The following is a guest post by Daniel Knipp.
This has been a difficult year for civility. Civility and its pals, decency and respect, have had a hard go since the election season started. The news is discouraging, options seem limited, and social strife is being magnified by a certain demagogic campaign driven by misinformation and subjugation. It used to be that I went on Facebook as a break from my work; now, as an active and socio-politically engaged user, Facebook is becoming the work that I need a break from.
I’m sure many of you can relate. It’s hard to be confident in one’s own views, even deeply held beliefs and solidly supported principles, when the complexity of the situation (some necessary, some fabricated) seems to refute one’s argument, whether by articulated thought or by dumb brute force.
For those of you who are terrified of this rising tide of tension and hateful words between groups of different race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, and class, I offer these two notes of potential comfort, which I find it useful to fall back on when I feel the same way.
First: the long arc of history at this point is bending toward equality. Make no mistake – we are the people who must make certain that it continues to do so…all of us, united against hatred and ignorance of many kinds and sometimes startling amounts. But yes, those who hold power unfairly and oppress the “other” cannot do so forever. Truly, something does have to give, and it will…let’s make sure it gives, in the direction of equality, justice, and peace.
Second: children cry loudest over change and novel experience just before they realize and accept that they have been wrong, or have been going against the wishes of the majority. Either that, or they take a nap. These loud hateful people are just that: fearful, confused, petulant children, throwing tantrums over whatever they can point to as the source of their discomfort, with no regard to fact, logic, reason, or moderation.
Our fight to maintain homeostasis, that human drive to rebel against the unfamiliar, is part of what keeps us alive, but it can also prevent us and others from living – from experiencing the world to its fullest, and from sharing in the bounties of this new and evolving world that we all create together. But these are big ideas with broad consequences – not easily grasped by children with not only limited knowledge and experience (as we all have), but limited insight, patience, and wisdom.
I do not necessarily blame only these people for their words and actions – if we had a more comprehensive and equitable education system, perhaps we would all be better informed, better adjusted, and better able to discern fact from fiction, citation from rhetoric. And once again, we all start out uninformed and influenced by the cognitive components of survivalistic instincts; I certainly remember being that way, so I cannot help but feel sympathetic toward those who still are, to an extent. But the point is this:
Discomfort is something we all have to live with – discomfort from experiencing difference, and uncertainty, and being wrong. And the good news is that the more we live with it, the better we can cope with it. But those who do not accept this inevitable truth will yell and cry and stomp their feet, and shout that they do not want to share their world, or watch their language, or apologize, or play nice with others. Because unfortunately, until the coping starts, the discomfort remains; and some, either by choice or by subconscious neuropsychological programming, allow their homeostatic drive to build up fear and frustration to such a degree that they start to panic, flailing and screaming.
As with many things we go through in life, the process of acceptance and justice can be likened to a Chinese finger trap: even though our first instinct is to flinch hard and fast to get ourselves out, sometimes the only way out is through – and that requires patience, reason, peace of mind, and the willingness to see others not as default obstacles, competitors, or enemies…but as compatriots, or maybe even friends. Progress will happen, and justice will prevail: A) because oppression will collapse under its own weight as it has before, and B) because we will be there to make sure that it does.
Now go forth, and save the world.
Daniel Knipp is a graduate student of sociology and social psychology at the University of Iowa. He is active on YouTube (SC13TheShades) in the areas of sociology, psychology, education, and politics. He is a long-time friend of the editor. Two of his latest videos are two parts of an in-depth look at the broadest philosophical implications of the 2016 election, examined in terms of sacrifices made by the candidates and the voters. They are available, respectively, at these links: