The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The 10% Disconnect

One of my favorite Lifewriting principles, which has the virtue of:
1) helping to explain a wide range of phenomena, both social and personal.
2) Demonizes no one group
3) points to a solution to apprently insoluable social and cultural problems.
Let me set this up, because it's complex.  Over the years, I've asked hundreds of people the following question: what percentage of the human race is just mean-spirited and nasty?   The average answer is about 10%.  The same estimation regarding unreasoning bigotry: I might personally put the number at 5%, but many others put it at 15 or 20%.  Adjust the number as you will: BUT ATTRIBUTE IT ACROSS THE BOARD, TO BOTH BLACK AND WHITE, MALE AND FEMALE, GAY AND STRAIGHT, LIBERAL AND CONSERVATIVE.  Find whatever number you can sit with, with my full understanding that you might want to attribute a little more to one group than another--especially if that other group isn't yours.  Good.  Now, whatever number you've come up with is, in my estimation, the "disconnect" between groups, the degree to which people in one group do not attribute full humanity to members of another.
10%.  What are the implications?  Well, you can evaluate many human characteristics on a Bell Curve.  That implies that if most of us are in the middle, at one end (low 10%) are absolute monsters and at the other (high 10%) are  saints.  O.K?  So most, perhaps all of us have small aversions to the "other" while ten percent of us are absolute Haters, and ten percent of us are Xenophiles.
What are the different social phenomena that this explains?  Well, we've been talking about some of them, but let's list 'em, and some others just for fun:
1) Lack of black or Asian SF writers.
2) Lack of black or Asian male sexuality in films.
3) the rather stunningly disproportunate number of Asian newswomen to Asian newsmen.
4) The problem (if one considers this a problem) of white police officers shooting unarmed minorities.  This SEEMS to happen far more often--even allowing for percentage representation--than white officers shooting unarmed white suspects, or minority officers shooting unarmed white suspects.
One might think that last is a contradiction.  Why wouldn't there be an identical percentage, if, as I suggest, the basic groups are equivilent? 
1) Because there are different penalties attached.  Society punishes non-whites who kill or attack whites more severely than whites who attack non-whites.  Any statistical analysis of arrests, convictions, and sentencing will reveal this.
2) There are orders of magnitude more programming Memes in our culture suggesting that whites are more beautiful, spiritual, intelligent, sexy--just plain better.  Programming works, people.  If it didn't , Advertising wouldn't be a multi-billion dollar industry.  Be honest: how many rednecks would have ever burned crosses if the Christ they knelt in prayer to had been black?  Generations of black Christians kneeling in prayer to Jesus has conditioned them on a core level to feel that whites are closer to God.  This this would have an inhibiting effect on the snap judgement made in a fraction of a second that leads to even the best cop making decisions based on threat estimate and social appropriateness of action?  It doesn't take a genius to add that one up.
So what is the answer?  Honest discourse, such as we've been having.  And raising your own consciousness, each and every one of you, so that you shift toward the more loving side of the curve.  Each and every individual human being that does this  changes the entire curve.  We make a difference, people.  REMEMBER:  this doesn't mean to stop being wary, or not to realize that there are broken, dangerous people out there, some of whom may be beyond the capacity for reason.  Just that the problem isn't "out there" somewhere.  It's in us.  Each and every one of us.  We each have our own "10% disconnect".  Find it and heal it, and the world becomes a better place for everyone.


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