Thursday, January 22, 2015

“Fear Not” – But, really, if you really knew me, you’d know you should.

Should be road signs: "Warning! Human Beings."
Sometimes it helps to “announce yourself” so that those you’re addressing can categorize your positions more quickly. Otherwise, we would have to listen to one another in detail, rather than more quickly avoiding or affiliating with others according to our preconceived assumptions.

In short, if someone appears to agree with my position on a given issue, then I don’t have to listen to them—I know that what they think will be just the same as what I think. Likewise, if they appear to disagree with my position, however many other positions there may be, well…honestly, I don’t have much need to explore all the details of how wrong they are.

So, here’s my self-categorizing announcement by which you can identify and avoid any positions on any issues I hold. Why am I so sure I’ll be ostracized? Because I am…(wait for it)….

I am a human being.

That’s all you need to know. On the basis of that simple fact you can safely dismiss anything I say as irrelevant to your personal positions on any and all issues. I say this with complete confidence, but not because I believe you to be entirely misanthropic (i.e., a hater of all humanity). In fact, because you, too, are a human being, I would imagine that you love all of humanity, even those who disagree with your positions on any or all issues. Why would I imagine that to be your position? Because that is the position I claim to hold as well. Granted, you may disagree with my position on this issue—this presumably universal love of all humanity. Maybe you are a misanthrope. But since I love that about you (at least in that condescendingly pitying sense by which we all say we love stray animals, but avoid touching their potentially disease-carrying fur), I can only assume that you must love my love for humanity.

So, if you do love me so, then why would you dismiss me? One reason could be that I recommend it. Yes, I think that dismissing me and my positions would be commendable.

A dagger and blindfolded hostage hardly says "Trust me."
Granted, you may not appreciate my recommendation. You may feel manipulated by it and choose to do its opposite, unless you consider that to be the intention of my manipulation. Then, you should really choose to take my recommendation, since I might also know you would react negatively to my manipulation. So, accept my recommendation, or not, if you dare, either way. (If you’re not lost in that circle-of-reasoning yet, then you’ll enjoy just about any YouTube video discussing Iocaine Powder. Go ahead. We’ll wait here for you. There’s even a correlation of the scene to Hegelian Dialectics.)

Despite the fact that you’ve probably already accepted or rejected my recommendation (to dismiss me, my positions, etc.) on the basis of your own predetermined preferences, I still feel compelled to explain why it would be good to avoid me, and other human beings as well.

Simply stated, we’re dangerous.

There it is. Human beings are dangerous. We take simple observations, compile them into stereotypes, and proceed to process one another according to our prejudices, whether positive or negative. Even when we are too young to effectively categorize others, we use others to create our categories. Parents are first and worst, of course. But extended families, friends, playmates, and others soon reinforce our assumptions about “how people are,” even before we can differentiate between “our people” and “other people,” much less “me” and “everyone else.”

Yes, mark your calendars. I agree with Oscar Wilde.
So if, in our earliest perceptions, we are not prejudging others by our previous experience, then we are still categorizing others in our current experience for future reference. Diabolical, really. Why? Because, in doing so, I allow only myself to be the fully functional, creatively complex individual human person I was designed to be. And, since I do, I know that you do, too. At least for yourself. In contrast, I assume that you, from my perspective, are only marginally more than a cardboard cutout. Your behavior may appear unpredictable, or even unique at times. But that perception passes as soon as I am out of your immediate presence. Then, in my memory, you go right back to being exactly as I imagine you to be, just like everyone else.

Again, though, why is that dangerous? Because I will eventually incorporate my experience of your unpredictability into the stereotype that supports my prejudices toward you. And if you continue to surprise me, I will be left with limited options.

I could, of course, adopt the view that other human beings are unpredictable and, in various ways, unique. The mental effort required by continuous dialogue and adjustment to others’ unpredictability, however, would be unjustifiably great, even before it is compounded by the dozens of individual human beings each of us encounters each day.

This could work. If "Meals-on-Wheels" delivers here.
This leaves me with only two options. First, I could withdraw entirely from human society. Sadly, my hunter-gatherer skill-set eliminates the hermit lifestyle from serious consideration. So, the second is really the only reasonable choice: I will seek to marginalize, depersonalize, exploit, oppress, and even enslave you by relating to you only when you fit neatly into my preconceived categories.

Thankfully, as a human being, you will most likely cooperate in the process. Your need to be accepted by others motivates you to eat, drink, dress, style, perfume, walk, ride, drive, and generally live in readily identifiable categories that allow my prejudices to be reinforced by the stereotypes you choose. You know, I would do the same for you. In fact, I do. (Another subject for another time: what do my Cabela’s slacks and oxford-cloth button down shirts communicate about me?)

So, whether you’re responding to my stereotype or I’m responding to yours, there are myriad dangers. So, if you choose to do so, work into it gradually and be sure you’ve built up an immunity…not to Iocaine Powder, but the even more poisonous possibility of being human.

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