The Most Hated Demographic in America
If you go by the words of some commentators, contributors, and guests in the electronic media, I am a member of the most hated demographic in the United States. I am an old, white, heterosexual, Christian, genetic male. In 2016, some in the media said things like, “Donald Trump is 70 years old. He’ll never change.” Others use the term “Christian” as if all who claim that title focus on the “Us versus Them” concept found in a lot of the Old Testament while ignoring the “Family of Humanity” concept revealed in the New Testament. White, heterosexual, genetic males are a bit harder to defend. Systemic Racism and Systemic Sexism are all too real phenomena. For most of our existence on the planet, heterosexuality was necessary for species survival. Until recently, we were stuck with our birth gender and still have not figured out how to change it at a genetic level.
Of course, some of these “accusations” can be attributed to lazy or sloppy use of language. Many people on television and radio news and commentary programs seem prone to “speaking in headlines” and misplacing modifiers. How often have you heard news people say something like, “I’ll tell you about the return of Arctic air after the movie”? (I actually heard that statement recently.) How does the duration of a movie prevent or encourage the movement of a major component of the weather? Misplaced modifying phrases are surprisingly common on TV … occurring most often around breaks for commercials. Errors like the one in the “Arctic air” example are so common that you may not notice them. Here are some non-news examples that I found on the Your Dictionary website:
- We saw a puppy and a kitten on the way to the store. (Perhaps the puppy and kitten were going to Petco or PetSmart.)
- She served sandwiches to the children on paper plates. (Why were the children on paper plates?)
- He bought a horse for his sister called Prince. (His sister has an unusual name. I wonder if he’s “A Boy Named Sue“.)
- Three offices were reported robbed by the Atlanta police last week. (This one could have come from a newsperson on TV. If it were true, I’m sure that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms would have someone in her administration investigating the complaint.)
I had planned to write an article supporting Black Lives Matter. Then, I watched the “Matter of Fact Listening Tour” program “The Hard Truth about Bias”. The video below runs slightly more than a hour and a half, but is worth the time. If you cannot watch it now, remember that it’s embedded in this article or make a note of the name. It’s easy to find on YouTube.
I realized that I needed to back up and look at the sources of Systemic Racism … both conscience and unconscious.
Learned Behavior or Fuzzy Thinking?
Many of our Biases, Prejudices, Fears, and Hatreds are learned, but some are the result of logical fallacies. In the sections that follow, we’ll examine each of these clouds hanging over our common unity.
Bias is inevitable. Almost none of us can recall our own birth. This isn’t surprising. Being born is probably the most traumatic experience most of us will ever experience. You’re afloat in a warm, dark place with little sensation beyond the soothing rhythm of your mother’s heartbeat. You are warm and safe. Suddenly, you experience the pain of being forced through the birth canal into a cold, intensely bright, and noisy environment and find yourself gasping for breath. If that doesn’t induce memory-suppressing post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), what will? The childhood amnesia that most of us experience is a blessing, but it’s also one source of implicit bias.
At birth, our perception of reality is limited. Our senses of smell and hearing are strongest. Taste and touch are close behind. We have been experiencing them in the womb. We’ve had the least practice with sight. For a while, anything beyond 12 inches is out of focus. What is the first thing most of us see? We see our caregiver’s face. Whether it’s the face of your mother, your father, or someone else, you quickly learn that your life depends on this person. You have formed your first bias.
The common phenomenon of Face Pareidolia seems to indicate that a bias toward faces is, at least in part, innate. Over the eons of human evolution, ability recognize faces improved our chances of survival. Not only did we need to recognize other people; we needed to recognize predators. An individual who confused the two was not likely to live long enough to have offspring. When it is a matter of life or death, seeing faces that aren’t there is better than missing those that are.
If we can see a happy little car, a concerned electrical outlet, an “Ewok tree”. a startled building, and a face on another planet, it seems less likely that Face Pareidolia could induce the level of implicit bias that would evolve into racism. The effect is so generalized that details like facial structure, skin color, or etc. would not distinguish friend from foe. We need to seek a more specific source.
Most of us develop language skills during that early period of our lives that will disappear into the fog of childhood amnesia. Those of us who have observed young children have little doubt that the ability to comprehend language precedes the ability to produce it. Put simply, toddlers are understanding and soaking up a lot more than we think.
The most pernicious source of implicit bias is the … usually unconscious … tendency to believe that our experiences are similar to those of everybody else. If we grow up surrounded by people who have similar experiences, implicit bias become so deeply buried that it becomes “just the way it is”. Later, after you come in contact with the larger world, your learned biases can completely cloud your perception. Even though your reaction to a given situation may seem the same as that of someone else, the emotional source of the reaction may be entirely different.
How can we fight implicit bias? It seems unlikely that we can eliminate it completely … even in ourselves. But, each of us can do our best to remember it is within us and learn to detect its manifestation. Such recognition gives us a chance to decide how to approach each other. We can strive to be persons of reason rather than puppets of implicit bias.
The initial acquisition of implicit bias is practically inevitable. We need to watch for it in ourselves and reject it each time it raises its head. Prejudice is different. Its source is not buried in childhood amnesia nor subtly woven into our experience. Prejudice is the result of logical fallacies. We either generate the fallacious connections at the root of our prejudices … or, we learn them from “teachers” in our lives.
Prejudice is often the result of the “Hasty Generalization” logical fallacy, the “Causal” logical fallacy, or a combination of the two. For example, let’s use the blue circle above to represent a group of people. We’ll use a yellow dot to represent a significantly smaller … and typically isolated … subgroup of criminals within the main group.
If the vast majority of our exposure to and interactions with the group are among members of the main group, we are more likely to get an accurate impression of the individuals who form the group. We will see that they are people … different from us in some ways; similar to us in others. If, on the other hand, your initial exposure to members of the group occurs in and around the yellow dot, you may make the “hasty generalization” that the group is permeated with criminals or even predominately composed of criminals. Furthermore, implicit bias may lead you believe that some obvious trait shared by members of the group is the “cause” of the criminality.
Looking at the larger picture, we see that the criminals exist within the intersection of all groups; not just the blue group. If we want to locate causes of criminality, me must examine factors within the multigroup intersection. Even then, we see that the criminals are a small part of the intersection subgroup. If we want to actually reduce the tendency for people to pursue a criminal career, we must examine how the criminals situation differs from those of the non-criminal members of the intersection.
Prejudice is a function of looking for a quick and easy cause-and-effect relationship between some obvious (usually physical) trait and some undesirable (often behavioral) trait. Sometimes, this sort of generalization is accurate. A person who is 7 feet tall is very likely to duck when walking through a standard doorway. Most of the time, behaviors are a function of a combination of many parts of a person’s environment, situation in life, position within the larger society, how others view and treat him or her, etc., etc., etc. If you catch yourself thinking/saying something like “What do you expect? That person is …”, and the “…” is only a few words, you have almost certainly discovered a personal prejudice. You would do well to examine your beliefs.
Fear is primal and visceral reaction to danger. It is the built-in system of emotional and physiological reactions that triggers the flight-or-fight response. It can save a life. Consider this brief report of a recent incident in Utah.
Obviously, Kyle Burgess was afraid. Although he made a lot of noise as he had learned was the best way to deal with such a situation, he essentially chose “flight” until “fight” in the form of a rock rolled at the cougar ended the encounter.
What about the cat? Fear was her motive as well. Listen again to this short clip from within the report.
She was afraid too. She was protecting her babies. Had she been alone, she might have stayed out of sight to avoid Mr. Burgess … her form of “flight”. But, she wasn’t alone. Fearing for her little ones, she chose “fight” to protect them. Both Kyle Burgess and Mama Cougar feared a real threat. Both reacted with flight-or-fight. Fortunately, each used the instinctive response in the order that defused the situation … flight/fight for Kyle; fight/flight for Mama.
When is Fear used inappropriately? If there is no immediate danger, a fear response is usually counter-productive. The most common form of misplaced fear is induced by imagining some future danger. We may be imagining something specific that may happen or not happen. We may be experiencing some undefined feeling of impending difficulty. Regardless of the imagining … whether or not we even know we’re imagining, … we are living with a state of anxiety underlying every waking moment and, probably, invading our dreams. The source of the fear is irrational, but the fear is no less real. We have a word for this detached fear. the word is stress.
Our autonomic nervous system doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined danger. Under stress, we are left in a constant state of flight-or-fight response with nothing to run away from and nothing to resist. We cannot focus our thinking and our bodies remain flooded with abnormal levels of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and other nasty organic compounds.
Stress and the damage it does to our minds and bodies is not the worst effect of irrational fear. Most, if not all, experience something that our childhood mind interprets to mean, “I’m not good enough“. It may be a real event; it may be imagined. Usually, it’s lost to our consciousness in the “childhood amnesia” part of our life. We are left with nothing except the fear of inadequacy. We don’t have to know the source of the “not good enough” fear. If we simply know the fear is there, we can learn to recognize it and give comfort and reassurance to the child within.
Not understanding the universality of the “not good enough” fear, leads to counterproductive thinking and behaving:
- We may become consumed by the fear … seeing every success as fleeting and every setback as deserved.
- We may look outside our self for proof that we are, in fact, “good enough” … accumulating wealth and possessions, bragging about our real and imagined accomplishments, and/or obsequious attachment to some person, group, movement, etc. that we see as “good enough”.
- We may look outside our self for some person, group, movement, etc. to blame … focusing on an external threat that is not real. If we add a touch of implicit bias and the fuzzy logic of prejudice, we get one or more of the “isms” … racism, sexism, religionism, classism, etc., etc., etc.
The word “Hate” often is misused … especially in speech. “I hate you,” screamed during an argument usually means “I am very angry with you.” Both Anger and Hate are based in Fear. Anger is an emotional and physiological reaction … part of the “fight” side of flight-or-fight. When the emotion cools and the body chemistry returns to normal, the anger subsides. Hate is nurtured in the mind. Instead of thinking “I was afraid” or “I was angry” or “I was hurt” etc., we think “That person, group, movement, etc. made me afraid, angry, hurt, etc.” When we take possession of the anger, we are an active agent, When we blame someone else for our hate, we are a passive victim.
Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Age has little to do with Donald Trump’s behavior. He is the way he is because:
- He is a confidence artist whose approach has worked for decades.
- He is undereducated. A degree from an Ivy League college is meaningless if you “got by” without actually learning anything.
- He is a narcissist with an intense need to be the center of attention.
- He is a compulsive and non-selective liar. He often lies even when the truth would serve him better.
I like the term “Hypochristians” for referring to people who miss Jesus’ message of compassion.
There have been at least 3 times in the past 1.2 million years when the continuation of homo sapiens has been in question. During those times and the decades that followed, intense levels of heterosexual reproduction were absolutely necessary. Now, we’re at a point when our proclivity for reproduction has made us a danger to ourselves and all other life on Earth. When I first learned the population of the planet in the 1950s, it was about 2.5 billion. It is a bit more than 7.85 billion today. That’s more than a three-fold increase within my lifetime. Sometimes, I have wondered whether COVID-19 is Earth’s antibodies and we are the infestation.
Today, we can help those who have a mismatch between their psychological and physical genders using biochemistry and surgery. Given the overwhelmingly rapid advances in genetic research, I have no doubt that gender adjustment at a genetic level will become possible within this century.
There’s a song in the musical “South Pacific” entitled “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” that expresses how Fear and Hate are learned.
Rebecca Sharrock, one of about 60 people in the world who have Hyperthymesia … otherwise known as Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), … can recall being in her mother’s womb and every moment of her life since.
The “Man in the Moon” is an interesting example of Face Pareidolia. I’ve seen that face for most of my life, but I’ve known people who don’t see it. Some people see other pictures like the “Woman” or the “Rabbit” shown in the picture below.
Why do people see different images (the Man, Woman, and Rabbit are just the most obvious ones) in light and dark areas on the surface of our nearest celestial neighbor? The most likely reason is that we are taught. General pareidolia may be an innate ability of humans and other primates, but what you see is a function of somebody’s imagination. I vaguely remember someone (either my father or grandfather) showing me how to see the “Man in the Moon”. I recall seeing the picture with the “Rabbit” outlined sometime in the fairly recent (20-30 years) past. I never saw the “Woman in the Moon” until I found this picture. Now, I’m sure I’ll see her the next time I look at a full Moon.
I have “Cop Phobia”. The presence of a police officer … and, to a lesser extent, any public authority figure … makes me extremely anxious. Even knowing the source of this extreme reaction does not prevent it. (Several times when my brother and I were young, our Grandma said, “If you kids don’t behave, the police will come and take you away.”) Sixty-five to seventy years later, the frightened child pops up before the adult can say, “Don’t be silly.” I am afraid of being arrested and taken to jail.
At some level, I thought I understood why black people fear the police. Systemic racism makes it more likely that they will have an encounter with the “officers of the law”. It wasn’t until 2020, when I saw the video of George Floyd being murdered by a cop with his hand in his pocket, that I realized how differently black people fear the police. To me, they are authority figures who can deprive me of my freedom. To a great many black people, the police are thugs who may kill them.
The colors used in these diagrams have no particular meaning. They’re just colors that contrast or blend in such a way that they provide good visual examples.
If you have read this far … and, if you believe what I’ve written, … it’s too late. You know that the “not good enough” fear a part of you. Your assignment is to learn to see it for what it is. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and take care of your frightened inner child. Remind him or her that, in the words of the “Desiderata“:
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.