I wrote Society Today about a month ago, expressing my concerns and a lack of ideas on what to do about those concerns, together with a “confession” that I turn to programming just to calm my very deep concerns. Today I’ll try to think some thoughts and express them. Please bear with me as I get it all wrong.
First of all, let’s get some of my views right out on the table:
- Black Lives Matter
- Of all the social evils in our country, this one is, to me, the most typical and the most harmful. It is near the core of why our country is such a mess. It’s not the only evil, and in my view it’s not quite at the core. We’ll come to that.
- People of Color Matter
- The prejudice against Blacks spills over onto brown people, red people, Asians, Middle Easterners, anyone who isn’t “like us”, where “us” is some white person somewhere.
- Women Matter
- Women get a raw deal too. They’re not listened to, and by and large are paid less than men.
- LGBTQ+ People Matter
- They’re just people after all.
I’ve gotta stop with this list or I’ll never get to any point at all. Suffice to say that our country is obsessed with us versus them, and right now we’re seeing what seems close to an internal war about it.
And masks! What’s the deal about masks? They protect you from me and me from you. Why don’t they want to be protected from disease? Why would they be willing to pass their disease to others if they have it?
It makes me want to shout WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!?!?!
I’ll touch on one more topic, because it’s a part of where I’m going, if I’m going where I think I am. One never knows, when I write something.
- Cancel Culture
- We have this thing where if a person is identified as racist or sexist or any of a number of other “bad” things, there’s a chance that people will try to get them fired, unhired, removed from conferences, kicked off committees, and so on. This comes pretty close to the center of concern I have this morning.
I wrote a short Twitter thread on July 1st, suggesting that before we publicly call someone out for an offense, it might be a good idea to approach them privately with the concern. My thinking is that when we call someone out publicly, their first strong reaction will be to defend themselves. If we are to help them change, we need to avoid that reaction, or defuse it somehow.
To the extent we are interested in changing minds and hearts, we probably need to work with people, not against them.
One more random topic that plays into my thinking here:
- Anger = Fear
- Very often, the shouting screaming kind of anger we see is fear in action. When someone rages in the store about wearing a mask, shouting obscenities at a clerk or server … that is, in my view, almost always a reaction of fear. Fear of change, fear of loss of control, fear of what, I don’t know. But often – and not always – the shouty rage thing is fear. Watch apes and monkeys for a while, and you’ll see where we get it.
This feeds back into my tweet: if we call someone out, they’ll surely be angry and probably due to fear, and they’ll not be able to react well. If we wish to help them change, we have to do better than the public derision path.
Mind you, some people deserve to be called out, and to suffer consequences for their actions, their impact on people and on society. A repeat offender deserves far different treatment from someone making an initial mistake. We might all differ on how soon to really begin to write someone off, but sooner or later, we’ll all probably get there.
In my youth, I was raised Catholic. There was a saying “Hate the sin, love the sinner”. We could write a month’s worth of homilies on that, but at least part of the message is that we ought never give up on the human, even if we strongly repudiate their actions.
Yes, well. I’m afraid I haven’t the time to invest in every poor soul on the Internet, so I’ll block or mute folks after I’m convinced that they’re not able to hear what I’m offering, and when I’m tired of hearing their abuse. I think that’s a good thing.
There is, I believe, a majority of people who think like I do, with deep concern for the topics up at the top of this article. Or who are at least fed up with the inequality, the downright unfairness of our world right now. We need to make that majority larger, until these bad ideas are essentially gone from society.
Is that possible? I don’t know. I hope so, but I am not optimistic. But certainly, there must be a large number of people on the fringe, who just don’t get it yet, to whom the right picture hasn’t been shown, the right phrase said, to get them moving in a better direction.
Those are the people we need to reach rather than cancel.
I’ve been re-reading two interesting books, Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and Haidt’s The Righteous Mind - Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.
Both those books tell us things about why people think as they do, and offer at least some clues as to what to do about it. I’ll oversimplify both and recommend the books to you for real understanding rather than the simplistic notions I’ll put down here.
Kahneman describes how the mind makes decisions, fast, and slowly. The fast decisions are most common and while “reason” can adjust those decisions, the fast part of our mind is associative and it bubbles up quick answers to things. It’s the part of the mind that is useful when a tiger shows up.
Haidt is really coming at things from a very similar position, namely that our decisions come rapidly from “intuition” and only somewhat from “reason”. He identifies six foundations for people’s positions: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. The words barely scratch the surface of the ideas.
The main insight to me in Haidt’s book is that people seem to have built-in “settings” for these foundations. Some are very predisposed toward notions of authority, and some are not. Some really care about liberty, and some not so much.
These settings mean that two well-meaning people will often have very different answers for a given question, based on these foundational beliefs. And they come to these answers in entirely good faith!
This is where it gets difficult. Like many people, I find it hard to imagine how anyone could support Trump without being inherently evil. Part of this is because to me he is obviously an #$@#%$! and I’d never work for one again. But there exist perfectly normal people who respect authority and see authority in him. I say “perfectly normal” while, of course, I still can’t believe it. But Haidt and Kahneman are smarter than I am, and I think they’re right.
Now some of these notions appear to truly be foundational to people’s personalities, so we may never really change them. (On the other hand, if someone is all about authority, and we elect an authority who is pro-Black, pro-Women … maybe they’d listen? I don’t know …) But we have to do what we can to get this show back on the road.
I think this means that we have to learn how to talk with each other again. Our country is divided, I believe, because our “leaders” developed this strategy of hatred and cancellation, never crossing the aisle, never compromising, never trying to find a creative solution to real problems.
We have to get past that. I think that to get past that, we have to learn to talk with people who don’t echo our every thought, people who might actually hold values that aren’t evil, just different.
It’s hard. It’s very hard. But I think we’ve got to learn to do it.