Hashtags, Labels and Bias – We Are Not Talking to One Another

Druid. Pagan. Polytheist. Animist. Germanic-Celt. Member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. North Texas resident. Institutional Researcher. Cincinnati Reds fan. Podcaster. Blogger. Unaffiliated voter. Database Administrator. Information Technology Specialist. Amateur MLB Researcher. Caucasian. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Short. Diabetic. Friend. Just me.

All of those words describe me. And yet, these are not a complete depiction of me either. There are plenty of other descriptives that could be used to denote who I am. Jerk. Asshole. Arrogant. Ill-tempered. Dismissive. Too Emotional. Not emotional enough. Flippant. Irreverent. Leader. Follower. Its really a matter of who you talk to, and what interactions that they may have had with me.

A long time back (and I mean a really long ways back – the late 1980s), I had taken my first steps on the Pagan Path that has helped me learn about myself and how I connect with my environment and others – I found myself at the doorsteps of a local (well, as local as the wider DFW area can get) Wiccan group. I had started my year-and-a-day lessons, and was given a paper to write. Looking back, it wasn’t really the hardest thing to do, but it sure was a royal pain in the ass to write.

The objective was simple. Write fifty things that detail why you are good or things you are good at doing. Then, write out fifty things that are bad about you or that you are bad at. Then, write two paragraphs comparing and contrasting the two lists. I found out later in college classes, that this is a Psychology exercise called “Positive/Negative Mirror”. I cam away from the exercise with two tangible thoughts. First, it was easy to write the bad things about myself, I am my own worst critic. And secondly, many of the same traits showed up in both lists. It was merely a matter of perspective of how I viewed each point.

For a kid in his early twenties, it was an eye-opening moment. I had never really considered the world from someone else’s eyes. Here I was being confronted with seeing myself from a vantage point other than my own.

I have talked quite a bit about labels in the past. The truth be told, labels are not just easy methods of classifying things. Labels can also be utilized to place a negative stigma on others as well. For instance, descriptives such as the infamous racial slur known as “the ‘n’ word” in “polite” society brings extra descriptives such as lazy, freeloader, welfare-cheat, an d ne’er-do-well to mind. Those are descriptives that have been added to that particular word, which are meant to bring a negative perception to mind.

Back in the day, a Pagan or a Polytheist were terms that had people equating those folks with Satanists. And to be honest, Satanists were often thought of being individuals that looked like Anton Szandor LaVey – and had the friendliness and slimy charm of a used-car salesman. Over time, the Pagan community has managed to get much of our moedern, “polite” society to understand how neither of those terms are equated with Satanism. And while Satanists still get lumped in under the comical portrayal of LaVey and what seems to be 1950s and 1960s horror movie schlock…many of the Satanists I have met are quite intelligent people, who are just like any other person I have met. Their understanding of belief, and their view of the world around them is vastly different from my own – and we will likely never come to an agreement on where middle-ground is located in spiritual discussions, but they sure seem like everyday folks to me.

Lately, modern society has been forced back into a discussion of racism, replete with all the labels and stereotypes associated with it. Both sides of the #blacklivesmatter argument have utilized these labels and stereotypes to further attention to their respective sides of the conversation. Which really isn’t a conversation. A conversation happens when people make their point, and then shut up and listen to the other side of the issue make their counter-point. After that, a discussion usually happens that defines where middle ground is located, and the conversation continues as solution-based points are brought about to resolve the issue. Over the past two years, the #blacklivesmatter side shouts their points over and over again. Their opposition shouts back their retort, over and over again. Both sides “hear” what is being stated by the other, but instead of listening, comprehending, and finding mutual points of discussion – they both react by shouting their points louder, as if volume is going to provide a solution. What results from that is a buildup of frustration.

When I am writing complex SQL code, I sometimes get frustrated when the system returns no data for what I had requested. I am known to fling my pen across my office, as I get frustrated. So, I can relate to what happens when people get frustrated, thinking that their points are not being heard or dismissed out of hand. Frustration usually leads to some kind of outburst or out-of-the-ordinary behavior. Sadly, that includes physical violence. I am sure many of my pens could file assault charges on me. So I understand the outbursts, even violent ones. I understand the reasoning, but I do not agree with the methodology.

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  —Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, Martin Luther King, Jr., Clayborne Carson, 2010 (256 pages), page 74, ISBN 0-8070-0069-8.

Dr. King understood how violence never solves an issue. It certainly can bring light to an otherwise ignored issue, but it will never provide the solution. Only honest, open dialogue can do that. And this includes listening, which in my opinion, very few people seem to be willing to do.

But…where do we go from here?? I have said it before…damned if I really know. When it comes to the notation of institutional racism, I agree. It occurs. And as a Caucasian male, there’s a degree of “privilege” (I hate that term by the way) that I am afforded. But there’s also a measure of religious bias associated in the system as well, and as a Pagan, there’s a degree of negative bias that I experience from it as well. I may not completely understand the bias that exists against a black person, but I can certainly grok it from the perspective of being in a minority religion. So, the only way that I can see anything changing as we head forward, is that we begin pressing our politicians and law-makers on every level to execute the laws fairly and evenly. That means ditching the stereotypes when applying the laws to citizens. That means ditching the concepts of stereotyping through profiling that law enforcement has utilized in applying our existing laws. It means changing the system to a manner of performance that we all believed it should be: where all are created equal, and thus treated equally under the measure of the law.

Now, I’m no politician. Nor am I a law enforcement officer. I’m a statistics guy working for a small junior college in northern Texas along the Oklahoma border. Like any person, I have biases. In my job, I have to set those biases aside when reporting data. I have to adhere to a position of neutrality, even when I am not neutral on an issue that I am being asked to explore from a data perspective. I could let my bias slip into my work, so as to affect the judgment of the people utilizing that data. But that’s unethical. Its also not what I am paid to do. To paraphrase Kevin Bacon’s statement in the movie “A Few Good Men”, I represent the data I am working with, without bias or prejudice. perhaps, we need to remind law enforcement officials, and politicians at every level that they represent their communities without bias or prejudice. And where bias and prejudice becomes a factor in their judgment process in upholding or making the laws that govern this country – perhaps they need to do the ethical thing, and remove themselves from the entire process. And as for the people that have decided to move their protest from peaceable demonstration to outright violence…perhaps, you are doing more harm to your cause than help. Frustration is understandable. Violent reaction, on the other hand, is not.

Two pence…

They Only Have So Many Handcuffs…

I am in awe of those folks who get out and take a stand on the barricades, walk out into the protest crowds, get into the faces of the authorities…. I am in awe of them because I do not have their level of courage. That’s right. The guy who has had bullets fired in his way does not have the courage to get out into the protest fray. Yeah, I hear the question that’s being brought up — and to be honest, I would prefer a roast beef sandwich.

So, what am I afraid of? Not much really. I’m not really comfortable in large crowds. I do have a tremendous fear of heights. But most of that really does not come into play. Unless we’re going to crowd a couple of hundred people on top of a twenty-story building, and have me stand near the edge. No, its not about a fear of something. Its a little different than that for me.

I have my own protest issues that are near and dear to my heart. One of those is about returning lands to the Native Americans – or First Nations as they are noted in Canada and parts of the Northwest United States. I may have about 1/32nd of Native American blood in my DNA — but this is not about returning something to my ancestors. Rather its about returning something to a group of people that was stolen from them — their dignity. But that’s for another blog post/rant for another time. There’s also issues that I have concerning the “Patriot” Act and its related provisions within the United States government — and how all of that curtails the freedoms of the citizenry of this country. I took an oath when I enlisted in the United States Air Force:

I, (state name of enlistee), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

I highlighted the part I am referencing now in bold in the quote. I believe that the Patriot Act subverts the freedoms guaranteed to the citizenry of the United States. I am passionate about my belief that this piece of legislation was an understandable knee-jerk reaction to a point in time — but should never have passed through legislative means to reach enactment. But again, I am sidetracking myself here…

Why am I in awe of those who have no qualm about stepping out to protest against companies? Who have no problem setting themselves in the position of being arrested? Would I not be willing to do the same for the two issues I have noted here? Of course I would be willing to do so for these two issues. They are both major concerns that I have concerning the government of the country I live in. And while I understand what others are standing up for — the issues that they place themselves in jeopardy for — I do not feel enough of the same fervor as they do to place myself in the same position. And its that stance that they take on those issues, which have me in awe of them.

Perhaps, its because I’m not informed enough to take that stance. However, its more likely that I am somewhat jaded in that approach at this point in my life. That merely standing up and protesting is not going to be likely to change any of the situation. And to be open and honest, I wish that I was not that jaded. There’s a moment in the movie Braveheart, where Robert the Bruce is lamenting the fact that he betrayed William Wallace to the English, and he states as much to his father. His father responds that all men betray, all men lose heart. And Robert shouts back “I don’t want to lose heart! I want to believe as he does!” Its that feeling I have when I watch my friends in their protest battles and struggles.

As I write this, I am reminded of a quote from Martin Niemoller, which I came across in high school, when I was researching the manner in which the Nazi party managed to round up the “undesirables” in small groups, with seemingly no resistance.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. –Martin Niemoller

Niemoller was a Protestant minister who was a critic of Adolf Hitler’s during the pre-war years. His quote reminds me of why I need to stop being in the shadows – particularly where my friends are protesting corporations – particularly corporations who seek changes to laws through their sinister, shadowy connections with various governments. Where those laws get changed to make protesters into terrorists, simply for voicing their opposition.

No I cannot sit idly by, and watch. I may not be able to join in with friends who are protesting in other parts of the United States or Canada – the distance to cover is a little far. But what I can do, is insure that my voice is heard in supporting their positions — whether that be through providing them with funding through GoFundMe campaigns, or writing Emails and letters to my government officials stating my opposition to proposed laws redefining the legal landscape in ways that tilt the game unfairly towards the corporations. I can stand in solidarity by making sure I get to the polls every single time that a ballot initiative is open, and educate myself on the issues prior to getting there.

handcuffs…and when they do come for my friends, I will be standing there ready to lend a voice of opposition decrying the fact that my friends are being taken – and ready to step in between to insure that my friends are not taken. Even if it means that I may be taken as well. After all, they only have so many handcuffs…perhaps I may be one too many for them.