I have to admit, I am conflicted. There are beautiful and incredible things happening all around us, all the time. Even so, it seems that many cannot perceive of this beauty, much less the extent of it. The source of my confliction, however, is that this is rarely out of negative intention. We live in a plastic world that we consume and is consuming us. We walk into department stores and everything we could possibly want is lined up and categorized to the point that we only recognize disorder in the absence of this perceived congruence and normality.
It utterly fascinates me how easily we can take things for granted. We go to our kitchens to make food from our refrigeration units and drink running water, a luxury the overwhelming majority of the world will never experience within their lifetime. There has been much speculation in history over exactly where this societal progression is leading us. To some it is the many facets of a post-industrial world run by technology that makes us superior. An ethnocentric point of view certainly, but nonetheless, founded in relatively unintentional ignorance.
Our symphonic band took a tour to western South Dakota. All the high schools had one thing in common: The kids appeared heavily sedated. It’s almost as though they spent the first 2 years of their lives being taught to walk and talk, and the next 16 being told to sit down and shut up. These kids looked paralyzed by the fabricated fear of societal implication, both positive and negative. At one of the high schools we played at, there was a classroom of special needs children in the back of the auditorium. We finished a piece, and one of the special needs children lost it, screaming and clapping with wild abandon. To my horror, I witnessed not only high school kids chuckling, but members of our college band as well. To me, the reaction of the special needs child is how anybody who has the opportunity to listen to wonderful music should behave. Instead, the auditoriums at every high school were filled with pursed lips and clenched assholes, terrified of reacting naturally, driven by passion. In that sense, it is clear that we are the ones with special needs.
I watched an interview with president of the Dover School Board Alan Bonsell, home to the famous federal court case Kitzmiller V. Dover Area School District. The case centered around the teaching of intelligent design versus evolution, an extremely sensitive issue in the community. George Bush appointed the judge to the case, most likely in the hope that intelligent design would be upheld. When the scientists presented the data on biology, the judge was shocked. He could not believe he had never heard the majority of scientific principals presented at the proceedings. After months of grueling testimony, a 139 page decision by judge Jones barred the teaching of intelligent design in public schools. In the interview, Bonsell was dumbfounded that such a christian society would allow their children to be indoctrinated in the principles of science. As far as I’m concerned, his indoctrination occurred well before the court case, causing him to sound incredibly ignorant during the interview. The school had received an anonymous donation of 60 textbooks that taught intelligent design. Bonsell had previously testified that he did not know where the money had come from, but actually played a part in laundering the money through local church donations and his own father cut the check for the textbooks. Bonsell was involved in a federal lawsuit for falsely testifying under oath, and was not up for re-election into the school board the following year. In fact, all 8 people on the school board were cleaned out and replaced. As if lying under oath (so help me god) isn’t bad enough, one of the biology teachers at the school began receiving nasty letters from the community, some of them containing serious threats on her life. For such an intensely christian society, it is appalling how absent “thou shalt not kill” became in the name of furthering their christian agenda. I have seen this time and time again. Some of the worst people I know are christian because many placate themselves as being good people with solid moral principals, then become animals under the visage of good intention. This is precisely what I mean by ignorance is rarely intentional, but also highlights how quickly it can escalate and the vastly destructive tendencies that may ensue.
I have seen this in my own community, and to my dismay, at a deeply horrific capacity. May 8th, 1990, 9 year old Becky O’Connell was reported missing. The next morning her body had been found in a secluded wooded area in Lincoln County. She had been raped and her throat had been slashed. This is among the most horrific things I can ever imagine happening to a human being. What truly shocked and appalled me, however, was the communities reaction to Donald Moeller’s execution on October 30, 2012, less than 5 months ago. I read hundreds of comments on a local news station’s Facebook page. I was utterly mortified by what I read. Things like having the family roam a field and hunt him down, or tie his body to a rope and his head with piano wire so it severs the head while his body still hangs, charging admission, and bring your own beer. Most comments were filled with relief that he was being executed, and many prayers thanking god for finally taking care of him. I had never in my life seen so many self-proclaimed “good” people act like such barbaric animals, to the point I seriously have to question just how different a person like Donald Moeller truly was. People called him a monster and a psycho, which albeit may be true, I have still never seen such a blatant absence of “thou shalt not kill” principles from a predominantly christian society.
The point of these examples is to highlight very clearly just how easily it is to be blatantly ignorant without the intention of doing so. The majority of these conflicts in morality, however, are much less black and white yet far more common. The other day, #TellAFemenistThankYou was trending on Twitter. I tweeted “#TellAFemenistThankYou for perpetuating differences between genders that is the root and cause of sexism.” and “#TellAFemenistThankYou for ignoring biology: there’s more difference within genders than between genders. We’re HUMAN. All else is secondary”. There is a gentleman that goes to this university who got upset upon seeing this and retweeted one of those tweets (I can’t be sure which one as his tweets are locked and for some reason he has me blocked on Twitter) and posted “my last RT #ignorance”. This is particularly interesting because I have never actually talked to this guy before. He is in a group of friends that are very cliquey and the majority of them are so introverted they’re about to turn inside out. I had found out about these tweets through a mutual friend, and as I’m North Korea style blocked on twitter (what is he tweeting, nuclear launch codes?) I confronted him on Facebook and told him to remove the posts. He became immediately defensive and passive aggressive and tried to blow it off as though it wasn’t a big deal. The point is, it really WASN’T a big deal. The fact that he had to hide under his twitter to make a statement about what I said, however, was pretty reasonably perceived by me as cowardice. He refused to listen to anything I said, and essentially started hurling defense insults at me. If he were to have confronted me, I would have been more than happy to express my views and hopefully come to an understanding together. It is also to my understanding that this gentleman is homosexual. I cannot say for sure, but to me it seemed pretty obvious that he naturally assumed I was attacking him and as a result of this found it necessary to act irrational and defensive. He has probably overcome much adversity in his lifetime for being misunderstood. Unfortunately, because he could not retain his humanity for a second with me but instead, became certain he was being attacked, I now have an inadvertent predisposition to dislike him because of EXACTLY who he is. Not because he is gay or misunderstood or introverted or whatever the hell he happens to be, but because he acted like a shitty human being under the assumption he was being attacked. This sounds dark, but to me, the first thing that came to mind was “just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you can’t act like a total faggot”. I realized this could be offensive to certain people, but it was the very fact that the terms “gay” and “faggot” are defined completely independent of context that could allow for such a distinction to be created in the first place. The point is, that if he would had acted like a human being rather than.. well.. whatever the hell that was.. There wouldn’t have been a problem to have.
These are large-scale events that very heavily outline the principles I’m discussing here. What I am more interested in, is how people become like this in the first place. What small-scale occurrences lead to these large-scale events? I have spent a considerable amount of time and dedication to observing tendencies within humanity that may lead to an answer as to what is the cause to the effect.
Recently, I have reached a conclusion. Context dependence is a huge issue in forming effective generalizations, so I set out to find something free from those obstructions. I soon began to notice that the one fundamental aspect of humanity free from this context dependence is indeed the absence of it. People are incredibly multidimensional in the context of one moment, much less many moments over the progression of time. I have discovered that it is the attempt to pinpoint exactly what we are at any specific moment that creates the majority of problems. If we try to create solutions from within the problem, we are left with misguided observations.
Imagine the production of a car. At what point in the process of production does it cease to be a jumble of parts and become a car? Many would say the engine is the most essential component of a car, and thus it is not a car if it does not have a functioning engine. But if you took any 10 year old to a car factory and showed them a sedan that does not have its engine installed yet, they could still identify it as a car. The same principle arises when a car is taken a part. How many parts can you take away from a car before it ceases to be a car and instead becomes a jumble of parts? Let’s say the engine remains but the steering wheel is removed. This would leave us a fully functioning car incapable of steering, another vital function. Unless you are the guy at the plasma center in Sioux Falls using a monkey wrench clenched to the steering column in his minivan (true story), a vehicle in such a condition would be pretty useless to most individuals.
This is what I mean when I say humanity inherently attempts to create solutions from within problems. How many aspects of a human being can you truly quantify to a point where you contain everything that is who they are and leave nothing behind? How few aspects of a human being can you pinpoint before it becomes evident that who you are observing is precisely who they are and not someone else? We are conditioned by our plastic world to observe differences and similarities between things, and this certainly extends to people as well. On a surface level, we do this all the time. We make social decisions based on the tendencies observed between people. This is why we tend to have friends with similar interests. They say opposites attract, but any psychologist or sociologist would tell you this is often not the case. Birds of feather flock together seems to be more of the case. But at what point does a person cease to become who they were before, and become what they have turned into? Furthermore, how do these baseless distinctions we create within ourselves and society as a whole impact humanity in inadvertently negative ways?
Often, these principles of similarity and division in society create congruence or the lack thereof in a relatively simple manner. We tend to appreciate those with similar personalities or interests, and negate or simply don’t observe those that embody contrary characteristics. The most common way in which we negate those who are contrary to our interests is through bullying. We do not understand or appreciate what a person or particular social group express, and thus creates undue tension. I firmly believe that the majority of the time, this tension is resolved by indifference. Although someone may embody contrary characteristics, most people simply do not react. The concept of “see no evil, hear no evil” is (ironically) among the strongest reasons that dozens more children are not bullied in social situations, and instead, become isolated and neglected. In other situations, the tension is so great that it actively manifests itself, and negativity arises. The cold hard truth, is that we are so far from understanding who we are internally, that we shamelessly attribute significance to others in a grand attempt to thwart the confusion in misunderstanding our own selves.
The concept of bullying is fundamentally flawed precisely for this reason. We do not understand who are and what we are, much less how we are changing constantly from what we’ve been to exactly what we are becoming. Thus, the distinction between what is and is not bullying is a primarily internal gesture and definitions are far from exclusive. In fact, I believe that by simply announcing the prevalence of the social phenomena that is “bullying”, we are drastically increasing instances of bullying. The tirade against bullying has been around for a while, but only in recent years have I witnessed such a KONY 2012 reaction to a social phenomenon that has existed for centuries, and in nature, ever since organized life-forms were able to compete for resources. Day after day I speak with people who are firmly against bullying and will heartily decry bullying and argue that they would stop bullying if they were to see it. This seems strange to me, and what I mean by this is that it actually scares the living shit out of me, and here’s why: every single self-proclaimed anti-bullying activist I have ever encountered, has taken part in subsequent bullying, yet are somehow able justify their actions under the visage of their anti-bullying principles. According to this regard, none of use can ever be free from bullying, internally or externally. As long as we live in a society that is primarily operated on boundaries and definitions, we will only find ways to recognize the symptoms of a dysfunctional thinking mechanism deeply ingrained in society at large, while never paying due special care to the cause of these inherently dysfunctional thinking processes.
This concept became evident to me when I was riding my bicycle through the bike trails in Sioux Falls one summer day when I was 13 or so. I was all about experiencing life at this time in my life. I believed in god dutifully and falling in love was inevitable and government was always in my best interest and right and wrong were infallible principles of life. Essentially, life was good. I had ridden my bike all the way to the north side of town and back. I was less than a mile from my house where I witnessed something as confusing as it was incredible. The last 200 foot stretch of trail before my neighborhood was covered by thousands of caterpillars, hardly a foot between each, and moving slowly across the trail. I was awestruck by such beauty, then very quickly realized I had to drive through at least a 100 of them or so in order to reach the end of the trail. I debated going around on the grass, but it was full of puddles from the rain we had received the night before. I became extremely nervous as I realized what had to be done. I closed my eyes, said a quick prayer to the lord our savior in heaven, then proceeded to massacre several dozen caterpillars, squished and forlorn, never to become butterflies.
We very seldom like to entertain the idea that we inadvertently cause harm to ourselves and those we care about (much less those we don’t like or are plainly unaware of), but humans are guardedly fickle. We tend to operate on the powers of observation and suggestion much more frequently than coherent logic and critical thinking. For the sake of argument, critical thinking can only extend so far as well. Human expression is much more complex than our ability to deduce a situation and attribute significance to it. I did this very easily with the caterpillars: I said a thoughtful prayer to god, then proceeded to literally break the shit out of a commandment. It was easy to justify this because of the circumstances involved, and that is precisely why there is more bullying today than there ever has, and why it will always exist if we continue to entertain the idea that we can treat the symptoms by continuing to ignore the cause.
The same is empirically evident in cases of sexual assault, mental illness, and most forms of perceived inequality. The only way to overcome inequality is to cease entertaining it as a valid excuse for dividing our intentions. We are human beings. Not males vs. females. Our knowledge is infinite, not smart vs. retarded. We are capable of infinite interconnectedness, not accepted into society vs. bullied. The cold truth, is that there is no such thing as right and wrong, except from within the context in which we choose to define it. I say tear down these walls we have built for ourselves and society and instead thrive together regardless and in spite of these inadvertent tendencies that manifest themselves in human nature. We are far more incredible than our ability to ceaselessly define the concepts of “right” and “wrong” then proceed to continuously bang our heads against the walls of definition we build for ourselves and those around us to casually slip into. There is literally no other reason for inequality to exist other than our ability to, on the power of observation and suggestion alone, attribute inadvertent significance to ourselves and those around us in ways that very easily cause inadvertently negative implications to deeply manifest themselves within society. We are infinitely free and freely infinite, and as a race, we can only stay stationary as long as our ability to tear down the boundaries that limit our ability to extend beyond is impeded by the lack of knowledge that we are infinitely capable of doing so.