The Next Bigotry

The last few weeks I’ve written about the changing dynamics of our communities. For a few reasons, the city and the neighborhood just aren’t as important to people as they once were. But, they still are the places we call home, and we need the cohesion among those near us to make our lives safe and comfortable.

Thankfully, and despite the struggles that do remain, people in America have come a long ways toward cohesion in areas of prejudice. Blind judgments and fear and dislike of different people have decreased through the generations.

Now we just need to work on the fear of those who, in another way, are not like us—a fear that is as blatant and acceptable as it divisive and destructive.

I was at a dinner party recently. At the table to my left was a middle-aged father and to his left was his teenage son. The topic of file-sharing, or internet piracy, was brought up. I admitted that I found the idea of equating file-sharing to theft to be an inaccurate one. They retorted with their reasons for why file-sharing is theft. To them, what was a black-and-white issue was to me a matter of grays. No matter. Who was right, wrong, or other is beside the point.

What does matter is this: that our discussion gradually built—terser, louder, and personal—until insults about either side being evil were tossed back and forth, seeing to our “conversation’s” sudden end.

How did we get so worked up?

Well, they made their stand on the issue, and I was offended; and when they challenged me, I was troubled. I was threatened by them and their views and reacted—as they did to me.

I think most of us can relate, albeit maybe not with file-sharing.

But just because these reactions are normal, and can be so innate, doesn’t make them acceptable. The trouble is that today this kind of fear is socially acceptable. No one wants arguments, but few stop to think that the emotional reactions that prompt them are a problem, and fewer still question the bigotry born out of these fears, pouring out of the airwaves of radio and television, targeting those who simply see the world differently than us. I call this “ideologism”, and we’ve yet to deal with this adequately as individuals and as a society.

First let’s address what, exactly, ideologism is.

The best way to do this is to compare it to any fear we have that manifests to create judgment, prejudice, dislike, hate, violence, and feelings of discomfort and/or being threatened by those who are different than you. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are always good examples because they demonstrate criteria for the above results that, by themselves, are not the cause for our alarm. In other words, race, sex, or sexual orientation doesn’t equal a threat and disliking someone or fearing someone because of these is dumb…and harmful.

One’s ideology, though, is considered a justifiable reason to react out of fear and anger. Indeed, it is less cut-and-dry than the previous three examples of bigotry, because ideologies do shape the world, and it is possible for a person of another ideology to be a threat.

I thought the father and son at the dinner part were so. Their defense of the lawsuits record companies have taken out against college students and single moms made my heart beat faster and face warm. I saw this father/son combo as being the representation of an injustice—of injustice, period. Most of us “need” a just world. We fear being victims (or others being victims).

But my reaction came from no logical place.

Legal precedent had no bearing; whether file sharing was perfectly okay or strictly prohibited didn’t matter to our discussion. These two guys weren’t suing the single moms. Am I pirating music? Would they tell on me if I was? The worst that could happen is that they become the rulers of the world and force everyone to pay for music. Even if that was the case, why was I physically reacting?

Stripped of any teeth, we see that what remains is just plain fear of differences. (Sound familiar?) Similarly, if I may assume, father/son saw me as the embodiment of the injustice of the hard-working artist unable to make a living because of piracy, and they were threatened by me. What we’re simply left with are two intolerant parties made so by our ideologism.

There’s a need for disagreement and debate and not liking the opinions of others, but thoughtful concern about the influence these disagreeable opinions may have is not the same thing as thoughtless, fearful reactions toward people just because they see the world differently.

But we get confused. Our emotions tell us that this time an actual threat lies before us: that person’s “liberalism” or that group’s “right-wing extremism”.

And in another comparison to other bigotries, let’s bring up the labeling. Phrases like “a gay” and “a black” are in the dustbin of divisive historic rhetoric, but do we not still always say “he’s a liberal” or “he’s a Republican” in a derogatory fashion? Just like “a gay” is not “a gay”, but a man who happens to be gay. Why is “a Republican” not a person who happens to be a Republican? How odd would it be to say, “She’s Republican”?  

Fear has free reign to run the hour when how much/whether they are a threat isn’t considered. We react without hesitation regardless of the circumstances, and I think we can agree that the amount we do so is almost always way overboard in response to any amount of threat there at all. When we hear someone express ideological differences—in our company or in the media—we often react without hesitation. We use social ills to justify our reactions the same way any bigot uses them to rationalize their bigotry.

Welcome to the evolution of justifying fear, and as long as we continue to, the extent to which we despise, ridicule, and fear those who think differently about the world will create the harm and division that we let wedge us from others.

It’s also the nonchalant way in which ideologism is pronounced in everyday vernacular that is so troubling and hearkens back to previously dealt-with bigotries of our society’s divisive past. We take in the talk shows on TV and radio that espouse, and feed off of, this fear. Fox News hosts will toss out pejorative names to refer to those opposing their ideology. I’ve heard MSNBC use the term “tea bagger” with the same air that would be fitting for an old segregationist.

These shows and the hosts are hoisted up in two ways: by our straight-up fear of those on the “wrong side” supposedly ruining the world—ruining our lives!— Let’s face it: many of us have a doomsday streak in us. The other way is our need to feel superior to our opposition. Both are there because we’re insecure and afraid.

Fear not. Differences are okay and, in fact—surprise, surprise—often have much to offer.

At the end of the dinner party discussion, albeit littered with emotion, I came to see the topic of file-sharing in a new light. Dropping some of the fear of “big bad record companies”, I could better appreciate the stance of the musician, who despite her wishes, and because of unchecked file-sharing has her work copied indefinitely. Just like racism prevented us the plain benefits of working with others, so, too, does ideologism prevent ourselves from understanding and learning from others.

So let’s address and overcome this hurdle by following the same script we’ve used to address other forms of bigotry: by realizing their futility, their lack of logic, their harm. In short, by outsmarting it, by seeing it for what it is, and through self-actualization.

It makes sense in the grand scheme of things that fear concerning obvious differences (race, sex) would be “outed” (understood and deemed harmful and wrong) before differences that are internal. These former are immediate. You see someone and BAM you judge them. But ideologism is subtler, waiting for an opportunity to come out and pounce.

Recall times when having a political discussion and another person is revealed to believe in what you don’t stand for. Recall your favorite talk-show host lambasting the “bad” guys and you feeling revved up about the attack.

We’ve kicked the can of bigotry down the sidewalk and have faced racism, sexism, and homophobia. What’s seen is that there hasn’t been so much a removal of the fear, as a fresh out-letting of it. Enter the arena that may indeed be colorblind and nonsexist but is fearful and subsequently hateful just the same. So the next time someone says something to get your goad, notice your emotions rise and do nothing more. When the fear defines you, when you act with it in charge, you lose. We all lose.

Morals are an evolving matter; a moving target. When we learn what is harmful, we address it—sometimes we attack it by calling out the bigots; sometimes we address it with compassion, understanding its roots and causes. The next moral frontier always seems odd—even uncomfortable. This will be the case with ideologism. Still, we’ve worked hard and reduced a lot of prejudices in the last 100 years; now it’s time we reach a new plateau in our societal elevation and evolution and address our fear toward those who share different opinions, different politics, and different ideologies.