Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Never Understood

My father taught me to play devils advocate, primarily by example. Many times in my youth I was frustrated by his relentless example. He often told me I don't really understand my own position if I don't understand the opposite position. As much as it frustrated me then, I now recognize it as one of the greatest lessons I ever learned. In mathematics, a lot can be learned about a proposition by studying its negation. In fact, that is the core of a common technique called proof by contradiction, among others. I suppose it is a way of thinking out of the box: studying a mathematical object from outside.

My mother taught me empathy. She almost seems to have a supernatural ability to sense what others are feeling, almost as if she were experiencing those feelings herself. Apparently she passed some of that empathy to me, and it seems to have been amplified somewhat by my tumor resection.

I think that together they provide me with a perspective that has lead to my belief that very few, if any, people have any "evil" motives. In nearly all cases, I find their motives at least understandable. Even "monsters" such as Hitler honestly seem to have believed what they were doing was right. The Nazis considered themselves Christians on a crusade – something that has occurred many times. If someone doing what we consider wrong believes what they are doing is right, are they evil? How can we ever be sure we are right? We have done our fair share of wrong, and at the time believed it was right. Are we evil?

But one thing I never understood is pure racism. My parents and others say it is just a generational thing. That my generation is “post-racial.” But as far as I can tell, all previous generations had to deal with racism, so why are recent generations "immune," or are we? I used to try to understand racism in terms the human tribal instinct to fear differences. But then we should still be subject to that instinct unless we've evolved or something equally profound has happened to us. Or maybe we are still as racist, or tribal, as ever but in denial.

6 comments:

MikeFM said...

I don't know if we're post-racist. I don't consider myself a racist as I don't have any special positive or negative response to a persons race or skin color.

I'm sometimes called a racist by others though because I do judge people on their stereotypical racial behavior. I frequently see people, especially African Americans (not all blacks - just those of American decent), acting in ways I consider inappropriate, rude, violent, and self-defeating and I can not agree that it is okay to act this way because it's supposedly their culture. If that is their culture then they need to realize they have a problem and fix it - saying so, IMO, isn't racist but others disagree.

Also I don't believe in being over-sensitive. IMO it's funny to see a black guy hamming it up as the Amazon warrior in the same way it's funny to see a skinny white guy acting the nerd. People who are offended by Blazing Saddles type humor just aren't getting it. Part of being past racism is being able to mention your race and skin color and laugh at your own stereotypes without it being cruel or demeaning.

I think people like to use the racism card to whine and moan about how their life is as they imagine it's all fun and games for everyone else. So long as people can't take responsibility for their own lives they'll still be racist and still be blaming racism for all their woes.

Today I think anti-immigrant attitudes are the real outlet for racism. Immigrants get blamed for stealing our jobs, ruining our schools and communities, etc for no better reason than they weren't born in our country. The arguments are complete nonsense but people want a scrap goat and today, like it so often has been, it's immigrants. We don't hate them because of their race - just because they were born somewhere else, have different ideas, a different skin color, and talk differently than us. Much better.

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