Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ideology as a Spectator Sport

An attempt at a discrimination graphic.
An attempt at a discrimination graphic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It feels more and more these days that people aren't developing philosophical viewpoints as much as they are choosing up sides, and I'm not sure where that's going to leave us in the end.

I tend to be pretty vocal in my viewpoints, be they political, religious, or otherwise, and I rarely shy away from defending what I feel is right, or just, or important. It isn't a unique trait; most people tend to do the same thing to a certain extent. Belief is what guides us, and whether that belief was achieved through deliberation and inner turmoil or adopted willingly from others as a comfort, it's how we pattern our own behaviors, or at least claim or attempt to do so. So I'm not some kind of special crusader standing up against a sea of ignorance. I'm just that annoying guy spouting off occasionally on the internet, just like all of those other annoying people. You know who you are.

But sometimes it feels like people aren't defending ideologies or beliefs as much as they are defending the home team, rooting against anybody that isn't rooting for them, and maybe our ability to process information and objectively discuss our difference on any level whatsoever is being jeopardized by this kind of Us vs. Them mentality.

It struck me the other day when I was cracking wise about the latest George Zimmerman news eruption, and somebody I don't know (unlike most intelligent people who actively avoid conflict, I still have a public Facebook page) briefly commented on my post "So I take it you are Pro-Trevon." The phrase caught me off-guard. Pro-Trevon? Pro is usually the prefix you attach to high-profile controversial moral/legal topics, like Abortion or the Death Penalty. Trevon Martin wasn't a medical procedure or form of corporal punishment, he was just a kid. A kid who was shot and killed by a man who many people, including myself, believe shouldn't have been allowed to do so without criminal repercussions.

Now, on the surface, I know what the guy meant. He was trying to assess which side of that controversial incident I am aligned with: those who defended the actions of George Zimmerman, or those who condemned the action of George Zimmerman. However, he phrased it as if the question was whether I sided with George Zimmerman or Trevon Martin, and I'm not sure if being for or against Trevon Martin is a rational standpoint to be making. Trevon, after all, is dead. His part of this equation is, unfortunately, over. There's nothing to be Pro or Anti in regards to his situation, unless the question is whether or not you are happy that a young man was shot and killed. And to be perfectly honest, I don't know Trevon, never met him or anybody else who had. Defending him as a person, as being wholly PRO or ANTI him as a human being, is probably way beyond any judgement calls I should be allowed to make. If I was called as a character witness I would be thrown out of court, I have no basis for being PRO or ANTI Trevon. As much as I have a personal distaste for George Zimmerman based on the facts surrounding the case, I can't even say I'm firmly Anti-Zimmerman.

What I AM against is the shooting death of an unarmed kid who was chased down by the person who eventually killed him with no provocation whatsoever. I'm also against the police not fully investigating the shooting death of a kid under such bizarre circumstances, and the possibility that the racial identity of the dead kid points to a pattern of behavior by law enforcement when it comes to how situations like this are handled. There are actually a lot of things I'm ANTI about in this entire clusterfuck of a tragedy, so many that I'm not even sure that there's anything I'm PRO about at all regarding the whole thing.

(Just to put the Zimmerman thing to bed so I don't end up debating THAT all over again... Yes, I think Zimmerman was in the wrong, that everything was handled incorrectly by both him and the authorities, and I will not shed a tear when he finally eats a bullet to escape what his legacy as a human being has become. But do I think he's the pure embodiment of evil walking among us, a monster to be hunted down and destroyed the way he hunted down and killed an unarmed child? No. He's not a monster. He's a fuckup, and the only tragedy about him is that he couldn't stick to fucking up just his own life. Now, moving on...)

It's human nature to try and simplify things, but I'm not sure that a situation as complex as this, with the racial/social/political/cultural/judicial ramifications stretching far and wide, should really be reduced to "Whose team are you on?" As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure that this Us vs. Them mentality is exactly the reason why shit like this goes down in the first place. So how does it get to this? Why would a situation that evokes such passion and concern in almost the entire population motivate people to give less thought to the complexity of the situation rather than more? Can we really trace the causes of this muddled cacophony of human frailties and find a mutual solution that involves all of us living together in peace and harmony by demanding to know who is Pro-Dead-Kid and who is Pro-Kid Killer?

Taking a step back, it seems like this is how all of our big philosophical battles are being waged these days. You can't enter a discussion about Israel and Palestine without hearing "Antisemitic." Disagreeing with business owners refusing to cater gay weddings becomes "Christian Persecution." And lets not forget the chest-thumping "You're with us or against us" patriotism the minute someone questions American foreign policy or brings up our proud history of killing and enslaving other races in the pursuit of Freedom and Liberty.

And don't let it be said I'm only picking on the right. Not everybody who espouses a moral objection to same-sex marriages is "Homophobic," and I'm not exactly sure why we can't rally against institutionalized racist policies without "White Privilege" getting thrown into the mix. Is every white person a racist? Is every Republican a bigot? Is every Christian a Homophobe? Is every liberal a Communist? Are there any really absolutes when it comes to the complexities of the human mind and spirit?

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be choosing battles, shouldn't be rallying for causes, shouldn't be speaking out for or against things we feel are important, whether for just ourselves or for mankind as a whole. But do we need to reduce it all to black-and-white, us-or-them, team-spirit posturing? Because the problem with that approach is that we're making up the teams as we go along, deciding for ourselves who the opposition is, stating their own arguments for them, and setting them up as the straw men we need to win our battle, and wouldn't you know it, they're doing the same damn thing. I get it, true objectiveness is a myth, we're all guided by our own beliefs. But we don't have to be blinded by them as well.

Maybe it's all too much to ask. Maybe it's too easy to cherry-pick our own facts and ensure that any argument that contradicts or questions our chosen realities is defined as victimization rather than disagreement. All I know is, I'm not Pro-Trevon. My ideologies are not cannot be defined by a prefix and a proper noun, and it doesn't involve being on the winning team. If that's the way we go, my guess is that we'll all lose.

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