Discipline without freedom is tyranny. Freedom without discipline is chaos. Cullen Hightower
Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance. Albert Maysles
Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny. Abraham Verghese
This piece was completed prior to posting and is about the human tendency to see others in shallow (surface) ways as opposed to also looking for and seeing the substance of others. I used racism as a basis. As it turns out, war is again afoot—this time in Ukraine. While I’ll retain the incredible problems of racism, I think the basis for the exploration is applicable to the “fog of war,” as the “fog of mind” is an underlying issue in both cases. Thus, where the word “racism” appears, I think it appropriate to also think “fog of mind.”
The evidence of racism is simply overwhelming and incontrovertible. As I’ve previously posted, I take the position that racism is one of many forms of dehumanization, which by practice and definition is inhumane. The umbrella form of racism is surface-ism—seeing shallowly what’s readily available and misinterpreting surface features as the underlying substance of a person.
The power of words, nuance, and the search for substance dictates we look deeper. Terms like systemic racism are misleading even though racism (along with many “isms”) is prevalent. It’s like using terms such as “slavery” instead of “enslaved” or “discrimination” instead of “dehumanization”—terms that blame (guilt), excuse, or gloss-over what has and is happening to so many human beings.
When we use terms that do not accurately capture the effect on others, it’s all too easy to make it a “lab study.” The search for substance is much more complex, requiring us to slow down. And the term “substance” does not inherently mean “greatheartedness,” since the substance of some is devilment. And yes, surface can be important and sometimes substance is not. Do we really need to know how a rattlesnake was raised or what lies beneath the surface of a rabid bear? However, I can’t think of any circumstance involving the dehumanization of people that requires a rapid conclusion—in fact, such an attempt is wholly inappropriate in any circumstance.
Instead of “systemic racism,” I propose using “universal surface-ism” (US) (okay, it doesn’t easily roll off the tongue, but the acronym is clear). This is not to dilute the impact on those who are dehumanized nor is it to spare those who dehumanize. However, the word, “systemic racism” applies to everyone (including all races) and that’s an overreach. “Universal surface-ism” is what all humans tend to do first for the simple reason we see surface prior to seeing substance.
If we’re going to point, point clearly, otherwise we point as bullies. We have to practice perspective-shifting. For instance, those who point a gun at another feel much differently than those who have the gun pointed at them. And inherent in seeking substance are reference points: those of different culture, race, upbringing, etc. do not see the “markers” of words, thoughts, and behaviors in the same manner. There is no uniform, unchanging law about what non-verbal or verbal behaviors mean. To ignore this is to ignore the problem, however much current privileged folk might think it’s about caring for “others.”
Does seeking substance mean the end of any kind of war? Not likely—unfortunately. Nor does it mean the end of being prepared for war. I’m not suggesting a default pacifist approach, I’m suggesting enhancing our ability to find nuance in both patterns and particulars so we duck when needed, move against when required, and step back from the haste to denigrate or venerate other peoples, whatever their race or culture—otherwise, whether by action or omission, we risk continuing to create a messy destiny for us and our progeny. Such a destiny does not honor any of us—privileged or not—our progeny, or our ancestors, the latter of whom may be crying out “Not Again!”
The Bumper-Sticker Corner: Learning?
Autocrats can bury their mistakes—and their opponents.
Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago. Bernard Berenson
What is the purpose of fully hooding ourselves or another?
Sometimes it takes a thousand words to freely see the picture.
New Slogan Corner: What’s on Our Hats?
Save America From Egomaniacs (SAFE)
The Story Corner: Surface or Substance?
“I’m a respected member of the committee and only trying to help,” explained the autocrat.
“Are you promoting your authority or our mission?” a perplexed one asked.
“You are not aware of all of the information or the complexities,” the autocrat retorted.
“And apparently decreed unable to comprehend them,” the now exasperated one countered.
“You think it important for everyone to see the mind of the chess player?” asked the autocrat.
“Is there an independent oversight committee, one not anchored by group-think or chained by politics or money?” the questioner posited.
“I’m not at liberty to divulge that information,” the autocrat asserted
“There are rules in chess that govern, but do not reveal the mind of the player. You assert even the rules—the checks and balances—are hidden. We are to trust without question?”
“Whether you do or not, does not matter.”
“With that, you have revealed your mind and your intent,” the questioner noted.