“Emotions and values create actions, actions create results. When those base emotions are fear, and the values are those of differential worth or humanity, the results can be disastrous…and nauseatingly predictable.
Anyone wondering why I pay so much attention to media images like “Tarzan” need only watch the news, and they will understand, if they have a speck of honesty or courage or empathy.”
Life has a special symmetry to it, and our task is to resolve the apparent dualities, move deeper, and learn about ourselves in the process of learning about life. It is also ironic as hell.
“Two days ago I wrote the above words, reacting to yet another police shooting.” And a day from now, THAT sentence might have been written about the events in Dallas. I noticed that when I watched the video of Alton Sterling’s killing, I didn’t have much reaction. Same when I watched video of the snipers spraying the police. It was all vectors and strategy, wishing I had more information about the shooters so that I could reckon their motivations.
Oddly, perhaps, it was the same head space I enter when people offer me physical violence. Nothing personal. Not much emotional. Analyzing. Comparing the situation to others I’ve known or heard of. Seeking understanding while remaining ready.
The mental space I never knew I wanted to find when I went into the martial arts forty-five years ago. How could I know about something I’d never experienced or heard of? But what is that space..?
It is: “understand this and your chances of survival increase.” Ah, yes. THAT space.
I was, and will be asked what I think about the shooting. Well…look at that first paragraph, written about Sterling’s death. I don’t know precisely what happened there, but it SEEMS to fit into a pattern I believe to be reality, even though individual instances of it can be denied or explained, much the same way that any INDIVIDUAL film’s failure to cross the 100-million mark can be explained…but an overall pattern of “Black man having sex in film = underperformance at the box office as measured by inability to cross the 100 million mark” became a fine metric, easily available and understandable by about 99% of honest intelligent people to represent (especially male) aversion to watching mating behavior in members of a competing group.
No, I didn’t go into anger about Alton. I went into the “hmm. Where are we now?” Because it is clear to me what is happening: the Matrix is crumbling. The illusion that racial groups are possessed of differential value or capacity has been central to American culture since 1619, and only really began to break down in the mid-sixties. If we are not unequal, then massive violence and terror and brainwashing have been applied for centuries to justify an economic institution and its accompanying social factors. The fear and anger (and anger is just a form of fear) to be released as that illusion fades is of fantastic dimension.
And IF Alton’s death is a murder, it is obvious how it fits into that pattern: “black man equals threat, black man not as valuable = greater readiness to remove said person from gene pool, less inhibition against pulling the trigger, more fear creates greater anger/survival impulse.” Bang. Well, actually, bang bang bang bang bang.
Nope, not much reaction to that, because I first became aware of this problem when I entered first grade in elementary school, and the white teachers separated the students into slow and fast reading groups based on our race. And were rather embarrassed when they heard me read, and shunted me over to the group with the white and Asian kids. “Oh,” I remember thinking. “It’s like that.”
And again when I was ten years old, and my mother (who had grown up in Augusta Georgia during a time of lynching) said to me: “Stevie, if you let white people know how smart you are, they will kill you.”
Oh. Well, that’s certainly interesting. I’ve wondered how much chaos THAT created in my education. If you’ve ever wondered how someone as open-hearted as I am could spend most of his life learning how to kill people, a clue can be found in the last couple of paragraphs.
“Why do they hate us?” I asked myself. And the answer was found in the notion that “Anger is a mask over fear,” learned from my guru Sri Chinmoy. Could this be true? If it was, what would that mean?
Well…violence is usually caused by anger…and if anger is caused by fear, then if you can determine what people are fearful of and remove that cause, the anger and the violence diminish. Conversely, if you increase the amount of fear in a situation, you will increase the violence, UNLESS you can keep the victim confused and helpless: “depression is fear without anywhere to run, and with no one to fight.”
They hate us, then, because they are afraid of us. And why are they afraid? Oh, ho ho ho. Rather obvious once you see it.
Say that there are two basic positions: black people are inferior, or black people are equal.
(by the way, did you catch the fallacy in the sentence above? If you didn’t, I don’t blame you. THERE IS AT LEAST ONE MORE POSITION, one almost never discussed outside the Nation of Islam. And that is: black people are superior. How did it happen that only the first two positions are spoken of, in general? What happens if you even TOUCH that third rail? What precisely is the programming necessary to keep people from even contemplating the possibility?)
But let’s look at all three, because all three can generate fear.
- Black people are inferior. Well, if you are white, of course this causes fear. Because as rights are increased, “the monkeys are taking over the zoo.” Oooga oooga. Here we come! America is going down the drain. No way out.
- Black people are equal. Unless your heart is filled with love, unless you have resolved your terrors and doubts and see the eyes of God looking back at you from every human being or found some other way of embracing the universality of mankind…then you’re going to be in raving terror that black people are going to be like YOU would be, and seek revenge. I remember lecturing a college, and a white student asked me why black people were so angry. I just laughed, and asked them how they would react if they had been stolen from their homelands, stripped of their names, religions, languages, histories, and culture, brainwashed into believing themselves inferior, stripped of the legal right to protect their lives or chastity or raise their children…and as I went down that litany, the room began to shift. They began to mumble. Their faces drew down into “predator” mode. Oh, it was wonderful. They understood. More, they had ALWAYS understood. They simply couldn’t let themselves know what they knew, because unless you have resolved the fear within you, THERE IS NO ANSWER. If others are like you, and you are filled with fear, then America is going to rip itself to pieces. No way out.
- And God help us…what if black people are superior? What if it was an accident of geography and a very minor burp in social evolutionary time that allowed one group to surpass another for a few centuries out of 250k years of human existence? Everyone knows that the kids who got the shit beat out of them on the playground didn’t grow up to be the stupidest, weakest adults. They just were a little late getting out of the gate. But they caught up. Oh, yes we did. Ahem. In that case, if they feel the same anger, have the same urge for revenge…white Americans are in more trouble than they can imagine. No way out.
But wait (as they say on infomercials) There’s more! What if black people DON’T have that same urge for revenge? What if…ummm…they are actually evolved enough to see beyond that violent duality? Holy crap, Batman. If THAT is true, then…um…
Then for centuries, an almost unbelievable injustice, a crawling horror of rationalized torture and brainwashing and rape and murder has been perpetrated against an almost saintly group of beings. Imagine the guilt THAT would trigger. Now consider that the same part of the country where slavery was collected, and where Jim Crow and Segregation were most defended is known as the “Bible Belt.” The area of, arguably greatest, deepest religious practice. Now, correlation does not mean causality, but one is tempted to suspect that a case could be made that that religious practice was either expiation of guilt, or prayer for delivery from divine vengeance.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. And who were we deceiving? Ourselves, of course. Justifying our selfishness (a need to have labor as close to “free” as possible) by blaming the victim. Yeah, I said “our.” Look at me. I’m hardly a Zulu. But let’s not speculate too closely on just HOW that genetic contribution made it into my cells, shall we? A topic for another time, and trust me there is no joy in Mudville around that issue. But it does prevent me from pointing fingers, forces me to seek answers that aren’t quite so simple.
So…fear leads to anger leads to violence. “The monkeys are taking over the zoo” so we need the Thin Blue Line to separate Us from Them. Tribal trigger-fingers would reduce inhibitions against shooting someone in the face, and in fact, you’d get tacit approval, evidenced by lighter penalties and less frequent prosecutions and convictions.
Is any of this innate? Just some deep genetic evil on the part of white people? Oh, please. Read “LION’S BLOOD” for my answer to that. Nope, this is the unfortunate human tendency to mug someone, knock them down, piss on them, laugh at them, and then tell passer’s-by “look at that broke, crippled, stinking bum in the gutter. They LIKE being that way, and we need to be careful of them. They’re innately violent bums!”
I don’t know about “innate” but you’d better bet that they heard what you just said. And if you put yourself in their place, think that the social inhibitions against violence, or playing by any rules you created might be weakened, just a smidge..?
So I went deeply enough into the questions to understand the oppression. And when Alton Sterling died, when Trayvon Martin died, when the church slaughter in Carolina was in the news, not once did I lose hope, or even feel propulsive or paralyzing anger. Why? Because it was all predictable. I’ve walked this path, been looking at these things since childhood.
Like I said, the Matrix is collapsing. The illusions are falling, revealing the social forces that have created massive problems in the black community which manifest in things like infant mortality, decreased life expectancy, smaller inherited wealth, increased arrest and incarceration rates.
These things are either the result of differences in human capacity, or emergent aspects of human nature. This is the Nature/Nurture argument, and THERE IS NO WAY TO ULTIMATELY RESOLVE IT. It is impossible to perform the experiments that could even take us 99% of the way there.
Ultimately, what you think about it is a matter of faith. No, it’s not ultimately logic no matter what you convince yourself. All reality can be deconstructed, all language parsed into babble. You are making a judgement, and the people who believe in inequality 99.9% of the time believe themselves in the superior group. If you don’t consider the implications of that and get the joke, you need to stand on the OTHER side of a line I’m drawing down the middle of the road.
Because my side says: “we’re all pretty much the same.” Trust me, those who have, over the years, tried to recruit me to the inequality side were horribly mistaken. They assumed that if I did that, I’d conclude whites were intellectually superior. No, bwana. If I WAS that kind of thinker, I’d conclude that whites were morally INFERIOR. And the potential for unleashed violence would be ghastly.
But I’m not. People are just people.
Octavia Butler told me that her greatest fear for humanity was that
- We were hierarchical and
- We tended to place ourselves higher on the hierarchy than others.
Just monkeys climbing up the tree throwing poo on those lower down. “Born on third base and thought he hit a triple.” You know the routine.
So I could look at all of the changes in the 21st Century, and think: “oh my God…if I was a straight, alcohol-drinking, Christian American Exceptionalist white male, I’d think the sky was falling” as I watched Gay rights, women’s rights, the growth of atheism, pot legalization, 9/11, the shift of international power, Global Warming and a black President all at the same time.
The world is shifting, and the music is corrosive for anyone who cannot dance. Stress causes strain if you aren’t balanced enough. Strain creates damage, which triggers fear, which triggers anger, which causes violence…
Oh, yes. I see the human race moving toward greater connection and communication, inevitably. But along the way, those whose ego walls are threatened by this will perceive themselves as dying. And will strike out. And this doesn’t even cover what I call “smiling monsters”–the people who are actively venomous but pretend to be reasonable, who hide their hatred and desire to watch the world burn behind politically correct rhetoric. Dangerous as Cobras pretending to be Slinkies.
So the process of moving forward and connecting will inevitably trigger violence. I see the 21st Century as a time of serious, glorious change. And there will be death along the path. Maybe mine. Maybe yours. But our grandchildren will be fine. They have no investment in the way things were. They just want to be happy and healthy and loved.
So how do I react to Dallas? (He said, rounding a very, very large arc). How do you think? Look at that first paragraph again. Do you imagine that if I can be sanguine about crazy, fearful white people striking out I’m going to be rattled by crazy, fearful black people doing the same? If you are the kind of person who looks at Fergusen protesters and think it is political theater or “mere hooliganism” rather than screams of mortal terror, you are not on my side of the line. You have either not looked deeply enough into your own motivations, or have refused to extend equal humanity to others. And are missing life. That’s fine, but you won’t be marching at my side, thank you.
And who will? Those who love themselves, and love others enough to extend their own humanity to them. Who see fear for the corrupting influence it is, and have decided to live your own life with power and joy, taking shit from no one…but loving everyone.
Who understand that you will NEVER get 100% agreement, but see that we probably do have a majority now, a majority of people who believe in the equality of humanity, who see that our painful history as a nation or a species has just been the thrashing to try to survive, and that the violence we see in the media are the actions of terrified people who believe themselves threatened FAR more often than simple predation or evil.
That the answer is to be an awake, aware, ADULT human being, not a sleeping child. Or smiling monster.
Who have conquered the fear and hate in their own hearts, and are prepared to be the adults in the room, forming a circle with other adults and saying to the children: “if you are not ready to grow up, not ready to awaken, come and sleep within the circle of our torches and spears, and we will protect you from the night terrors. But we believe you WILL awaken one day…and take your place at our side so that the new children may sleep until it is time for THEM to awaken.”
That realization, of where the violence comes from, and how it can be stopped by a combination of love and strength, is one of the greatest gifts the martial arts gave me…a perspective so congruent with what holy men and philosophers have been saying that the world just…makes sense. There are no great mysteries of human behavior. No unsolvable Gordian knots. Just people, and the passage of time. Multi-generational problems will require multi-generational answers.
But now, today…if you want to be part of the answer, don’t get pulled either way. Stay on the path. Be strong, and loving, and radiate that to the people around you. The children are frightened. The sleeping are having nightmares. Comfort them.
But also…take no shit, and remember there really are wolves who will come in from the darkness and steal your children for a midnight snack. Oh, yes, I see you. You WANT us to fight. You WANT us to hate, and fear, and tear ourselves apart, you carrion beasts. So that after we are exhausted you can bear your cowardly teeth and leap.
You cannot have me, or mine, without a fight. And you have no slightest idea just how nasty an opponent I am.
(the Lifewriting Premium site has a section we call Social Justice Writers. If you have a desire to create a better world, whether you are Left or Right, if you are willing to see the humanity in your brothers and sisters and learn to present your thoughts so that the widest range of people can understand them, so that we can advance the social conversation…please join us!)