The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


1)   The most recent post posits a society in which there is both a safety net (basic human needs provided at the level of, say, a State Prison) and a Libertarian “engines of free enterprise and competition” state.  The idea is that no child wallows in poverty, yet the best, brightest and hardest-working can achieve massive success.
You know?  I have no idea how this would work, or indeed IF it could work.  I’ve always thought that the higher the safety net, the lower the ceiling.  But it’s always seemed to me that this was pretty much the “Star Trek” universe, and that was, and is, a dream that has attracted and held millions for over thirty years.  Just because I can’t see a way doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
2)     I’m glad no one suggests that because I don’t demonize Islam for the violent actions following the Pope’s rather regrettable comments, I’m suggesting that we guilty Westerners should beg the forgiveness of Muslims for our wicked, wicked ways.  That would be bullshit.  But a nun being killed means that the person who killed her is wicked, not the Religion he professes to believe in—and which forbids such killings.  You see, people, I believe something, based on countless hours of conversation with other human beings, and the reading of countless thousands of pages of essays and letters from various political and philosophical groups.  And that is this: the way you treat “B” is gonna determine how you treat “C.”  In other words, the same mind-set that says: “Muslims are evil because .001 percent of them rioted” will also say: “Black people are stupid because they riot and burn their own neighborhoods.”  Of course, that same mentality (although not necessarily the same people) would say: “When the Irish rioted during the Civil War, lynching black people in the streets of New York, they were displaying their uniquely violent and uncivilized natures” or “The use of Kamakazi pilots by the Japanese during WW2 means that they don’t value human life” or “The higher percentage of male violence means that men are evil and corrupt” or whatever.

Having been the victim of such thinking, I had a choice early in life.  Looking around at (what seemed to me) to be a massively damaging series of actions toward the African side of my genetics, combined with incredible denial and ongoing self-righteousness, and a slaughter of lives and potential that I still cannot quite wrap my mind around, I saw many of my brothers and sisters (in the African genetics sense—God knows I have brothers and sisters in many, many senses) succumbing to despair, hatred, self-loathing, or quiet tamping-down of negative emotions.  I wanted none of those things, and instead decided to search for the root causes of negative, violent behavior.

The hardest thing to understand or forgive was the tendency human beings have to blame the victim.  In other words, it is one thing to mug someone and then piss on them as they lay unconscious the gutter. That’s loathsome, but there’s worse.  Worse is to laugh at the person in the gutter, pointing them out to your fellow muggers as examples of how worthless a broke, injured, smelly person is, and how that state is indicative of their basic nature.

THAT is what human beings do. So the exact same mechanisms that guide all of my pain into love CANNOT be undone just because it would be politically correct to demonize, say, Muslims. Can’t do it.  I would have to also demonize white people.  And black people.  And men.  And women.  There is no end to it, because there isn’t one of those groups that has not, in my mind, exhibited loathsome and violent and/or instigating behavior, then twiddled its thumbs and said “not me!” 

That said, I went way out of my way to actually meet Muslims during my research for “Lion’s Blood” and “Zulu Heart” and found them about the same, morally and ethically, as the Christians, Jews, and atheists I’ve known.  Some good, some bad, some exemplary.  Human.

So whenever I hear group X reporting on the evil of group Y, I automatically assume that there are cultural filters that will keep X from understanding its own culpability, or understanding the way group Y sees them.

This tendency of human nature seems pretty damned universal.  I fall into it myself, but struggle to keep my eyes clear.  It’s a full-time job.

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