By Chic Hollis – Philosophical Musings
Part 1. Describing the eternal social problem nine years ago just after 9/11
Learned anthropologists have studied and written much about the various cultures of mankind. Yet, the essence of community seems to escape definition. We amateurs, who infrequently observe human nature, constantly look for evidence of commonality amongst individuals. We have been led to believe that there is some average behavior in each culture that defines the general nature of the human group analyzed. Wherever we look, however, we see individual members of the tribe of six billion earth-bound inhabitants energetically seeking many different ways to survive. They possess a wide variety of unique talents and limiting shortcomings. They appear driven by some inherited animal instinct to continue reproducing their genes. And they exhibit a full spectrum of diversity, perversity, and creativity. Any effort to identify general groupings and categorize them is bound to be subjective and sketchy at best.
Each individual of a group is separated from the rest even though he or she may be from the same race, religion, country, and family. Each one possesses different degrees of natural ability, intelligence, and emotional reactions. Each one resists actively or passively fitting neatly into the pattern that society makes for him or her. Each one focuses on his or her specific interests, desires, passions, and objectives. And each one creatively or perversely decides how to spend his or her energy, inheritance, money, and affection. No two humans are identical, even “identical” twins!
Although we can observe the politically correct way of responding to one another in any given group and in a variety of situations, we cannot project how each individual in that group might react to the same set of challenges or stimuli. In a stadium full of thousands of fans who are supposedly cheering for the local sports team, there are many levels of support, involvement, and enthusiasm for the outcome of the event.
In a huge mall where shoppers are seeking to buy presents for the Christmas celebration, there are many unsatisfied customer demands in spite of the variety of stores, the multitude of special items, and the marketing research of retail merchants whose recommendations determine the inventories of their outlets. To the casual observer, there is some similarity in each fan and each shopper. But the differences are what actually distinguish the ardent fan and the compulsive Christmas shopper.
It is easier for us to categorize, to stereotype people in order to establish a sense of order in our society. Order makes most of us feel comfortable about what is likely to happen tomorrow. The recent events that took place on September 11, 2001 have shown everyone in the U.S. how general stress can be fomented in our society by uncertainty and the lack of perceived order. Those in charge want to reestablish order somehow and as soon as possible.
Yet, that really is impossible. Any new law to do so simply establishes different rules for the game, and the minds of the disenchanted will begin to seek radical new ways to abort the revised regulations. The cleverness of those humans who are unhappy with the present “order” – whether it be due to religious, political, or economic reasons – will eventually uncover a solution to their frustration that most likely will disturb the revised status quo achieved by any ad hoc legislation.
In attempting to categorize the similarities of groups of people or communities, we are automatically ignoring the unrecorded dissimilarities that eventually create dissatisfied citizens. The numerous and silent outcasts then either take positive and constructive action or negative and destructive action. Some become leaders of the opposition, who influence the other unhappy members of their group into taking measures that are considered anti-social.
A humble person honored as a revolutionary by his or her supporters is considered a terrorist by those whose order is being challenged by any anti-authoritarian act of disobedience. Violence is not acceptable today in our modern, democratic society, but what other means have been available over the centuries to dislodge powerful and corrupt leaders? What other means have been effective?
What we in America do not fully realize is that our actions as a nation may not be acceptable to others. Our supposed generosity may not be considered genuine, altruistic. Our interests may conflict with the interests of others. Our efforts to promote our way of life may clash with those of other serious and “good” people whom we do not know nor understand.
Americans have seldom sought to discover why others think differently from us. What’s “good” for us, our economy, our way of life must bless others automatically is our position. Like the attitude of the General Motors’ CEO a few years back who was quoted as saying: “What’s good for GM is good for America!”
Often our naive attitude is: “Our country right or wrong!” We are the leaders of the “free world,” the only currently acknowledged (by us) superpower. How could we possibly arrive at this position in the world if our methods were questionable? Our treatment of others unfair? Our interests selfish, our goals perverse, and our actions discriminatory? From our lofty viewpoint as “king of the hill” we must be doing things well, right? So, wave our flag for being the best of the rest!
Still, even amongst ourselves here in America in non-turbulent times there is obvious in harmony, inflammatory disputing, rancor, hatred, and unhappiness. These feelings dwell in all of us in different degrees. They remain hidden in our human nature, covered by our outward acts of obeying the law – until someone else rebels.
Americans aren’t really unified. We are separate, unequal, selfish, and perverse even in our own small families. These disintegrating family units that make up our “solid” society indicate that we are evolving daily into people who feel more separate and unequal despite what advertisers contend. We are seeking selfish and sometimes shocking ways to demonstrate our value, our importance, our individuality. And celebrate our freedom.
The psychological efforts of our leaders to make us conform, obey, follow them, and “fit in” force us to act in ways many of us barely accept. Most of us are unaware of how people in other countries think, how they have adapted themselves to their circumstances, and what consequences occurred as a result of their decisions and actions.
The more active of our many non-conformists are frequently tempted to demonstrate vigorously in order to bring about some kind of change without evaluating deeply the impact of their impulsive actions in achieving their loosely defined goals. These iconoclasts feel isolated and down-trodden. Their recommendations are ignored, their needs overlooked, and their hopes unfulfilled. (Does this description fit the Tea Party supporters or the Muslim extremists?) Can humanity find a rational solution to this ever-present social turmoil?
To be continued…