Compared to the existence of the universe and even briefer the existence of our planet human life is exceedingly brief. Our individual existence (in this society) becomes even more precarious when we (especially those who are not part of the world’s 1%) realize how much we depend on each other for our continued socio-material existence. Before the last 5-6 years my incrementalism hope was that though humans are and have been flawed, I thought the majority of us outside the bubble of incredible wealth believed the same and I was leaving my children to a western society that was arcing toward a “Star Trek- The Next Generation” version of humanity. Lately, however, I have been contemplating the efficacy of this interdependence due to the distressing reality of “man’s inhumanity to man” and the unreasonableness of the same tolerance that has brought me thus far serving me and others like me in the future.
The recent catalyst that pushed me to put in writing my thoughts here was a video I recently saw of how an individual spurred on by others ended the life of a fellow human being by executing that person (they were not in a battle) for nothing other than a difference in what I would call a belief system. This video continued to show that there was to be a succession of this same type of killing, where men were kneeling and each had a different individual doing an execution. I cannot unsee this video, but it has come at a time when I was also deep into learning about and consuming the same life-ending actions that were perpetrated by my own country's countrymen on likewise human beings (native peoples, enslaved Africans and their descendants, people from outside the imaginary demarcations of territory) based on similar if not the same difference in a belief system.
Regardless however of belief systems the individuals causing, benefitting from, or party to physical and mental anguish towards other human beings did not “see” the other human being. These individuals are at a core base I have come to think stuck in the following two motives to facilitate these acts:
- religion — any religion or dogma— that teaches that “its people” are the righteous and all other religions or belief systems are false is a big contributor to inhumanity. It justifies feeling “better than somebody else”.
- human desire for “sameness”: people hang with their own “tribes” and don’t learn that the “others” are more like them as humans than not
Given this evidence from history, to ensure the health of a society moving forward, political conversation and activism is required of each human in that society. Political conversation requires both parties are authentic and listening to each other, but my experiences of conversations of the last years have rocked my “core acquired belief” that “most” (a distinct majority with outliers based on statistical variance) people are rational and inherently “good”. It is further unsettling as there is some doubt that we can “come together” because in the face of the following major catalysts (natural or manmade) we have so far failed to do so.
- the mental terrorism of the last 5 years with regards to health care – depending on a no vote from John McCain to save something that had no ready replacement like “Medicare for all”
- the lack of empathy in our country’s response to the COVID 19 epidemic, where the lives of fellow world citizens are minimized by a right wing politization of vaccines and masks
- the willingness to be distracted from a robust response to Global Warming
- the short sighted ahistorical right-wing response to the Jan 6th coup attempt attack on the US capital
Based on their authentic responses to my existence and their behaviors in conversations I have come to doubt that many of my neighbors would “throw me a rope” if I were in need, and it would be an effort for them to do so.
My note: I mentioned before about a majority of people being “good” and I think it is important to articulate what my expectations are with regards to “good” in the two bullets below.
- Share the values that all fellow humans are to be free, have basic food, be provided minimum standards of healthcare and have access to shelter.
- Empathize and not just sympathize, with the plight of a fellow human when they are dealing with or have dealt with issues (individuals or systems) that deny them these fundamental principles
I am not an expert at philosophy but I think that post the enlightenment (ushering at the end of authoritarians, kings, warlords, and church rule) the politics of western and egalitarian societies was formed based on some of the same principles (appropriate for the time) I put in my note above. I further believed that given the need for interdependence and the brevity of one human life (if not the shortness of all human existence) we are striving for a future where these basic principles are reality (my Star Trek – The Next Generation- term before). To reach there I thought that we have inculcated an authentic tolerance of difference, where there is no chasm that two reasonable humane humans can have that is so unbridgeable that these individuals cannot have a reasonable conversation that could lead both to a compromise based on the basic agreement of what a vision could be to deal with the issue.
Here this basic agreement is based on the authenticity of the humans to SEE and acknowledge a set of observations without the filters of dogma and selfishness. I expect that people in a political discussion where difference is real would acknowledge the effects they see (not imagine) as truth as an adjective and not a noun.
My note: As we learn more, this knowledge can change truth-making modifications to it, Truth is therefore an adjective but not Steven Colbert Truthiness (which is the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true). These truths in my expected conversation are authentic actual experiences (not a regurgitation of a bubble’s fear) that the other person acknowledges are true for that person. It makes truths dependent on validation by another person across a divide,
The reason I use the qualifies “reasonable humane” human will become clearer later but please understand that I am not Pollyanna enough to believe that all chasms are bridgeable. If a person today has power and follows through on his beliefs that he is a divine king and I and everyone else in this country shall from now on only serve him, I would not see this as a bridgeable chasm needing only a conversation. I would be a party to removing that person (at all haste and by all methods available) and tell them to sit down and shut up. Therefore, there are limits to tolerance of difference (and I would not say it is “cancel culture” or wish for a need for balance), “he” has a to go!
So given that we all are different, and that a different political view of an experience is possible I have accepted that group behavior outside a conversation can include rhetoric that sounds like hate (like at a baseball team when you shout down the other team by saying they suck and nothing your team does is wrong). But in a personal political conversation these group dynamics are muted, but today it is not that we disagree on how to get to the shared values that form us versus them the difference is that authenticity with regards to the values themselves are missing. This lack of authenticity allows other malignant issues between people to show up before we even deal with the values themselves. These issues affect the “humane” qualifier.
The malignancies make me feel my fellow countrymen are alien as they accept fascism, totalitarianism, authoritarianism, or a theocracy. Evidence the following from my experience of Americans on the right when they
- do not share our stated national core beliefs – indicative of when they despise the otherness in peoples based on what they look like and would not empathize with their neighbor unless they are a “member of their tribe”. for example, The otherness of POCs in the US.
- seem incapable of agreeing to a shared reality and interpretation of reality in this moment based on demonstrable shared experience – indicative of removing benefits like healthcare that would benefit one’s own wellbeing because “the others” would benefit as well,
- believe they exist only as a hate filled opposition of the other tribe and are constantly at war dehumanizing the opposition in the process. (N.B. There is no current platform for the Republican Party. Their stated purpose is in opposition to the Democratic Party and that is sufficient for more than 40% of the country)
My conclusion is that if interdependence and rational agreement on core beliefs are removed from our society, not only will it destroy my socio-material existence but our current society and maybe humanity itself will be headed for a cul-de-sac of amicable coexistence. So how do I move forward from here without creating a conflicting dogma? I think we need to adjust our tolerance not just for the “king” from my previous example but to others who perpetrate the malignancies and SEE me and others as aliens to them.
Before examining new limits let me clarify three basic terms that form the groundwork of my expectations of human beings (beliefs attitudes and values).
What is a belief?
A belief is an idea that a person holds as being true. A person can base a belief upon certainties (e.g., mathematical principles), probabilities or matters of faith. A belief can come from different sources, including:
- a person’s own experiences or experiments
- the acceptance of cultural and societal norms (e.g., religion)
- what other people say (e.g., Education or mentoring)?
A potential belief sits with the person until they accept it as truth, and adopt it as part of their individual belief system. Each person evaluates and seeks sound reasons or evidence for these potential beliefs in their own way.
Once a person accepts a belief as a truth, they are willing to defend it, it can be said to form part of their belief system.
My note: Belief systems are changeable but do not depend on perspective. But societal memory is critical to hold people accountable for their stated beliefs.
What is a personal value?
Values are stable long-lasting beliefs about what is important to a person. They become standards by which people order their lives and make their choices.
A belief will develop into a value when the person’s commitment to it grows and they see it as being important.
It is possible to categorize beliefs into different types of values – examples include values that relate to happiness, wealth, career success, or family.
A person must be able to articulate their values in order to make clear, rational, responsible, and consistent decisions.
My note: Values do change but slowly. A value system must be consistent with all beliefs if the beliefs are to have integrity. Beliefs that cannot exist at the same time as a value should remove the value or the belief.
What is an attitude?
Attitudes are the mental dispositions people have towards others and the current circumstances before making decisions that result in behavior. People primarily form their attitudes from underlying values and beliefs.
However, factors that may not have been internalized as beliefs and values can still influence a person’s attitudes at the point of decision-making. Typical influences include the desire to please, political correctness, convenience, peer pressure, and psychological stressors.
My note: Someone can side with (irrationally hold up) a potential belief for expediency (the quality of being convenient and practical despite possibly being improper or immoral; convenience.) because of another superseding attitude. These attitudes (which have been derived from beliefs and valuers) can come from a learned visceral animus towards a particular person or group. I liken this to tribalism.
The potential for these influences to sway attitudes will be greater if the person has not clearly thought through their beliefs and values. This process includes considering the principles by which they might reconcile or prioritize competing values.
A lack of self-awareness or critical insight, or the presence of ambivalence or uncertainty about values, can lead to a less rational attitude to choices, and ultimately to undesirable behavior.
Let us also look at two terms one philosophical and another psychological nihilism and narcissism to wrap up the descriptors above.
Nihilism is a belief which embodies extreme skepticism and maintains that nothing in human experience has a real existence or meaning. The outgrowth of Nihilism for me is that We (you and I) each day make the world what it is for us to survive to tomorrow. Nothing is inherently “good” or “bad” We make that determination at any moment.
Seeing the rawness of the actions of both the individuals in the video I related earlier and the slaveholders towards the enslaved (imagine knocking out an individual’s mouth to force-feed them) as human rather than alien, without trying to justify their irretrievable loss of humanity is I submit a type of Nihilism.
But if a value system or attitude is in conflict to an action (which includes rational blindness) rots the value and renders the person immoral for going against their own value system, this immorality cannot be rewarded: that person must pay a price.
If a person’s superseding values demonstrate you are not in community with all members of our society, I do not think that person and other humane individuals in that society should have a conversation as that chasm is not bridgeable. I’d say “Shut up; get out A' here!”
A fragile narcissist, which is when a person who becomes a narcissist is fed by an extreme fragility making it emotionally dangerous for that person to even glimpse at the possibility that he, she or their identified group or country may have done something wrong.
Today’s world view of people who rant at their fellow human beings to remove their mask or to not conform to mandatory masking while adamantly being anti-vax and accepting the resultant death of others is a type of fragile narcissism to me.
Ranting about teaching history because one is too delicate to learn the hatred our fellow countrymen have done to others as real history seems another coping mechanism with reality by narcissists.
Unless each person SEEs the freedom to live one’s life without the mental anguish of the fear of the danger of the action of another the two cannot move forward. If it is not tyrannical to force me to have a minimum level of insurance when I drive my car, it is likewise not tyrannical to force you to protect me in the likelihood you can accidentally hurt me. The inherent belief in the superiority of your body to others is narcissistic.
Unless each person humanely takes accountability (notice the term used is accountability) for the things that have happened in the past, two people across a divide that is dealing with an issue of inequality, that political conversation is no more than the beating of butterfly wings in a hurricane. Belief in nationalistic exceptionalism is a narcissistic lie.
If someone is a narcissist and will not be accountable to the past or see the vulnerability of others in comparison to themselves unless some accountability occurs that person would not take responsibility for any political conversation. If the conversation has this malignancy that chasm is unbridgeable and a conversation is worthless.
For my belief in the majority’s “goodness” to survive the current truths in certain quarters, I have decided to regauge who I stay in a political conversation with. I needed a way to not dehumanize those that are “not good” based narcissism or nihilism relative to my value system while compartmentalizing my communication.
Until you or I see a difference for our values in each other I will and encourage you to BURN THE LIFEBOATS and hold people accountable
- The person who abets or spouts rhetoric against the value of a breathing member of our community may be human but not humane.
- The person that chooses to have their values only apply to the benefit of their tribe members and not all breathing humans regardless of affiliation may be part of my society but are immoral and should not to be listened to. They are too fragile and narcissistic to be accountable for their past.
Recognizing that but for my view of the world (luck of the draw of birth and experiences), I would be the same way as that person does not change this diagnosis. I will have compassion for them until they are accountable and are willing to see the humanity in my values. Life is too fragile and short for us to lose anyone due to our interdependence but too fragile or immoral for us to mentally count those that don’t really matter as they would never throw us a rope if we were thrown down an actual or metaphorical pit.