0632 – most people want quiet, not justice for others

The world is large, and complicated, and there are all sorts of people in it.

This seems to be surprisingly hard for some people to grasp.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing this is because I saw something on Imgur about how it’s become socially acceptable to be racist towards white people.

Racism is complicated, man.

It’s tempting to say that everybody’s got their own problems, everybody faces some sort of discrimination. But is that really true? And if it were true, is it really a useful statement? What are we trying to achieve, here, what are we trying to do? A lot of the time I think a lot of people just want peace and quiet. If someone’s complaining, they want the complaints to stop. (Whoa, I just surprised myself a little bit there. I’m not sure why this particular perspective never quite occurred to me in this specific context.)

Not many people really want justice for all. What they really want is quiet. They might SAY they want peace, but if peace turns out to require a lengthy, drawn-out process of engagement and behavioral change, they’d much rather just insist on quiet.
This helps to explain something that’s always confused me: when someone says something like “why must you bring up race”, “why must you be so divisive”.
Every person who’s experienced racism or sexism or some form of prejudice would really much rather never have to bring it up. Bringing it up is uncomfortable, tedious and has unknowable social costs. We’d all rather make puns and dad jokes that everyone can enjoy (or cringe at). But we only bring it up because _it is a problem_.
Many people never quite relate to this. Here’s an insultingly silly analogy that hopefully gives a slight idea: it’s like interrupting an entire lecture to announce that you need to go and pee. Most people in that situation would much rather just hold it in. Until they can’t any more.
A parent/child analogy is probably problematic, but it keeps coming to me again and again: Getting frustrated with people speaking up about racism is like getting frustrated with a child for crying. You assume that she’s crying because she wants to annoy you, wants to spoil your day, wants to make a lot noise, likes the attention. It’s a lot harder to believe that she might actually be crying because she’s in pain, she’s hurt, she needs help.
It’s been quite well established by now that people have a tendency to literally seek out comforting beliefs. (This explains victim-blaming to some degree. Many people want to believe the comforting lie that the world is fair, that bad things don’t happen to good people, so if something bad happened to you, you must’ve done something to deserve it!)

I rewatched a video earlier by Cameron Russell, the swimwear model who gave a TED talk about beauty and body image. She was quick to say that she benefited from winning a genetic lottery, and from a legacy of beauty standards and so on. She gets a free pass on things because of how she looks. And yet despite being so close to what is considered to be physical perfection, she feels insecure about her body. And she says the same is true for any group of models, despite having the thinnest thighs and so on. So people with all the advantages can still be unhappy. Perhaps deeply, profoundly unhappy, in the depths of dark-night-of-the-soul despair.

I find myself thinking now about an article about the son of a wealthy Chinese family – I can’t remember the specifics, but I think he was saying something like, life is miserable when you’re rich. Nobody sympathizes with you, everybody assumes the worst of you, you can’t trust your friends because everybody wants your money. Your parents have very high expectations of you to run the family business, to get married to someone that is good for the family (rather than necessarily good for you), and so on.

Poorer folk might say, well if you don’t like all that stuff why don’t you just walk away? Why don’t you just quit? But is that ever really a fair thing to ask of somebody? You don’t like how your countrymen treat you, leave the country! Well it’s your country too, why should you have to leave? Exit decisions make tonnes of sense in nomadic situations, but it’s really drastic and costly within tightly-meshed civilization. Maybe things will continue to change in the coming years.

Time to start wrapping up. What am I trying to say here? Most people just want peace and quiet and aren’t quite aware of just how messy, complicated and difficult the world is, and how difficult other people’s lives can be. We are all intimately aware of all the things that are difficult and painful about our own lives, but it’s not so obvious that other people are suffering too, and probably worse. I mean, if you have internet access, you probably also have clean water, food and so on and you’re doing okay.

But then and again, are the comforts of civilization actually good for us? I’m thinking now about Sebastian Junger’s points about how people who experience great social trauma collectively end up rallying together and improving their relationships with one another, and suicide rates drop, murder rates drop, people just seem better and more whole and happier. And there are all those things about how people in villages have happier relationships, a better attitude towards life in general, they’re healthier in many ways… I guess the thing is that we shouldn’t be too quick to start getting all certain about whose life is better and whose life is worse. Some things might be objectively terrible – malaria is obviously a bad thing that ought to go away. Anyway – am I even very seriously interested in figuring that stuff out? That’s the thing I think I’m beginning to get at. I think eventually you shed your BS moral posturing and come closer to your personal truth about what you really care about. I’m sure I have some moral goodness in me somewhere, to the degree that I am a social animal and all social animals care about the broader group. And I am trying to do a bunch of signalling to the “Greater Human Tribe”, because I don’t quite feel like I belong in any Minor Human Tribe. Something to think about. That’s more interesting to me than “how to save the world from malaria”. So in that regard, I’m a selfish bastard, obviously. :-p

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