• Posted: Sep 30, 2012 14:50:41
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Paid a visit to an art fair recently, Art Prize in Grand Rapids MI. I have been haunted ever since by a detail in a larger painting by artist Chelsea Konyndyk of Zeeland MI entitled Abstract Space. You see the detail on the right above. At the same time, there was a story this week on NPR's All Things Considered, part of their Cities Project, that focused on the city of Aurora CO and the problem of successfully integrating immigrants into the mix. As noted in that story, new immigrants are usually reticent to join into community building activities. They instead, understandably, want to establish foundation for themselves, get a job, start a business, find a place to live, get accustomed to the food, etc. And, they are often afraid of interacting with each other. That is, with immigrants from countries and cultures different from their own. Aurora, not a huge city, has a mix of immigrants speaking some 90 different languages, according to NPR. And they do not comfortably mix with each other. Instead, they huddle into isolated groups from similar origins.
What NPR found was that immigrants were more likely to mix and find resource within each other, and in the process experience less fear, if they were recruited to serve in Neighborhood Watch groups together. What Neighborhood Watch members do is patrol the neighborhood unarmed and report crime, sometimes with both whistles and cell phones. In doing so, they get to know both their neighborhood and their neighbors. Crime rates go down. Businesses begin to thrive. Everyone is better off. To say the least, interesting. And I couldn't help but wonder how that phenomenon relates to the more troubling trend we have across the globe of armed right-wing militia groups forming, often called "survivalists", "patriots", "religious extremists", "hate groups", or "terrorists". What are the connections? Why is one phenomenon helping to establish healthy diversity within a society and the other helping to splinter and divide it?
Those questions have been asked before. The distilled answers that keep coming back are "isolation" and "alienation". When one is isolated from the wisdom of the larger group, one is forced to come up with one's own version of wisdom. Self-preservation becomes the priority and one takes one's lessons from what is around them. Excluded, sometimes cruelly, from the larger group, one comes to view other people with suspicion, loathing, jealousy, and contempt. Left to nature, one finds little comfort, but instead, sees lesson after lesson of kill or be killed, fortify and purify or be overrun by vermin, pestilence, predators, and hostile weather. Fortify and purify, purify and fortify becomes religion by which to survive. Other lessons of nature are completely missed, those of process and patience, cooperation and symbiosis, balance and richness, intricacy and harmony. And, above all, the possibilities inherent to adaptation and accommodation, husbandry, and sustainability. Those other lessons are missed because suspicion and fear overwhelm the calmness and curiosity that comes with feelings of security within one's self and one's living arrangements, security that can grow out of familiarity with wisdom accumulated and shared amongst individuals living within a cooperating larger group. Within larger groups, shared wisdom and mutual trust become religion by which to survive and prosper.
So, the question becomes: how do we prevent individuals from becoming isolated and alienated? And, how do we successfully reeducate, re-socialize, and reintegrate those who are already isolated and alienated? And, within both endeavors, how do we not lose the potential for added richness to our own societies from the uniqueness of those individuals we seek to add to our numbers?
The answer to those questions, I'd guess, from those of militia mentality would be to isolate and purify. In other words, brain wash and force to conform. Not much different from fascism. The Taliban's practices would be an example of such tactics. But supposedly more liberal societies also have their fascist-like institutions and organizations. The current Christian right, for instance, and aspects of current immigration policies and our ubiquitous prison systems.
There is much to think about here. May your thoughts help to enlighten and guide all of us.
Monday, September 24th, 2012