• Posted: Dec 08, 2013 13:10:13
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While it's true humans have a basic desire to distinguish themselves against the background of those around them, they also have a strong tendency to gloss over other people's individual differences and cognitively lump them into gross categories. The common term for such practice is "stereotyping", and that has nothing to do with pecking simultaneously on two different keyboards. Humans like things simple, understandable. And the more concrete, the better. Thus, we end up viewing the world in not very judicious terms. Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. spent their lives trying to remind us of that fact.
The term "shibboleth" has been used to describe the attributes we use to peg someone as belonging to a certain category or group. Language is a commonly used shibboleth, as is the quality of one's language. It marks one as native to a particular country or region and may distinguish one as educated or not. Regardless of whether or not sorting people into language groups is actually useful or fair, the fact is we do it. Shame on us. On the other hand, knowing whether or not we speak the same language as the person we are trying to do business with can be very useful, essential even. And, sharing a similar understanding of things can greatly ease the burden of trying to conclude an equitable and profitable business or social transaction. Hence, most political and religious leaders advocate for a common language and common education. It helps form us into a dynamic, cohesive, and relatively peaceful society. At the same time, such emphasis lays groundwork for believing those who do not share our language and education are people to be feared, persecuted, exploited, and/or made war upon. Again, shame on us.
All well and good, but there is a revolution in the works, a revolution that likely began some 2500 years ago with the ancient Greeks. The essence of that revolution is contained in the thought that it is not sufficient for a society to simply have all citizens speak the same language and be able to recite the same lists of so called "truths", rules, and laws. For a society to thrive, its citizens must be both free and able to think and speak critically about issues and plans affecting all citizens. The assumption was and is that in a free market of ideas, the best ideas will be made use of and the poorest will be left behind in a dumpster. In the process, society as a whole will prosper.
Something always gums up the works whenever such ancient Greek inspired freedom of agency is granted, though. And it all seems to go back to that simple human desire to distinguish one's self from the crowd and that equally human tendency to lump things into simplistically gross categories. We quite literally fail to perceive people "over there" as entwined with us, as "of our group". Instead, we shibboleth them and cast them as "other", "to be feared", or ripe for exploitation. In pecking order, we believe them beneath us. We take first while they get what's left. Those seeds of corruption underlie all human systems of organization attempted so far. Those seeds of corruption perpetually leave us with "haves" and increasingly belligerent "have nots", the literal seeds of crime, war, violence, fear, and hatred.
How, how do we move beyond falling victim to the short-sighted selfishness that is in our nature? What kind of education system will help us to see that distinguishing one's self to everyone's benefit can be as or more rewarding than trying to distinguish one's self at everyone else's expense? And what kind of societal institutions and practices will both celebrate and remind us of such virtue?
Something to think about. Something to think about.
Friday, November 1st, 2013
NIKON 1 V1
77.1 mm 208 mm