Thursday, May 19, 2022

Wrestling with lies, racism, cultural stereotypes and change....


Is there some devious and deceptive and dangerous causal relationship between the rampant racism that we are witnessing/experiencing and the prevalence of public lies with impunity?

Do those whose hearts are filled with fear and hate need lies to tolerate their own anger?

Do the lies about fascism in Ukraine, maintained by Putin, cover for an abuse of power so egregious that its legitimate and honourable and authentiuc justification escapes even the man who triggered the invasion?

Does the pathology of lies that has become a malignant tumor on the American political culture and elsewhere demonstrate a perverse camouflage for over-weening white supremacy and other forms of racism?

Are the passions behind the conviction to the lies and the passions of white supremacists coming from the same psychological root, the fear of powerlessness, emasculation, and eradication?

We have all witnessed and most likely experienced the hatred and contempt of some group, or some ideology, or some social class, or some ‘inferior’ cluster, even if it were only a ‘neighbourhood’ where the “riffraff” the “undesirebles,” eke out an existence. Whether through reverse snobbery of the rich, the powerful and the highly educated simply because of their state in the world, or through the contempt many of us have and feel for our authority figures who have abused their power over us, or whether we were tutored in the ‘art’ of subtle disdain for another religion than that of our family, or whether we were somehow steeped in a family belief and perception that only those with money, power, status and ‘success’ are worthy of our acquaintance and admiration….or whether we dreamt of someday mounting the pinnacle of some pedestal of rank and were conditioned, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, to pursue that dream at the expense of everything and everyone else….

Words like cronies, buddies, like-minds, and ‘team-players’ are all incorporated into the lexicon of “belonging” to some group at a very early age. Neighbours, too, and church members, and social and golf and curling club memberships all fit with our attempt to belong to something somewhere somehow sometime. Military enlistments, fraternity/sorority membership, and all the other ‘consumer’ memberships: Aeroplan, Air Miles, Optimum Membership….all designed to deliver more sales and more profits for their originators. Belonging, in both the formal and informal senses, is a pursuit that begins very early in our childhood. Groups of girls and boys tend to “hang-out’ together, unless and until there is a ‘falling out’ ignited by some social slight, bullying, taunt, or even gossip. In classrooms, too, young children vie for the attention of the teacher, in the hope that “being friendly” will enhance their own self-esteem, even if those words have not yet cropped up in their personal lexicon. Dating in adolescence as well as athletic and/or artistic activities offer opportunities for ‘socializing,’ making friends and in the process ‘getting to know what kind of friends we prefer’ and thereby discovering who we are.

And by extension, the question of those individuals/groups with whom we are not familiar or comfortable also begins to be ‘coloured in’ on our mind’s landscape. No longer ‘stick persons’ of merely a pencil outline, these people may even have a higher degree of both recognition and conscious awareness in our “lens” simply because they are ‘different’ from us. Incidents in which we listen to the adults in our world criticize a group, or indicate in some overt or subtle manner, that ‘they’ are undesirable in some way, begin to lay down imprints of either caution signs or ‘red flags’ depending on the nature of the ‘story’.

In small towns, religious affiliation often plays a significant part in our ‘selection process’ of ‘friends and ‘frenemies’….and the distinction may be based on nothing specific, concrete, or even any specific experience. The distinction may be a left-over from our grand-parents’ generation, so deep are the feelings and attitudes of prejudice. And this underground attitudinal ‘current’ may never reach the light or sound of even a facial or a verbal expression. It may lie dormant, even unknown to its carrier, for decades. This kind of familial engendering, acculturation, assimilation and transfer is so deep and so indelible if imperceptible, that it rears its ugly head only upon the evidence of some trigger, a moment, a look, a word, a story or an experience that ‘evokes’ this stream of the unconscious and brings it back into consciousness.

None of us is free from such emotional and attitudinal ‘weeds,’ some of them even toxic and lethal, lying camouflaged in political correctness and professional demeanour, unless and until they erupt. And a good part of the camouflage comprises our willingness and skill in ‘deluding’ both ourselves and the other, by, what else? lying, covering-up, denying, deceiving and dissembling all the while covering those “mask” words with a broad smile.

We have become professional dissemblers, and our justification is that ‘we have to go along to get along’! So those who truly offend us continue to offend others, and we go blithely about our lives, unscathed by either the consciousness of our own demons or by the ‘hurt’ those demons have caused others.
Canadian poet, Irving Layton wrote that we learn to love by hating. At the first hearing of that notion, I was shocked, and over the decades since, have come to realize that there is an element of clarification in the experience of both anger and hate. There is usually little or no ambiguity in our experience of anger, nor is there of hate. Why we feel those deep emotions, however, may too often escape our reflection, given that the heat of their eruption shoves reflection off our consciousness, and the ‘heat’ subsides, and/or is assuaged and comforted by a friend’s empathy and compassion.
Has there be a significant and perhaps tectonic shift in our culture from ‘covering and masking’ our racism, hate, contempt and our demons by some form of polite social demeanour to now transferring that hate, racism and contempt into some form of perverse distortion of reality that permits any interpretation of anything and everything leaving us free to our worst instincts?

I need to ponder that question…

Have the lies become the ‘mask’ for the worst kind of attitude, including the demonization and the weaponizing of our ‘enemy targets’ including those of a different racial, religious, ethic, or gender group?

Is there an as-yet unplumbed hidden connection between those things we hate and our emotional capacity to deal with them? For example, are we repulsed by something or someone or some institution at a traumatic level that, ever-after we are prone to express contempt or hatred for that X? And are we complicit in carrying forward, either consciously or not, those attitudes that we inherited from our families, when we were too innocent and too young to discern their venality?

This morning I read an obituary of a school friend, then, in the 50’s and 60’s, a devout Roman Catholic in a very devout Roman Catholic family, in a town split along the protestant-catholic divide without the blood-shed of the Belfast of Rev. Iain Paisley, who, after a career in business in the U.S. returned to serve as mayor of our hometown. Today his obit notes his funeral will be in a protestant church, inviting donations to that church. This is not to proselytize for Protestantism over Roman Catholicism; it is rather to say that we all change and yet our perceptions of many of those changes are impeded by our clinging to an original imprint on our consciousness. And we, both individually and collectively, become ‘stuck’ in those modes of both thinking and believing. Some of that ‘stuckness’ rises to the level of racism, or bigotry of any kind, while some of it becomes ‘unstuck’ and moves to transform in ways that we might not have anticipated.

Considerable work is being conducted into both how we deal with trauma, and with how we make moral decisions.
On the issue of how we deal with trauma, especially as it impacts children, recent)
research indicates that healthy, yet open conversations help our children to develop discerning capacities and maturities later that serve them well regardless of the hurdles they have to overcome in their adult years. Protecting them through a sustained silence about the trauma is only a self-protection that places our needs above theirs.
(from Center for Child Trauma Assessment, services and Interventions,
Remain calm, meet them where they are, let them know it is not their fault, let them know there is no right or wrong way to feel or grieve after a traumatic event, allow the child to ask questions and be honest if you don’t know the answer….listen if s/he wants to talk, but do not force him/her to talk about trauma when s/he is not ready

And, while as parents we may not be conscious of what we are doing, we can learn and change, develop an openness to the new idea of exposing us to the notion that our child has been deeply and profoundly hurt, in and through whatever the family trauma was, and participate in open and voluntary conversations about their experience from their perspective, listening without judgement, to their perceptions and the attitudes that flow from them.

Human judgements many of them made in the flick of an eye, if not more quickly, have a significant impact, not only on the generation of conflict, including racism, and trauma, but also in the manner in which we comprehend and then assess and deal with the impacts. And in that process, as in almost all moments when we are “assessing” any situations, the level and manner of those judgements have a bearing on what happens next.

The question of how and when we make judgements has concerned other researchers. From, in a piece entitled, ‘The four moral judgements you make every day, our brains make snap moral decisions in mere seconds, by Scotty Hendricks, April 5, 2021, referencing an article by Dr. Bertram E. Malle of Brown University, there are four levels of assessments we all make, in sequence:

1.     Evaluations…the simple evaluations we make of things being good or bad, positive or negative…perhaps within a half second

2.     Norm Judgements…deciding is some action or thing is allowed, permissible, taboo or otherwise acceptable….limited to actions and often to future ones. Often invoking abstract notions of virtue and value, can be more deliberative than others.

3.     Wrongness judgements…to identify intentional violations of norms that are considered egregious, again in half a second

4.     Blame judgement…If wrongness judgements combine evaluations and norm judgements in a new way, then blame judgements combine all three. The most complex of the judgement categories, including factors of intentionality and justification…most people blame somebody for accidentally spilling milk less than they’d blame them for intentionally pouring a gallon on the floor. Our brains start to place blame in less than two seconds. Blame is not only a social tool; it can help us understand who did what but can also help regulate our moral behaviour in the future.

Clearly our culture is saturated, if not actually infested with and by “blame judgements” that run counter to simple evaluations, norms,  and wrongness… and leave many wandering in the desert of both accusations that may be misplaced and also others deep in a false security of absoluteness that offers a kind of pseudo-mental stability and security, as if our world is more stable and dependable than it really is.

Blaming all Romans (and Roman Catholics) for the Crucifixion of Christ is one epic blaming.

Blaming all of Germany for the Holocaust is another.

Blaming the Americans for the Ukraine-Russia war is another, useful as propaganda for the Kremlin, but not without some merit.

Blaming all Muslims for 9/11 is another epic and tragic blaming.

Blaming fraud for the presidential election in 2020 is another tragic blaming.

It is as if some are addicted to throwing the flaming spears of “blame” around with impunity as if to indicate an exercise and capability of showing strength that really betrays their weakness and offers nothing to heal their narcissism.

And, right away, I am engaging in the “blaming judgement” that combines an early evaluation, a perception of how a norm pertains to the viability and trust of U.S. elections, a wrongness judgement in that there is nor was evidence of the election being stolen.

These are many other examples of how opinions, especially among close-knit groups or clubs, become norms, that serve as guiding and eventually historic principles, governing the attitudes and behaviours of all those coming withing the borders of those groups. Norms apply also to small neighbourhoods, or even street descriptions that serve those who designate and determine the descriptors. If a shooting occurs in a quiet neighbourhood, it is a shock. If it occurs on the streets of Chicago, it is a norm. Similarly, in a small town, where personal ‘grit’ and determination trump social assistance, as a normative value, then those in need will experience a kind of ghost-like disappearance, whereas, in a region where a norm of programs and committed broad assistance beyond the individual primarily for the feel-good ‘samaritan’ gratification, the real need to be valued and independent will have become subsumed into the community’s need to ‘help’ only minimally, as if that was all the situation required.

And that ‘norm’ snares the community in a mind-set that resists a more open and much more complex acknowledgment of those community needs as well as an even stronger resistance to the notion of exposing the dark side of the community life.

We used to have homeless, but they have moved on. We used to have poverty but it too has subsided and apparently moved on. We used to have some people with disabilities but they too have moved on. What is wrong with this picture?

Moving on, elimination of the gordion knots of human desperation and struggle is not the business of such a community. It is for others to deal with, perhaps even rationalized as ‘lack of resources’ or ‘we do not want that kind here’ or even ‘we tried to deal with that in the past, and found it too burdensome, our taxpayers would not stand for it’….and the list of rationalizations continues…hypothetically.

These community ‘norms’ while mere papier mache, are established principles in the minds and attitudes of those who consider themselves “elites” within the community…and the pattern continues…unless and until there is a reckoning, a truth-telling that helps to shift the ‘public relations-image-building’ motive to a more integrous and authentic and sustainable acknowledgement of what is really going on.

Cultural change is analogous to moving mountains, and need the flow of clear courageous hearts and minds to wear its craggy out-cropping’s down to something more tolerant and tolerable. The glaciers of the Ice Age are melting, so too can the glaciers of human stereotypes along with simplistic, Samaritan* solutions and the culture that sanctifies them.

*A parables professor at St. Michael’s College  once commented, “The Christ Figure in the Good Samaritan story was the Jew taken for dead  in the ditch, not the Samaritan. 


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