A Lack of Imagination

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The world is full of hatred, as it always has been, but it’s also filled with more effective and sophisticated weapons than before, a bad combination. That means there’s also plenty of violence.
I don’t have enough insight about other countries, but I think the difference in hatred there is mostly due to local details. I doubt the quality differs much. I also think hatred is usually caused by fear, and that fear is often caused by a failure of imagination. We can never know exactly how others feel, but if we know their backgrounds we can make fairly obvious guesses as to how we’d feel if we experienced their suffering.
We whites, for instance, might try to imagine how we’d feel if we were regularly stopped by the police, only because we were white. The guilty flee when no one pursueth, but if you’re black or Latino, it might make sense to flee when you see a policeman, since you may get treated badly whether the policeman has probable cause or not.
Black men used to get lynched when any white accused them of raping a white woman, or just looking at her funny. Recently some young black men killed an elderly white man just because he was white. That’s no less despicable, of course, but historically the shoe has usually been on the other foot. And the horror of black men raping a white woman, I recently realized, is really the horror of white men raping black women, and a desperate desire to avoid the consequences of that. The differing shades of black Americans testifies that such rape often happened in the past, but little was said about it since white men could protect themselves and black men couldn’t.
Blacks also have higher rates of diabetes and hypertension (leading to strokes and heart attacks) than whites. Part of that is probably diet. I’ve theorized for a long time, though, that at least part of it has to do with the humiliation blacks have had to swallow without being allowed to say or do anything about it.
Blacks have been called inferior a long time, but many have proven this untrue in every generation. Michael Savage, the conservative talkshow host, when I used to listen to him, was still angry some 30-35 years after having lost a job because of Affirmative Action. He lacked the sophistication and imagination to to realize that affirmative action had existed before the 1970s. It was called segregation, and guaranteed that few blacks would get good jobs no matter how qualified they were.
Lack of imagination also plays a role in hatred of homosexuality, as we’ve seen recently in the Roanoke, VA Times, where several people have written to denounce it in recent months.
Since hatred is based on fear, what is it people are so afraid of? That they might be tempted to indulge in homosexual acts? I’ve had gay friends most of my life, but have never been interested in performing such acts myself, and I suspect that’s true of most heterosexuals.
There are also the statements of many gay people that they felt different from most people as far back as they can remember, leading me to believe that for most people orientation is not a choice. For those for whom it is, a good number have historically had children the old-fashioned way, and not just through sperm donation or adoption. I don’t know if such children have more conflicts than other people. Plenty of people have unhappy childhoods without homosexuality being invovled.
It seems that some people just reflexively hate anyone unlike them, whether that has to do with skin color, sexuality, religious belief or nationality (some of the most common group hatreds).
The solution to these problems, though not an easy one, is what Jesus proposed: Love your neighbors as yourself, and Love your enemies. To love either you have to begin by understanding them, and yourself too: First, why do you hate them? If they’re actively persecuting you, that’s easy to understand, but if you or your representatives are doing the persecuting, or if the situation is ambiguous, you may have to dig deeper, and that can be unpleasant.
Culture can also be a cause of friction. Black Africans and Native Americans had very different cultures from the whites they encountered, and many whites were quick to assume their own customs were God’s will, and those of other cultures Satanic.
I recall reading that the well-known philosopher John Wayne said it was perfectly okay to take our land from the Indians because they weren’t doing anything with it. I suspect if I took John Wayne’s property because I disapproved of how he used it, Communist would be the least of the names he’d call me.
And then there’s the mutual fear and distrust between men and women, to which women are generally more vulnerable because they’re usually smaller and not as physically strong as men. And they have what most men want: their sexuality. Many men resent that power, which some women, maybe even most, are quite willing to use. That resentment can turn deadly, whether you’re talking abuse or murder. Some women abuse men, but less often physically. Women can nag, be contemptuous or manipulative, sometimes triggering physical violence, sometimes not.
Some people dislike the politics of an individual or group playing victim. That’s a place to be careful, since some really ARE victims, while some merely use that as a manipulative device. Accurate analysis becomes more difficult when ideology takes advantage of differences in pursuit of political power. And those who feel victimized by politics are likely to return the compliment. Often the reason for they feel victimized is not only because they feel disrespected, but also for reasons of power. They feel they don’t have enough, or that their power is being taken away.
Then we have to ask how much power does anyone deserve to have over others? Some powerful people feel obligated to help protect those less powerful, but many don’t. And many resent the idea that they should. That’s one of the roots of the popularity of the ideas of Ayn Rand: the “producers” shouldn’t have to feel concern about anyone else. Not the public who consume their unhealthy products, or who have to live with their unsafe methods of extracting petroleum or metals, or who have to pay when the “producers” lose their bets and get bailed out by the government. Nor need they concern themselves about their workers, whom they don’t pay enough to live on, let alone the children of their workers who consequently remain trapped in poverty.
It’s very convenient not to have to care, and being a predator seems like it might be quite an exciting life. But some of that excitement may come when the predator is slowing down, and beginning to be destroyed by other younger, smarter and quicker predators. That might be exciting, but I suspect the experience of being an actual victim might be somewhat less than pleasant. But when profit is the only ethic, the life of a predator will continue to be popular.
And it’s both easy and convenient to blame the poor (most of who are dark-skinned anyway, and therefore inferior) for not wanting to work, even though businesses have been removing jobs from communities across the country for generations for fear of having to pay their workers too much. The mantra of the self-made millionaire or billionaire is, “If I can do it, anyone can.” Really? Perhaps they give themselves too little credit, or perhaps they simply don’t want to help anyone but themselves. A friend told me that every really successful person he’d met had told him they’d been lucky.
Naturally everyone would like to be lucky, and to arrange that they continue to be lucky. Although competition is a holy word to those capitalistically inclined, John Kenneth Galbraith remarked that capitalists have spent a great deal of time and effort in ELIMINATING competition. That indicates that competition is an abstract thing that few really practice or believe in. They want to compete successfully, but want no one to be successful competing against THEM. It’s a buzzword, meant to elicit a particular response.
The opposite buzzword to competition, the free market and capitalism is socialism. If the previous are “holy” buzzwords, the latter is Satanic, in much current political-speak. Few seem to notice that the National Football League has made quite a good thing out of socialism. Revenues are shared equally between teams, which enables weak teams to become strong relatively quickly. The opposite is true in baseball, where each team receives a certain amount from the TV contracts applying to the whole league, but are free to arrange their own local TV contracts and other revenue streams. This arrangement favors the teams in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, at the expense of smaller markets like Milwaukee, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, etc. The latter two teams happen to be competitive this year, but it’s been a long time since they last were. It’s true that the Chicago teams aren’t that good, but even with the population advantage good management is necessary, and the wealthiest teams have no monopoly on that.
So when politicians try to get people upset about “socialized” medicine, they have no intention of having them compare that model with the model of the NFL. Healthcare isn’t as sexy as football, but it’s something all of us have to be concerned about. A German friend told me about 40 years ago that the reason for socialized medicine was that those countries offering it thought it was to their advantage that their citizens be healthy. Is our country trying to say the opposite?
It would seem so. Many statistics put us in a poor light in healthcare, compared with other industrialized nations. Many treatments are far more expensive, and many have not had, and continue not to have, access. One reason for this is that insurance companies make more money insuring healthy people who don’t get sick often. “Obamacare” tries to rectify that by forbidding insurance companies from rejecting patients for pre-existing conditions. Three or four years ago conservatives called Obama’s health plan “death panels”, deciding who would live and die. No one wants government to arbitrarily kill people, but apparently it’s all right for the private sector to do so. The advantage “Obamacare” is trying to achieve is to enroll most if not all the country’s population. Doing that would bring health costs down through enabling the government, in administering the plan, to have real muscle in negotiating with healthcare providers and suppliers, like pharmaceutical companies. Mitt Romney tacitly admitted that last year when he visited Israel and commented on how much better their healthcare system was than ours. Israel has a single-payer system, anathema to the American healthcare industry.
That’s a good example of a group of people, an industry in this case, putting their good ahead of the good of the country as a whole.
Last night I found an entry on Facebook about a Million Man Muslim march to which few showed up. Among the comments was a letter from an ex-Marine, as I recall, saying that Obama’s winning the last election signaled the end of America as our forefather’s intended it, and that people would have to become fanatics to get the America back they wanted. He blamed white guilt and political correctness for this. I responded by asking if whites had nothing to feel guilty about. Our forefathers did some wonderful things, but also some that were less than wonderful: our genocidal policy towards the Indians, for example, and our practice of slavery. I went back tonight, hoping to find any responses, but couldn’t find the same page again.
I wouldn’t expect the reactions to be positive. These seemed to be people who couldn’t see any other point of view but their own.
All of us get caught up in our own points of view, but having the imagination to see how others see things I think quite necessary. We live in a world of a great many people different from us in a variety of ways: color, religion, political beliefs, socioeconomic status. We can see these people as evil, and there are plenty of people encouraging us to do just that. But what’s the outcome of condemning masses of people as evil? We got several previews of that in the last century, and before that. During the last century the events happened on a bigger scale, though. Millions of people slaughtered because of their race, religion or political beliefs. That seems to be the ordinary human behavior when we’re sufficiently scared, and there are plenty of people willing to scare us for reasons of power and money.
At its best, this country stands against that kind of behavior, but we’re not always at our best. Democracy is a wonderful ideal, but there are always forces opposing it. I don’t think a pure democracy can exist as things are now, and as we are. A pure democracy would be everyone participating in government, but not everyone has the time, let alone the interest. So politicians become professional, and often arrange things to suit themselves, rather than in the best interest of ALL their constituents. They tend to listen to the constituents with the most money, since those can hire people to represent them, and can reward the politicians who do what they want. Ordinary citizens can’t do that.
We can organize, call our representatives and sign petitions, but enough money can often overcome such efforts. So it’s not like we’re living in a dictatorship, though some like to say we already are, and the possibility is always there. We still do have the freedom to address our governments, local, state and federal, though they may not listen. There always are some who want to take those freedoms away, and some who want those freedoms for themselves, but not for others, but our situation isn’t hopeless. It may get much worse before it can get better, but we still have the choice to do what we think is right in whatever arena we choose to act.
And that will take imagination, as well as determination.

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