Monday, 13 July 2020

The Matter at Hand 2020

This whole explosion of protest, which recurs every so often could be entirely avoided if the dominant culture simply tried to live up to its own ideals.
Philosophies of the Enlightenment produced some high-minded documents which go back to the 18th and 19th centuries, which go on at length about, basically, according all people respect and dignity and allow those people to live their lives, as they see fit, as long as they are not harming others.
Noble ideals, which nobody at the time, and nobody now, could entirely live up to, but which we could at least continue to strive for, even as we fail. And we will fail, because we are human. We try, we fail, we make corrections, we try again to reach for those ideals. It is the reaching for those ideals that is our achievable goal.
Our problems are the result of failing to even try to live up to those ideals. We have failed to accord everyone an equal opportunity to prove their worth to society. We have failed to accord random strangers a sense of dignity and have looked askance at anyone who does not conform to our own set of ideal behaviours.
That we seek to belong to a group is normal, usual, and healthy. It is, after all, how our progenitors survived. We enjoy being surrounded by people who share our taste for clothes, music, colour. Ideally, we do not intrude on others, and they do not intrude on us.
That we differentiate between groups, take pride in membership, is also healthy.
What becomes unhealthy is when one despises those not of one's group. It is one thing to perceive that a person is different, and then simply accept that they are different, and accord them polite courtesy. It is another thing to despise that difference, and to actively harm that person, to demand they go away. We fail to live up to our ideal when we decide that someone minding their own business is somehow intruding on us, offending our sensibilities. We fail to live up to our ideal especially when we despise someone for being different for things they cannot alter or change. Skin colour, hair colour, height, body type, sex, sexuality, you all know the list.
We have failed because we have allowed a single small group to define what is acceptable based on their own circle of comfort, which just happens to coincide with what the largest sub-group of people in society also find comfortable, and then actively prevented people who do not conform to those traits and tastes, whether by choice or by accident of birth, from fully participating in our society.
At the end of a day, a person who has spent every waking minute being looked at askance, being treated with suspicion, being subtly put down, treated as less than competent, being pushed away for being different, has accumulated a sense of hurt and anger. It is not one thing, it is an accumulation of little things: being excluded from conversations, being ignored, feeling denied that sense of dignity so apparently accorded to other people. All of which, day after day, add to the usual stresses of life. We see the most egregious examples, we do not see the myriad infuriating incidents that underpin and encourage the perpetrators of those events and discourage those who bear them.
People absorb and mirror back the messages from society. It is facile to try and ignore the effect of both the praise and encouragement, and the implicit sense of being, not just different from, but less than and therefore less capable, less worthy.
There is a world of difference between choosing not to belong and being told one may not. Perhaps it is a choice one would have made, but being denied that choice is the root of frustration and frustration eventually gets expressed as anger.
That is the matter we are talking about right now.
The matter of particular groups of people in our society have not been and are not being accorded the dignity to choose how they wish to participate and in most cases, whether they are permitted to participate at all.
This is the frustration finally exploding in protest because, despite fine sentiments, appropriately expressed, about upholding the Enlightenment values according equal rights and opportunities to everyone to prosper, or not, according to their own luck, wit, and effort, these words have not been accompanied by real deeds, by real opportunity, by real access to the resources needed to prosper.
Instead, we have created the mere illusion of inclusion, have excessively focused on promoting correct language, have focused on empty and futile exercises to promote self-esteem, have focused on multi-coloured stickers and flags in windows, but not the heart of the matter: that particular people have been singled out and unfairly denied the right to walk their path in peace without let or hindrance, in accordance with our own much-vaunted ideals, simply because they look different.
Worst of all, black and indigenous lives that should matter, that must matter, are the ones frequently being arbitrarily killed by the very police whose job is to protect them, the complete antithesis of the ideals which we claim to hold dear.
We, members of the dominant culture, need to stop making excuses, stop redirecting the focus, stop hiding behind chosen statistics. We, members of the dominant culture must take responsibility and accord to everyone we meet a measure of dignity and respect as we claim to do according to our values.
We must fix the skewed economics that deny access to resources to so many, particularly people not of our dominant culture.
We must demand only the highest standard of behaviour from the people whose jobs involve being the public face of our ideals, especially when dealing with crises.
We, members of the dominant culture, will not be giving anything up, we will not be losing something, we will not be lessened if we do. When we try to live up to our own ideals, we shall, instead, gain in every way.

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