Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Stand your ground, or change your mind?

April 8, 2012

zimmerman mug shot, color red, with date 2012In 2009, I wrote about the day when I realized some of my friends were viewing me through the lens of stereotype, at a previous post.  The observation affected me powerfully when I realized how stereotypes impact perception.  What one believes is not necessarily true.  Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, says he warned his son about stereotypes.

Recently, I connected the  political stereotypes of my experience with the stereotypes that caused the death of Trayvon Martin.  I was not there, and my knowledge of the incident comes only from reading a few dozen news reports, and without TV.  I don’t  have television service by choice.  So if I make a mistake, please comment, so that I can realize my error, and change the post here.

A person’s behavior might match a stereotype in your mind, or maybe not.  Without personal experience to support the stereotype, or undermine it, a stereotype can be a very evil thing.

I read that Zimmerman believed he was volunteering his time as part of a neighborhood protection group.  In an interview with the head of that Florida group, I heard that it was not an official Neighborhood Watch group.  Either way, I think that Zimmerman, in his mind, was protecting his neighborhood, because of a series of burglaries.

I also read that Zimmerman said “Punks.” in his recorded dialog with the police.

So Zimmerman suspected that Martin was a punk and a burglar.

That means Zimmerman was applying two powerful and negative stereotypes to Martin, even though they had not met, and they had not talked at any time before that night.  The only evidence, at least the only evidence of which we are aware, is that Martin was walking in the dark in Zimmerman’s ‘neighborhood’.

So when Zimmerman applied those two stereotypes to Martin, he set the stage for murder.  Zimmerman’s beliefs caused him to act, in spite of whatever the truth of the situation was.  The police told Zimmerman, “we don’t need you to follow him” [Martin].  Unfortunately, Zimmerman’s beliefs caused him not to listen to us, the real people of the world.

In my case, in 2009 I only had to worry about what was going on in the minds of my friends, so the stereotypes might have social consequences. Yes, my friends did have licenses for weapons, but politics is not a cause for shooting, not here in Massachusetts. Also, they have known me for a long time and have other knowledge beyond the political stereotypes of  Yankee Liberal versus Tea Party Birther.  Trayvon Martin, and all of us who step outside our homes after dark, now have to worry about being murdered, summarily executed, based on fears in the mind of a stranger.

This is a very bad situation.  If you still support the “Stand Your Ground” approach to law, would you please reconsider your support for such laws? Or at least consider how we could modify them for improvements, perhaps requiring some type of objective, observable facts to support the theory that the mind of the shooter is correctly perceiving the world?   For example, if the shooter is off  his medications, and is fearful about something that exists only in his mind, does he still have the right to pull the trigger?   Wouldn’t you agree that just being fearful, regardless of circumstance,  is insufficient evidence for killing another human being?

When the only knowledge which you possess about a human being consists of categorizations and stereotypes, you may lead yourself into an evil act. What stereotypes sit behind your eyes, coloring your perceptions, and changing your behavior when you meet strangers?

How many of the things that you believe about people are not really true?

Jay Fulton

Death by Stereotype

January 1, 2009

First of all, Happy New Year to you! Thanks for being in the world, and here specifically to read this weblog.

Most of us survivors are genuinely delighted to be stepping into the world of possibilities called 2009. However, on boxing day, I had a gut-wrenching experience in which I watched myself die of an unnatural cause, namely political stereotype.

To keep it short, during a delightful holiday gathering of old friends, a wide ranging discussion eventually turned to politics, as well it should nowadays. However, I noticed that one of my old friends referred to me with a phrase like, “all you guys on the left”, in regards to a reaction to some assertion in the conversation. Actually, I am not enrolled in any political party, but I make active choices and support candidates by small donations and occasional volunteering. One person who knows me well calls me a Singularitarian, because I read the works of Ray Kurzweil.

Then it hit me hard, that we humans don’t try to remember everything, or even experience everything. EVERYTHING is much too big to truly experience, and definitely too big to remember in its entirety. So we naturally tend to remember, and then re-remember key elements or patterns in our experience. Although this is a very efficient way for us to survive, when stereotypes are used to subsume real experience about people, the other people in the experience are destroyed in the process. My personal experience seems to vary in many ways from what can be described in a two-dimensional array of politics such as left versus right. Politics is a multi-dimensional experience and the shallow analogies used, in the past, to portray political processes, such as left-right, will fail to adequately and logically describe the nature of politics. Over a decade ago, I abandoned the technique of 2-dimensional description of politics, or most anything, after reading Bart Kosko’s excellent books about logic and programming.

This is what makes political stereotypes so destructive that I could classify them as pathogens that destroy the very people who get labeled with the stereotype. And it’s also what I dislike the most about the hate-filled discussions that I hear on the syndicated radio talk shows supported by commercial messages. (tangential question: If a point of view is not supported by commercial messages, is that point of view unworthy of your consideration, and also unworthy of airtime?) Many of the listeners and participants for those shows, are plagued by the stereotypes, which are pushed out over the airwaves, by self-serving talk show hosts. As soon as they categorize me (or you!) into the stereotype, the action of categorization emphasizes within their mind the ways in which your behavior is similar to the stereotype. Unfortunately, it’s easier to remember the stereotype, than the real experience of the whole person. The application of the stereotype masks, or destroys, the individuality of the person labeled. That is death by stereotype, in which the unique, individual nature of each person disappears from view. I suspect that my old friends, with whom I meet only once or twice a year, see me filtered through the lenses of stereotype, lenses tinted by the color of memory. And the stereotypes put forward by the radio shows by Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Ann Coulter are virulent pathogens, indeed.

Also, consider that once categorized under a stereotype, subsequent recall will reinforce that pattern, and the longer the period of reinforcement, the greater the difference between the recall and the reality of a total human being. Why? People gradually change their thoughts, opinions and behavior over time, but, unfortunately, the shallow stereotype has crystallized in the mind of the beholder.

In 2009, I resolve to avoid using stereotypes, and other forms of reasoning by analogy, to the greatest degree that I am able. In 2009, let the light of ubuntu shine.

Jay Fulton
1/1/2009