I recently read a summary of a scientific study that confirmed what I think most of us already knew. Conservatives and liberals are wired differently at a very core level that is very difficult to change. As the name suggests, conservatives like for things to stay the same. Conservatives are also very wary of any group outside their “tribe”. As such, they see danger around every corner, particularly when strangers are involved. Thus the reason conservatives tend to gravitate towards firearms, everything is a danger. This also means that conservatives have a very difficult time empathizing with those that are not like themselves. Liberals are basically wired the exact opposite. One of the great ironies is that conservatives tend to be happier even though they are constantly on the lookout for danger. In a way though, it makes sense. Think of it this way, conservatives assume everyone is an asshole and are pleasantly surprised to find out differently. Liberals assume everyone is good and then are disappointed.
Tonight I was having a debate with some conservative friends about BLM and made me think a lot about the hows and whys of people’s reactions to the movement. 2 parts of that conversation went as follows:
It’s an issue that runs way deeper than race and [without] some common sense and diligent attempts at a solution this is not going to get better. You can’t pick every bad cop out nor every bad guy out … So stop whining and be a part of the solution.
[We] have to acknowledge that there is a problem before there can be a solution.
We have acknowledged that there is a problem in the past, though just barely. The advent of cell phone cameras has shown that it is not the small isolated problem that most of us want to believe.
We also have a bad problem of responding with “we’ll get around to it” or “see, we acknowledged it, just give it a little time and it will go away”.
We’ve been saying that for decades and people have gotten tired of the “be quiet and work behind the scenes…. oh wait, let me find out what crazy thing Trump just said” before moving on with our lives. You and I don’t have to live with things the way they are while waiting for everyone to get around to it. The issue doesn’t go away for them because we got distracted by something else. By protesting, they keep the issue at the front and within the 10 second attention span of the country.
A bit later
On this thought look at the behavior of the protestors lack of respect for each other for the place or town or city they put at stand still or violent behavior to get attention for a cause? That just makes me not want to hear whatever you’re saying. Why don’t they acknowledge that is part of the problem being heard
How much did you think about systemic racism in the criminal justice system prior to BLM? If they stopped protesting tomorrow, would it take a week before you stopped thinking about it more than a passing thought every 6 months?
We all know the story of Rosa Parks. Generally we consider her very brave in highlighting the discrepancies of Jim Crow laws. What we tend to forget is that she stopped that bus for an extended period of time. She made life inconvenient for other people. That is what got the attention. If she had sat at the back of the bus and just kept saying “this is wrong” nobody would know her name.
Women didn’t get the right to vote by telling their husbands “this is wrong”. They marched down the streets. If I remember correctly, I believe there was a pretty big movement to withhold sex within the suffrage movement. They kept making life inconvenient for other people until those in power acted.
If we didn’t have gay pride parades for the last 20-30 years, we wouldn’t have gay marriage.
When things don’t affect us directly or indirectly, we pretty much have the attention span of a goldfish. We all have 1000 problems of our own to deal with. We don’t want to deal with other peoples problems, even when we believe strongly that injustice is happening. Particularly when those are large endemic problems with complicated and long term solutions. That is human nature.
The more I see someone else’s problem the more I empathize. That was the thing about the gay pride parades. It was a way of periodically reminding people that gay people do in fact exist and aren’t going away and that they are just people who want the same things as the rest of us.
When someone else’s problem becomes my problem, then I act. When you are late to work because that protest blocked the highway, you are inconvenienced. Their problem became your problem. In addition, you feel what it is like to be pulled over because your license plate light is too dim and then have your car searched. You’re now late for work because of some random bullshit.
There is a world of difference between violence/destruction, which is not condoned, and inconvenience. Shutting down a highway is annoying as hell for the people who are just trying to get on with their lives, but you and I are still sitting here talking about it weeks after it happened. Our attention span on the topic lasted longer than 10 seconds.
When we are dealing with uncomfortable topics, our natural inclination is to get past it or sweep it under the rug as quickly as possible. Racism, prejudices, stereotypes, unconscious biases. They aren’t all about race. It is race, culture, sex, beauty, body types, height, clothes, everything.
The thing is that we all have them. Not overt racism, but stereotypes, unconscious biases, etc. Those are mental shortcuts that we are hardwired to make based on personal experience, what we are taught, etc. They aren’t all bad, most are neutral. We don’t meet anybody with a clean slate. For example, I know you are a woman. If we ever met, I would expect that your voice would generally be higher pitched and that you are likely shorter than I am. Those are neutral stereotypes.
We all have negative stereotypes/biases/prejudices too. It is really difficult to admit that we have them, even to ourselves. That makes them REALLY uncomfortable topics.
That is particularly true of groups we cannot relate to. If you are from Texas and see a bunch of people wearing cowboy hats you might think they are just a bunch of good guys. If you are from NY city and see that same group, you might immediately think a bunch of rednecks.
Because of those unconscious biases (mental shortcuts) we are automatically primed for confirmation bias. We see a group of young black men protesting in sweat shorts and a t-shirt unconsciously we are primed to think “thug”. So if one out of 1000 breaks a window, boom they are all a bunch of “thugs”.
I admit, I do exactly that. I try to catch myself doing it. It is not easy and I fail all the time. The funny thing is that I wear sweat shorts and a t-shirt 95% of the time during the summer. I work from home and most days just make a morning coffee run to town. I go days without shaving and look like a bum most of the time because I don’t give a shit. Given where I live, at first glance, most people probably think I am a meth-head on foodstamps. They wouldn’t guess that I have a college degree and am probably in the top 1-2%, earnings wise, in this town.
Yet, I look at other groups of people, who dress more or less the same as I do, and unconsciously create a profile of what that means about them. It is an extremely difficult thing to unravel about yourself. First you have to recognize that you do it, then you have to actually catch yourself doing it, then you get to fight with yourself that you are in fact doing it when you shouldn’t be and 30 seconds later, catch yourself doing it again.
Things like BLM protests very intrusively shove a mirror in your face. We don’t want to admit our biases to ourselves, much less admit to others that we have them. We want to ignore them and continue on with our lives as we have always known them. The repeated protests are really uncomfortable because just when our attention span gets back to life as usual, another mirror gets shoved in your face.
Like any skill though, biases can be changed through repetition. The more you have to admit you do it, the more you catch yourself doing it, the more you correct yourself when doing it, until eventually you do it less. Collectively, we are still working on the admittance stage and collectively, we really just want it to go away.
How does all of this tie back to the scientific study I mentioned?
At my previous job, I had a chain hanging off of my rear view mirror on which I would hang my ID badge when I left the office so that I would not forget my badge at home every day. Having something hanging from your rear view mirror is illegal in most, if not all, states. I drove like that for 8 years and never had a problem at all. The thought never crossed my mind that I would be pulled over just for that or that it would be used as a pretense to search my car. That was not my reality.
It may not be all the time or in every place, but I know that there are plenty of black people out there who, if asked about doing just like I did, would answer “ohh hell no, that is just asking to get pulled over”.
Conservatives have a very difficult time empathizing with the “other”. They are basically incapable of seeing things as the “other” sees them or “walking in their shoes”. Their personal reality is just reality. As such, stories of people getting pulled over for having something hanging from their mirror as an excuse to search the car are just an aberration that has been blown out of proportion. It doesn’t match their reality. They are incapable of imagining it. There is just their personal reality and other people’s reality doesn’t/cannot exist.
They are being asked to confront some of the darkest parts about themselves that nobody wants to admit or think about and do so repeatedly over a reality that they don’t have to live with and don’t really acknowledge exists. If it takes 5 or 10 or 50 years for things to change, that is OK. They aren’t living with the problem anyway.
The problem for them is that they are now uncomfortable and inconvenienced by having to admit that there is a problem and face their own prejudices. Well, that has an easy solution. Just “calm down and work through the system”.