Don’t Get Mad, Get Even

Here is a nice thought about walking off anger. It’s a poem by Rosemerry at A Hundred Falling Veils blog. The title is “I’m Not Saying We Shouldn’t Be Angry.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be angry.
Anger seems reasonable. But perhaps
we will do what I’ve heard the Inuit do—
spend the emotion on walking, walk a line
until all the anger has left our bodies.

There is truth to that. Physical exertion does help an individual to release stress. There are biological reasons one could give, if one wanted to be scientific about it. But the advice stands alone and can be verified in one’s experience. Maybe that relates to a main problem with the internet, too much inactivity. For reasons of mental and physical health, people should get up once in a while to physically move around, which probably is a good prevention for the buildup of anxiousness and frustration that can lead to bad moods.

I’m a curious person, though. The anthropological angle interests me for its own sake. I was wondering about the source that is the basis of the poem. I came across two references to it. In Overlay, Lucy R. Lippard writes that, An Eskimo custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape; the point at which the anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.” And here is something from the UAB Department of Anthropology“When conflicts do arise, people often express their feelings with hints. Anger occasionally erupts, but when it does the angry person simply walks away. The community may ostracize people who develop a tendency to anger, though that would be done subtly, with the people doing the ostracizing acting more nurturing and warmer than ever.”

It almost makes one want to sing a round of “Kumbaya My Lord, Kumbaya.” Or maybe belt out an old Unity Church favorite, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” I can feel the love already. I grew up with New Age spirituality. I dig it. But… there is always a ‘but’…

There is something in me (cynicism? contrarianism?) that can’t help noting a related piece of info. The Inuit weren’t hippy pacifists. Humans have to be as tough as the frozen tundra to survive in such icy bleakness. They didn’t express their anger because they didn’t tolerate anyone expressing their anger. Walking it off was an act of suppression. Don’t come back until you either are in a better mood or regained enough self-control to pretend to be in a better mood. There wasn’t much room for tolerance of misbehavior and deviance of any sort: betraying community values and social norms, taking advantage and harming others. The Inuit rule was to keep your problems to yourself or else. And you didn’t want to find out what ‘or else’ might mean. Individuals who failed to play by the rules and be members in good standing… well, those people were taken care of, one way or another. As Barbara Oakley explained (Evil Genes, p. 265):

Prior to the advent of agriculture, human groups were small — perhaps made up of fifty or fewer, and perfectly capable of “voting with their feet” to escape unfair treatment. Psychopathic or self-serving Machiavellian behavior would be obvious in such a restricted environment and would be difficult to tolerate long-term. There is evidence that when such behavior arose in those small, ancestral nomadic groups, it was eliminated in straightforward fashion. Harvard anthropologist Jane Murphy, for example, notes that the Yupic-speaking Eskimos of northwest Alaska have a word, kunlangeta, which means “his mind knows what to do but he does not do it.” This word

might be applied to a man who, for example, repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and does not go hunting and, when the other men are out of the village, takes sexual advantage of many women — someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment. One Eskimo among 499 on their island was called kunlangeta. When asked what would have happened to such a person traditionally, an Eskimo said that probably “somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.”

Murphy goes on to describe a similar word, arankan, used by Yorubas of Africa. It is applied to a person who always goes his own way regardless of others, who is uncooperative, full of malice, and bullheaded. Interestingly, neither kunlangeta nor arankan were thought to be curable by native healers. Psychopathy is rare in those settings, notes psychologists David Cooke, who has studied psychopathy across cultures.

They didn’t get lost in anger. Instead, they took direct action to solve the problem or eliminate the cause of their anger. Walking it off was just the first step. Don’t act in anger. But be sure to take action. The problem still needs to be solved.

Consider the ancient Japanese story of the Samurai. His master was murdered and it was his duty to seek vengeance. Having tracked down the assassin and with sword aloft, the cornered man spit in the Samurai’s face. Anger having taken hold of his mind, he immediately stopped and sheathed his sword. It would have been dishonorable to have killed the man out of anger. His act of righteousness needed to be an act of dispassionate duty, not of personal emotion. So, he left the killer there and walked away. My friend who told me this story gave it a different ending that I prefer. In his version, after the Samurai calmed down and regained composure, he once again tracked down the evildoer. With a calm heart and a clear mind, he honorably slayed the guilty party and justice was done.

Don’t get mad. Get even. It is ancient wisdom.

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Divide and Conquer

Here is something I never understand.

Every time I hear someone talk about “Real Americans” it’s almost always a Christian conservative (such as Sarah Palin”. Why is this “Divide and Conquer” mentality so appealing to many conservatives? And why does it seem so repulsive to most liberals?

The only answer I’ve found is the research of Bob Altemeyer. He found in the US Right-Wing Authoritarianism correlates to social conservatism and Christian fundamentalism. In communist countries, the bigots tend to be communists. In fascist countries, the xenophobes tend to be fascists. But, in America, this same type of person tends to be a socially conservative Christian. Why?

I understand the power of group mentality especially in terms of fundamentalism, but still I just can’t get my mind around it. There is this obvious conflict between what Jesus did and said and what right-wing Christians too often do and say. Shouldn’t all Christians, even conservatives, be against such bigoted xenophobia and fear-mongering?

Many right-wing Christians will ask: What would Jesus do? But why do so few right-wing Christians ask this question when they walk past the homeless guy sleeping on the cold sidewalk? Why do so few right-wing Christians ask this question when confronted with undocumented immigrants who are trying to escape a country that has become violent because of the US War on Drugs? Why do so few right-wing Christians ask this question when they hear drum-beating and flag-waving propaganda for yet another war?

My problem isn’t that Christians fail to live up to Christ’s example but that so few even try. Still, their not trying doesn’t stop them from being righteous towards the failures of others.

I don’t know what Jesus would do, but I do know that Jesus wouldn’t be a right-wing Christian.

Rightwing Madness

I read many comments online. I always wonder why many rightwingers have a tendency to make extreme statements

Whenever they disagree with someone or something, they say things such as:

  • Obama is the Anti-Christ, a Muslim, a terrorist, a Nazi, Hitler, Stalin, etc.
  • Obama isn’t American. Show me his birth certificate.
  • I hope Obama gets assassinated.
  • Jim Wallis is Satan.
  • Liberals are Communists.
  • Dr. Tiller got what he deserved and Roeder is a hero.
  • Overthrow the government!
  • He is an FBI operative.
  • FEMA will put us in concentration camps.
  • Violent militia groups are just defending their rights.
  • America is a Christian nation and the Founding Fathers meant the govt to be a fundamentalist theocracy.

They’re particularly obsessed with their xenophobia. They constantly live in fear of fags, blacks, and immigrants. They’re blind to their own bigotry and love to allege reverse racism. They conflate beliefs and facts, rhetoric and logic. They think the opinions of anyone else is equal to or greater than the opinion of the consensus of experts. They think they have the right to their own ‘facts’. They just know they’re right and you’re wrong. They often see conspiracies all around them:

  • New World Order
  • Liberal Elites
  • Hidden Communist conspiracy
  • Jewish Cabal
  • Immigrant invasion
  • Black helicopters

It’s not that all conservatives think and act this way, but there is a surprising number who do. More importantly, mainstream conservatives apparently are afraid of their own fringe. Conservative politicians and media personalities rarely criticize the fringe and often instead fan the flames instead. When a Tea Party leader asked about the fringe, he agreed they existed in the party but he thought they had a rightful place in the movement. They welcome the fringe and help give the extremists a voice. It’s not surprising that this filters into the mindset of the average conservative and so that is why you see all these crazy rightwing comments all over the web.

I’m trying not to over-generalize here. I know there are intelligent and rational conservatives. There are some who will criticize the fringe sometimes. I give credit for Bill O’Reilly in that he will on occasion make attempts to distance himself from the crazies and he’ll even sometimes directly criticize them. I just wonder why the ‘normal’ conservatives tend to be so silent. Is it the same reason why average Muslims too rarely speak out against the violence and oppression of Muslim extremists? Is it fear to speak out or is there an element of complicit agreement?

There is always a way to rationalize away or ignore evidence to the contrary. The federal report about rightwing militias is a smear campaign, but when righwing militias start conspiring violence against the government it’s automatically assumed these groups have been innocently framed. ACORN and Climategate are liberal conspiracies and they must be destroyed. The conservative media goes batshit over it and gets the rest of the media to jump on the bandwagon. After organizations and reputations are destroyed, investigations conclude that all involved were innocent. The conservatives use lies and deceit to destroy their enemies, but they don’t care about the truth. Will ACORN and the CRU scientists get vindicated in the media? No, probably not. Scandals get attention, but innocent victims of rightwing hatred don’t make for entertaining news. So, the media waits to get carried away by the next ‘scandal’.

Why is it so rare than anyone gets held responsible for any of this kind of immoral behavior? Yes, Roder gets life in prison and the guy who slandered ACORN ended up in prison as well. But Dr. Tiller can’t be brought back to life and who knows how many women will die or suffer serious health conditions because there is now one less doctor to help them. ACORN is permanently villified in the public eye and the organization is no more. What about all the people that Dr. Tiller and ACORN helped? Why doesn’t the media obsess over the real victims?

I know that, in response, rightwingers will argue that leftwingers are just as bad. They’ll point out a couple examples they once saw in the news. That is fair in that there are extremists of all ideological varieties, but there is a difference that makes a difference. First, I doubt people toting guns and screaming racial slurs wouldn’t feel very welcomed at most liberal protest and I could imagine the politically correct police asking them to leave. Second, the loony left doesn’t get a platform from the “liberal media” in the way that loony right gets a platform from conservative media such as Fox News. All news have agendas, but Fox News takes it to a new level of outright political spin and propaganda. I’m not sure why a media corporation would want to fan the flames of rightwing fear and hatred. I suppose it must be serving some purpose of theirs or of the GOP.

There seems to be a different attitude between the left and the right. On the left, different opinions are embraced as long as they’re respectful. On the right, different opinions aren’t embraced, but as long as your remain within the in-group ideology it doesn’t matter if you voice your opinions respecfully. In fact, rightwingers seem to pride themselves on being disrespectful. Anger, hatred and bigotry are seen as strengthening and consolidating the group. It’s the us vs them attitude. As long as the disrespectful message is directed outside of the group at the enemy, it doesn’t matter what a rightwinger says or how they say it.

Part of why I bring all this up is because I’ve noticed how it’s changed me. I feel unable to let it just roll of me. I’ve never called George W. Bush the Anti-Christ or Glenn Beck the devil, but it has become more common for me to call someone an asshole when someone is being offensive or aggressive, when someone is acting righteous or bigoted. I’ve learned to respond this way because some people don’t seem to understand how mean-spirited their comments are until you confront them in a forceful manner. Why should I respect the opinion of someone who claims Roeder is a hero for committing murder and terrorism? If they want to say they’re against abortion fine, but there is no excuse for what Roeder did. What Roeder did goes against everything our country stands for. Why should liberals try to be understanding towards such hatred and violence? Why shouldn’t stand up for the rights of everyone? For that matter, why shouldn’t it be expected that conservatives should stand up for the rights of everyone?

This isn’t just about my being a liberal. What rightwing extremists are doing and what mainstream conservatives are (implicitly or explicitly) supporting is stupid just from the perspective of strategy. They’re turning a whole generation of youth against the conservative movement. All the shootings and militias are just going to deservedly bring down hard the hammer of the law. In their fear of the government, they’re forcing the hand of the govenment. It’s as if they want a war. The culture war has failed. So, what they couldn’t accomplish through politics they’ll now try to accomplish through violence. I don’t what strategy would work for conservatives trying to get their message out, but what they’re doing right now is not working. Yes, it feels empowering to rant and rave, to fear-monger and use hate speech, to brandish guns at political gatherings. But this sense of empowering is just reactionary, just a shortterm gain. Conservatives were successful in the past because they took the longterm view, but they seem to have forgotten the lesson of their past success.

If you’re a Christian and you don’t like another Christian’s views, don’t call them the Anti-Christ or the Devil. If you’re a libertaraian and you don’t like Democrats being in power, don’t call Obama Hitler or a Commie. If you’re worried about our employment or your economic security, don’t attack immigrants and blame the poor. If you want to make a difference, reach out to others and not just to the small group of people who are just like you.

I realize I’m offering you liberal advice. But guess what? The world has become a liberal place. We no longer live at a time when white Christians monopolize all power. We no longer live at a time when minorities, immigrants and the poor knew their place. It’s just a fact of life. Accept it or not, but the world isn’t going to return to simpler times. Anyways, your idealizing of the past is just a fantasy. It’s time to stop fighting the inevitable. Change happens and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You either join in and work together or else you become obsolete. It’s your choice.

When Obama voices bipartisan values, I don’t know if he actually means it or not. However, people voted him into office because they believed in the message. The young generation that voted Obama into office doesn’t want partisan bickering, doesn’t want angry ranting and fear-mongering. The young generation looks for what we all share in common and they don’t care about parties, they don’t even care about the Tea Party. Many liberals and many conservatives as well were inspired by Obama’s message of hope and change. This is what people want. Obama was voted in by a majority of Americans. He may not be living up to his speeches, but the point is that people want to believe in the vision he spoke of.

Fear-mongering and Scapegoats

I don’t have much to say other than to share a simple observation about human nature.  In the online comments section of my local newspaper, many people seem angry, even righteously angry.  Quite a few people are aggressive to the point of trying to start arguments.  People bicker and act dismissively, and civil behavior apparently is the exception to the rule.  The majority of posters comment already posturing for a fight and everyone is constantly trying to draw the lines of who is on what side.

All of the negativity depresses me and I feel myself drawn into it.  It’s not a matter of whether I can hold my own.  I’m a better debater than many of the people commenting, but I’d rather just discuss than argue.  Why is that so difficult?

My sense is that there is a lot of fear.  That is basically what I get from all of the bickering.  Look past all of the intellectual rationalizations, ideological justifications, social game-playing, and psychological personas… look past all of that and what lies beneath is a bunch of people afraid of the world.  And it’s not just here.  People walk around with this fear all day long and it usually remains hidden behind a social facade.

It’s understandable.  There is much to be afraid of.  The world is a scary place.  I’m full of fears myself.  The problem is that the fears seem misplaced or rather projected.  People begin with their fears and then look for something to explain why they feel so afraid. look for something to blame, to scapegoat.

I realize this is completely normal human behavior.  People have been doing it for at least as long as civilization has existed and probably longer.  But it’s still sad.

It just seems like humans always need an enemy, a bad guy.  It really doesn’t even matter who gets tagged ‘it’… except to the person who gets to be the scapegoat.  The even more weird part is that it’s also a part of human nature to embrace the role of scapegoat.  When someone is seen as an outsider, they start acting that way.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s a play and there is a role for everyone.  We fall into our scripts and the show begins.

 – – –

In case anyone is interested, my thoughts are loosely inspired by the ideas of Arnold Mindell. I’d recommend Mindell’s books, but you can find some info about his ideas on the web (Amy and Arny Mindell website). He analyzes relationships and social roles, and he specializes in conflict resolution both on the small and large scale.

His basic theory is that there are basic roles that have to be fulfilled in any social situation or else the social dynamic gets stuck. The problem is that oftentimes there are certain roles that nobody wants to play. This either leads to collective frustration as this aspect has no outlet.

If no one willingly accepts a particular role, then sometimes it’s forced onto someone. Or people sometimes find themselves acting in a way that seems out of character and it could be because they’re unconsciously playing some role in that situation.

Officer Shoots Homeless Man: Comments

My local “newspaper” has an active community of commenters, and I must admit I rarely read the paper version.  To tell you the truth, I find the comments online more interesting than most of the articles.  There was a homeless man shot by a police officer and it attracted many comments including my own.  Since the paper allows users to also blog, I wrote my first post about some of these comments.  Even though this is more local news, I’ll also post it here since it applies to humans in general.  If you follow the link, it will bring you to the post where there is discussion in the comments section.

Posted 7/29/2009 10:30 PM CDT on press-citizen.com

Recent events in Iowa City have got me thinking and so I’ll write my first blog post here. I normally blog on Word Press, but this topic directly relates to the articles and comments on the Press Citizen that are about the police shooting of a homeless person. Even though I don’t comment here that often, sometimes a topic captures my attention and some of the self-righteous comments annoy me so much that I feel compelled to respond. I just can’t let mean-spirited and ignorant statements to go unchallenged… although I realize I’m mostly just wasting my time. 

I’m not a liberal softy who believes judgments are never justified. I’m fine with a righteous attitude as long as it serves an empathetic sense of compassion, but righteousness serving it’s own purposes is serving no good purpose at all. Righteousness seems rather infantile when it’s used to exclude certain groups of people and make oneself feel superior. So, self-righteousness is one of the few things that makes me feel righteous in turn.

Certain topics really draw out some ugly comments. In the articles about the shooting, some people weren’t even trying to hide their gleeful joy that a less-than-worthless homeless person had been removed from the population. It’s just mean. I find it very strange how some people are incapable of comprehending that the homeless are people too and not rabid dogs to be shot down. Why is it wrong to care about people who’ve had difficult lives? Do these people want to dismiss the homeless because they don’t want to accept their common humanity, don’t want to accept that they could easily end up in the same situation? It’s easy to be righteous when you’re life is relatively easy and when you’ve been fortunate enough not to have hit rock-bottom, not experienced the extremes of suffering.

Also, there is all kinds of ignorance. Many want to portray all homeless people as mentally ill drunks invading from the Big City who come here simply to cause harm to people and property… . The homeless get lumped together with all of those black gangsters taking over Iowa City and incidents like this get lumped together with every criminal activity that happens downtown. It’s hard to take these kinds of opinions seriously, but sadly the people who voice them take them all too seriously. People were stating reactionary opinions with no basis in facts, and they’re ready to condemn the homeless guy even though he is conveniently dead and unable to give his own view. The homeless guy is automatically guilty and the police officer is automatically innocent. Oh yeah, and the bar patron is a good Samaritan by hassling the homeless to the point of starting a fight that ends in death. People were coming to conclusions about it before the police had even collected all of the witness testimony.

And then there are the people who always try to dismiss the views of others or make every discussion into black and white conflicts. Why can’t there be multiple perspectives? Why do we have to jump to ideological conclusions before the facts come in? Why if you question anything, you must hate America, the troops, and the cops? Why can’t I care about everyone and not pick sides? Why is the life or rights of one person worth more than another?

It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about genuinely caring about other people. I’m truly appreciative of the cop trying to do the right thing as is true of most people in the world. Still, that isn’t any reason that the public shouldn’t question the facts and the interpretation of the facts. Also, what is wrong with seeking to improve police procedure so that more lives can be saved in the future? The problem is that many of the commenters don’t want certain lives saved. Isn’t it a good thing to suggest that violence should be the very last option. Guns, of course, should still be an option for the police… but when dealing with a man with a knife who wasn’t near anyone at the moment a taser would probably be more appropriate. At least, let us have an open discussion about it.

This kind of issue is just another thing that depresses me about the world. I wish more people would stand up to such mean people. I know it’s tiring to respond to such comments, but it tires me more to think of people spreading their hatred and bigotry without being challenged.