Respect, Trust

RespectWe know a few things about respect: it has to be earned and it’s hard to get back when lost. This parallels trust – trust and respect go hand in hand this way.

Can you trust someone you don’t respect? Can you respect someone you don’t trust? There is nuance in there beyond the black and white responses, the default ‘no’ we are taught as children.

We can trust someone we do not respect to do what is in their ‘nature’. In fact, some even expect it of them: A simple label can conjure up images of what such a person is or might do based on what they have done. That label and ‘trust’ is what builds out our negative prejudices (yes, there are good prejudices as well). Feminists often make the case that simply being a woman means that they are ‘trusted’ to be certain *things*, objectified in their own way. Black Live Matters makes a similar case about people of African descent (paying lip service to other minorities), Blue Lives Matter makes a similar case about police. We trust for better and worse that people will act in certain ways based on other things in common.

It should scare people slightly that this is how we write our software that analyzes data as well.

But there are good things about such stereotypes, too. We are more friendly with certain people, more comfortable around certain people where we blend in well. Those of lesser pallor will quite obviously feel more comfortable with those of their pallor, and those of greater pallor the same. People who wear jeans are more comfortable around those that wear jeans, those in suits feel more comfortable around people of business attire.

The problem isn’t respect as much as it is trust. It’s what we trust others to do that is the problem, our brains evolved for survival in a planet that we have become dominant over except in a few special cases.

So the next time you distrust someone – which is just trust in a different direction (for the nerds, it’s a vector instead of a scalar) – take a moment and allow that trust to change.

Or don’t and submit yourself to the status quo.

On ‘Race’

TheTruthHasNoConscienceThe history of ‘race’ is one of illusion, based on tribalism and nationalism – both of which have had a sometimes useful purpose in mankind’s development. It boils down to someone being ‘one of us’ or ‘not one of us’.

The Greeks, those that gave us the concept of democracy, called everyone who wasn’t Greek a barbarian:

The term [barbarian] originates from the Greekβάρβαρος (barbaros pl. βάρβαροι barbaroi). In ancient times, the Greeks used it mostly for people of different cultures, but there are examples where one Greek city or state would use the word to attack another…
…The Greeks used the term barbarian for all non-Greek-speaking peoples, including the EgyptiansPersiansMedes and Phoenicians, emphasizing their otherness, because the language they spoke sounded to Greeks like gibberish represented by the sounds “bar bar bar;” this is how they came to the word βάρβαρος, which is an echomimetic or onomatopoeic word. However, in various occasions, the term was also used by Greeks, especially the Athenians, to deride other Greek tribes and states (such as Epirotes, Eleans, Macedonians, Boeotians and Aeolic-speakers) but also fellow Athenians, in a pejorative and politically motivated manner…

Sound familiar? We see it every day, really. What we do not understand we dismiss as alien, invasive and ultimately something that needs to be dealt with because of fear or resentment. It is not hard to imagine how this has served in repelling foreign invaders. It is also not hard to imagine how this has been used to dehumanize others as either a reason to conquer. “They’re only barbarians.” Modern media, which sells advertising to stay alive (except the BBC, I think – funded by the Queen), promotes things that people want to see. It’s a reflection of society. Nowadays, we get to pick our channels – which makes it more complex.

Social media creates echo chambers for the same reason, where everyone you know agrees with you either by algorithm or active choice. Some talk about ‘Fake News’. Fake news wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t what people wanted – it fits their viewpoint. Contrary to what people believe, we’re all subject to that – no matter how hard we try.

We invent our own bogeymen because we refuse to see them as the same as us. Now, people will quickly draw a parallel with however they see the world.

A person who appears Middle Eastern will think immediately of how they are seen as Muslim or terrorists, a hispanic will immediately think of the hispanic perspective. Being brown in the developed nations of the West comes at a cost with little or no redeeming value.

Being of African descent, identifying as black, is pretty much the same in this regard because of slavery. When slavery was abolished, the poor European descendants (white) and the former slaves were pretty much on equal footing, just as the Indentured Laborers from India were in parts of the Caribbean and South America with the former slaves. I imagine that there are other examples, but these are the ones I know.

This was a problem for the people in charge, so they stoked the flames. How do you do that? Make them fight among themselves; reinforce the natural tribalism and the tendency to treat people unlike as outsiders who are not to be trusted. Pakistan may be an example of this when you look at the Colonial period, since it was created as a two state solution for violence in India under British rule.

Some people might have been a bit uncomfortable with slavery, so those that were in power went to scientists or had scientists come to them to create pseudoscience which demonstrated ‘others’ were less than themselves. Intentionality? Most certainly. Whose? Well, it’s hard to say, but it would likely have to be both the scientists and those in power. Get the right people behind it, and suddenly, anyone who is not like ‘us’ is less than ‘us’ because ‘science’ says so.

People who know this have a tendency to attribute intentionality to all of this. It most certainly has happened. There is no denying that. The way it is portrayed by some leans on either the Left, where the history is portrayed as one of intentionality, or one from the Right, where those ruled were problematic in creating the troubles. The problem with this is that they are likely both right.

Some of this could be as simple as an uncomfortably sweaty Governor hearing about the troubles and seeing how the troubles would help rather than hinder those they represented. “Well then”, he might say, “It is not in our interests to intervene.”  That’s not intentionality, that’s allowing society to take it’s course. Argue if you must (and some of you must), but that stands. If you look closely, you’ll see it every day around you when people see things and do not intervene. We could delve into the psychology of it, but then we’d be stuck arguing at a different level. What we can say, whether we like it or not, is that it’s demonstrably human nature. Sometimes.

Some of this that we see, after seeing how well not intervening worked, might be a sweaty Governor hearing about troubles and saying, “Let’s help push this along, shall we? It’s not going fast enough”. There we have intentionality. There is no question there, there is a simple use of making the situation worse to make the problem work toward someone else’s interests.

A combination of both ignoring situations as well as intentionality is likely the truth of it all.

All the while, those enforcing control over these factions retained power because no one had the time, energy or will to even question those in control except a select few. The successful of these few we know about – Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, etc.  We can be certain that the numbers of the unsuccessful dwarf them; we can study each leader and come to some conclusions, but in the end it’s a matter of serendipity and ability. The right people, the right time. These people only seem to succeed when society is willing to let them, and when society is only willing to let them when there is a common problem that society recognizes and wishes to solve.

Otherwise, it’s business as usual.

protect delusionThe truth of it all is that there are no races. Bureaucracies still count people based on this archaic illusion and perpetuate the illusion. I have mentioned that when I purchased a weapon in Wisconsin, I noted that on the form I was asked about race – as if someone in the U.S. Government wanted to have the number of armed Samoans at their fingertips.

Policies that are based on race – this illusion, this bad parody of science – also perpetuate the illusion.

Stop the illusion.

Or, by all means continue it and wonder why progress doesn’t happen.

If you are colored by the past – pun intended – how can you not be colored by it in the future? The future is what we take with us.

The Elephants On Parade.

Afterwards Tom and Eric weren't exactly sure at which point during their discussion the elephant had entered the roomIt has been a crazy week around the world, and the facade’s paint has worn thin enough for it to become more undeniable that what was painted over is a bit rotten. The trouble isn’t necessarily the elephants in the rooms, the trouble is the rooms can no longer hold the elephants.

It’s easy to talk about the slaying of innocents when the rhetoric dehumanizes broad swaths of people by a flawed design while people argue over the intent. Whether the intent was there or not when these systems were designed, the elephants threaten to get out of their rooms and that can mean the end of structures as we know them. As it should be, maybe, but the bureaucracy has it’s carpenters, welders and construction workers with Law texts and legal precedents given voice with those armed with cattle prods.

I imagine using a cattle prod on an elephant isn’t too smart, but then I have a bias toward self-preservation.

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote:

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

Society’s self-image and it’s increasingly apparent conflicts between groups within it makes me wonder whether people realize what they’re pretending to be. Cognitive dissonance is a currency traded upon by politicians, be they professional or otherwise, and the tools of society are mocked. We design solutions that create new problems; we create movements that by their very names are divisive.

Equality. Is that such a hard concept? Why is it that every ‘solution’ actually attempts to elevate some group above others to make things more fair when there are many groups who are treated unfairly? It’s an engine that opposes itself, burning itself out and boiling over into more wear and less actual progress than could happen if people worked all together.

Maybe when the elephants get out, they might see each other for elephants. Maybe the walls that separate them blind them to the fact that they are not alone, which some might argue is by design? And when the structures do come down, as they will over time, what will be left?

Society remains conflicted. Should we fix this and make a bigger door? Whatever should we do? Yet the focus seems to be now shifting between whether the elephants should be in rooms at all, or whether the elephants should be kept separate. Oddly, the elephants themselves seem intent on keeping themselves separate while well-wishers seem intent on freeing them.

There’s more than one elephant, and would they actually work together… but instead, they maintain the divisions built around them. At that rate, they will ever struggle and never parade except when let out for their exercise. Whenever that happens.