

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