05 May 2015

I don't think in terms of "us vs them" - it's those other people who do that (Part II - real life)

In the Star Wars universe, it is understood that the Jedi are the good guys and the Sith are all evil.
Yet, when you look at their actual behavior, the differences are few, while the parallels are many.  The Jedi act on their own behalf, outside of the government they are supposed to serve, in blatant disregard for democracy, going so far as to internally authorize military and political executions - even the democratically elected head-of-state.


Here in the real world, Bill Maher outspokenly calls out Islam, saying in a recent interview:
"The vast, vast, vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists. But here’s the point people don’t bring up: They’re not terrorists, but they share some very bad ideas with terrorists, and bad ideas lead to bad behavior. You couldn’t put the Muslim equivalent of The Book of Mormon on Broadway. You can’t write a book like The Satanic Verses without millions going jihadi on you. You couldn’t have an art exhibit like Piss Christ, which made Giuliani mad in the 1990s. Hundreds of millions of Muslims believe that if you leave the religion you should get killed for that. Try walking down the street in Muslim areas—even in more tolerant places like Amman, Jordan—wearing shorty shorts or a T-shirt that says HEY, I AM GAY. That shit is not going to fly, not at all."

Elsewhere, in the very same magazine that published those words, it is mentioned in passing that in 1988 Christian fundamentalists fire-bombed a public movie theater for showing the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ".
1988 is hardly going back to the time of the Crusades or the Inquisition, it is within this current generation.  The majority of people alive today were alive in 1988.  There have been plenty of other terrorist attacks right here in the US by Christians and far right Conservatives, from 7 murders of doctors and staff of clinics that provided abortions in the 1990s to the Oklahoma City bombing.

The more "other" a particular group is, the easier it is to call them out.

We always think, consciously, that there are very specific, concrete reasons we think badly of some particular group, but it seems likely that whatever reasons we tell ourselves are almost always a justification made up after the fact.

In my current household there are two cats out of the four that absolutely hate each other.  Any combination of cats other than those two get along fine with each other, but when those two cross paths there are threats of violence literally every single time.
They don't have complex language, they don't have politics or religion to fight over.  They can share their territory peacefully with other cats.  But they have extreme hatred for each other, which is likely to last forever.

Humans do this too.

Sociologists once did an experiment on human in-group behavior in which a group of kids at a summer camp were allowed to encounter another group, and with no prompting from the staff quickly went from forming opposing sports teams to cabin raids to violence - almost... the sociologists called off the experiment early when they found the children making make-shift weapons, before the campers could go full Lord of the Flies on each other.
There was absolutely no difference between one group and the other, besides which of the two any given individual had been arbitrarily assigned to.

The nationwide protests are really, under the surface, not much more than the latest manifestation of the "us against them" sentiment that seems to be hard-wired into the human brain. Having a target we can all hate together brings us together is a feeling of mutual self-righteousness.

Of course the individuals who are angry are absolutely certain they are fighting real injustice, but the analysis of fact doesn't support the allegations (see: No One Ever Claimed Black Lives Don't Matter, Cops are the New Blacks, and No, Actually, Violent Black Men Don't Represent All Black People.)

It could be the nation next door, Muslims, Jews, the King, Africans, Asians, Latinos, politicians, communists, gays, republicans, liberals, Christians, it doesn't matter.
Americans - particularly Democrats, progressives, and liberals, pride themselves on their tolerance and lack of prejudice, and go out of their way to avoid broad generalizations based on race, nationality, gender, sexuality, religion... so instead they pick entirely different criteria to define which people make up "us" and which groups of people are "other".  Instead of racist or homophobic lines, they make sweeping generalizations and baseless assumptions about conservatives, or fundamentalists, or politicians, or rich people (which is always defined as "richer than myself and my peers")
Right now the focus is on cops.
Find the worst example (however rare), and pretend it represents the entire group.
It just has to be "other". It could never be "us".

That anecdote circulating around the internet about the "entire" police force resigning, allegedly in protest of having a Black female mayor? That was 5 people. Dig a little deeper, and it appears they resigned before they could be fired for corruption which she, as former city clerk, had uncovered.
"It must have been racism" is the easy, headline grabbing, outrage generating assumption.
But lets just pretend it was racism - the actions of 5 people don't indicate anything at all about a group of approximately 1 million people.

Here are arguments presented by those who would like to simplify the issue of Black community crime and violence as "Racist and violent cops":
"You can't trust those guys" [overheard in conversation regarding the statement made by an officer]
"it is hard not to wonder about the emotional stability and maturity of officers.  The fact that there are cops who desire to, dream about, chafe at the bit, to commit violence & play judge, jury & executioner " [from a recent online conversation]
Take out the word "cops" and substitute "savages" or "terrorists" or "heathens", and that is the justification of every single soldier in every war in every nation in the history of humanity has used to feel better about killing the other guy.

Everyone always thinks they understand the opposition better than the opposition knows themselves. Its called "The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight", and it is just that: an illusion:
"People in new situations instinctively form groups. Those groups develop their own language quirks, in-jokes, norms, values and so on...What you may not have noticed though is how much of this behavior is gurgling right below the surface of your consciousness day-to-day. You aren’t sharpening spears, but at some level you are contemplating your place in society, contemplating your allegiances and your opponents. You see yourself as part of some groups and not others, and like those boys you spend a lot of time defining outsiders...
Groups too don these masks. Political parties establish platforms, companies give employees handbooks, countries write out constitutions, tree houses post club rules. Every human gathering and institution from the Gay Pride Parade to the KKK works to remain connected by developing a set a norms and values which signals to members when they are dealing with members of the in-group and help identify others as part of the out-group. The peculiar thing though is that once you feel this, once you feel included in a human institution or ideology, you can’t help but see outsiders through a warped lens called the illusion of asymmetric insight...
They had subjects identify themselves as either liberals or conservatives and in a separate run of the experiment as either pro-abortion and anti-abortion. The groups filled out questionnaires about their own beliefs and how they interpreted the beliefs of their opposition. They then rated how much insight their opponents possessed. The results showed liberals believed they knew more about conservatives than conservatives knew about liberals. The conservatives believed they knew more about liberals than liberals knew about conservatives. Both groups thought they knew more about their opponents than their opponents knew about themselves. The same was true of the pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion groups.
The illusion of asymmetric insight makes it seem as though you know everyone else far better than they know you, and not only that, but you know them better than they know themselves. You believe the same thing about groups of which you are a member. As a whole, your group understands outsiders better than outsiders understand your group, and you understand the group better than its members know the group to which they belong.
The researchers explained this is how one eventually arrives at the illusion of naive realism, or believing your thoughts and perceptions are true, accurate and correct, therefore if someone sees things differently than you or disagrees with you in some way it is the result of a bias or an influence or a shortcoming. You feel like the other person must have been tainted in some way, otherwise they would see the world the way you do – the right way. The illusion of asymmetrical insight clouds your ability to see the people you disagree with as nuanced and complex. You tend to see your self and the groups you belong to in shades of gray, but others and their groups as solid and defined primary colors lacking nuance or complexity."

The funny, (but also very sad), irony of this is, even when reading something like the article quoted above, most normal people will acknowledge the truth of what it is saying in general, while simultaneously continuing to believe whatever particular thing they believe really is the "right" answer.  Everyone thinks that they personally are the one exception.

If you can point to a specific group of people who are the cause of society's problems, you are doing the same thing.

If you can easily point to The Correct Answer to any of the various "wedge issues" - gun control, immigration, abortion, crime prevention, poverty, it is an absolute guarantee that there are sides of the issue you aren't acknowledging. 

In order for you to have The correct answer, it would have to mean all those people who hold a different opinion or understanding are all much dumber than you and that you somehow have access to information that they don't.

If you think that you understand the psychology of the "other" side, or that if they had access to the better, wiser, more accurate information you have they would all change their minds, you are living under the illusion of asymmetric insight.

There is a reason at least half of everyone disagrees with you - and it probably isn't that they are all deluded but your chosen group is all wise.  Realize there are plenty of people with less than average IQ or less the average education who agree with your politics, and plenty of people with more than average of both, who disagree.

If you can sum up your opinions, beliefs, and allegiances in a single label, be it a religion, a political party, a social group, or a philosophy, you are following an ideology.

If there is any one group with whom you generally agree on a wide variety of issues, you are following an ideology.
Just because a particular group gets it right on one issue (say, for example, gay rights, or abortion) is no reason to assume they also have the right answer on something completely unrelated (gun control, or minimum wage).  The only way an entire group ends up agreeing on a wide variety of things is if everyone agrees to set aside their own critical reasoning skills in favor of group cohesion.  That's great if you live in a tribe of a hundred or so people and the survival of each individual is dependant on complete acceptance and approval of the group, but in the modern world that instinct just leads to group-think and hive-mind, which rarely leads to optimal outcomes.

This isn't to say that all ideas are equally valid, or that some problems don't have definitively correct solutions.  There are most certainly some issues where some solutions will have a better overall effect on real people's lives than others, and ultimately that is the only ethical criteria for decision making. This also not to suggest moral relativism.  There is a very concrete and absolute standard for ethics: that which causes harm to sentient life is bad.  That which increases happiness is good.  Rejecting the false morality of religion in no way takes away from an objective right and wrong.

There is validity in both the values of compassion and fairness, and the two are rarely in direct conflict.  Sometimes they do, and in those situations are ones without easy answers.
People generally pick one of the two values - compassion or fairness - and decide to focus on it exclusively, pretending the other doesn't exist or has no value itself.  But acting on either one alone never causes the best overall long-term outcomes for everyone involved.  It is always more comforting to have an Answer, but complicated problems usually have complicated solutions.

It doesn't matter which group you are a part of, or which you support.
It doesn't matter if you watch Fox News, or MSNBC, or only read Mother Jones, or only websites run by independent individuals.  It doesn't matter if you are on the side of law and order, or if you are out on the streets protesting.

You are doing exactly the same thing as the people you think you are better then.  You are just doing it on the other side of a made-up arbitrary line.  Your self-assurance in your morality, your interpretations, your beliefs and convictions, they are a mirror image of the people on the other side of the line who are all thinking the exact same thing, and are just as self-righteous about it.

From my observations of human nature, I think its usually correct to say, any time a person feels self-righteous, about anything, they are probably wrong.
Righteousness is a defensive feeling.  It is used to cover up cognitive dissonance.  Knowing this, when one notices it in themself, the correct response, instead of anger and working to fix something, is to take a closer look at what internal conflict, and/or hypocrisy, and/or made up narrative with no basis in reality, is actually triggering the feeling.

If you want to see and understand the world as close to objectively as humanly possible, you can't have sacred cows.  You have to be willing to consider that people you respect might be wrong.  You have to be willing to let go of ideas you have held for a lifetime.  You have to be willing and able to listen - really listen - to people who you disagree with.  Until you can sympathise with their point of view, until you can explain their point of view to a third party and have them say "yeah, you got it right", then you haven't really been listening.

It may turn out that after questioning all your own most deeply held beliefs, after observing as much of reality as possible and applying the strictest logic, you still come to the same conclusions on some issues.  But until you've gone through the process, its just blindly following an ideology.

The Jedi went to war over ideology.  In cities across the US, we are leaning in the same direction.

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