What do we know about people?
Or rather, what do we know about ourselves? Because, whether we like it or not, much of what we think we know about others comes from what we think we know about ourselves. We often use other people as a mirror; as a reflection of our best and worst qualities.
It’s no wonder, then, that we are either drawn to, or repulsed by, certain personality types/different people.
Science says we’re attracted to those with the same DNA as us; that we’re predisposed to like those who look/think/act/live similar to the way we do. This seems like such a small-minded, and limiting way to live in a world where “looks like me” is becoming an increasingly subjective, and polarizing, basis of judgment. But it shapes much of our day-to-day, even (especially) when we don’t realize it.
In recent years, the cultural trend seemed to be one of celebration; of differences and similarities alike, of togetherness.
After electing Barack Obama as the first black president in U.S. history, same-sex marriage was legalized across the United States (on June 26, 2015, at which point over 1/2 of states were already there).
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that denying the fundamental institution of marriage to same-sex couples violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
But perhaps more importantly are the almost intangible gains made during the last eight years, and for many years before that; the general push toward acceptance and progress. We’ve come a long way since the days blatant/accepted discrimination (women’s suffrage, Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps…), and unbidden inequality.
And while there might still be a long ways to go, the general cultural trend has been one of inclusivity, and has been moving in that direction for more than a few years.
But this shouldn’t be surprising. Humans have an innate, certain willingness to explore new cultures. To meet new people. Inherently we want to connect. As scientist Matthew Lieberman says in Why We Are Wired To Connect,
“…Evolution has placed a bet that the best thing for our brain to do in any spare moment is to get ready to see the world socially. I think that makes a major statement about the extent to which we are built to be social creatures.”
People, especially when meeting face to face, are apt to include “others” in real world situations. Humanity has only achieved greatness, after all, by coming together. Through connection and community.
People are so f*cking negative though
But let’s face it, people manage to be pretty terrible to each other as well, even (especially) before they get to know each other.
The fight between political red vs. blue, for a relevant, pressing example.
The right has been pushing the notion that conservatives are the ones now interested in free speech, and liberals have become intolerant (of intolerance, natch) in their quest for a PC paradise. This speaks primarily to the fact the internet left mobilizes very quickly against any issue deemed offensive to _______ minority group, as well the “liberal” penchant for marching and protesting. It doesn’t take into account the fact that it is a response to age-old inequality, or that the idea of limiting bullying, hate speech, and thinly-veiled (or not so thinly-veiled) racism, bigotry, prejudice, etc. comes from a good place.
And is also a piece of that push toward progress we mentioned previously.
But as we have said before (in the previous Trolling is too mainstream), limiting any kind of speech can, and has, lead to limiting more and many kinds of speech.
No one is looking for censorship. But it seems that healthy, positive discourse is becoming ever-increasingly a white rabbit.
Humans have a problem with negative assumptions. Once someone is lumped into a certain group, (red vs. blue?) it becomes the only determining factor. We tend to assume, often without realizing, that everyone thinks the way we do (called “false-consensus bias”) and when they don’t, we figure they must be ignorant, out of touch. or socially inept.
And then we wonder why we find some people so hard to relate to; why it is so hard to communicate, to connect, to even hold a conversation with some people when it is so easy to do so with others.
We’re just people, after all
Poor social skills are one (benign) cause of this. Be it nature or nurture, or an actual disorder (like Asperger syndrome), there is a large section of the population that is not “socially smart” and do not interact well with others. And often have no need to. But that is not the issue facing human communication in 2017.
The internet, a tool created for better communication, that has connected people in unprecedented ways, is actually making us more anti-social as a whole.
Say what? No way. I have so many friends on my friends’ list. I got 65 likes on my last post, how’s that for interaction? We have so many more conversations per day than our parents’ and grandparents’ generations thanks to social media.
There is a penchant for latching on to what/who you agree with, and unwillingness to accept the people/opinions you don’t, that is exacerbated by online connection. What is known in today’s parlance as an “echo chamber” (in which you hear nothing but your own views bouncing back at you) is a real problem. A long list of “friends” often only adds fuel to the imaginary fire of things being said, argued, shared from behind the safety of a computer screen.
We are much more quick to dismiss: If someone is deemed unrelatable, disagreeable, hard to talk to, or simply annoying, they are quickly shut out. Trolled. Bullied. Social skills are a sign of strength; the sign of an alpha, and we are always drawn to power. When someone appears different than us, it is a weakness. If someone disagrees with us it is seen as an affront.
Humans are certainly an empathetic species. We feel connected to our fellow wo/man.
But we’re also often defensive, fearful, and distrustful.
When we see people as less than people, it becomes much easier to discriminate, to hate, and to hurt. It’s a wartime tactic. We turn our enemies into less-than-humans which makes them less like us. But we don’t have to wait for the battlefield in order to see how quickly people treat others this way. A computer screen can provide enough separation, the necessary barrier between us – i.e. when you don’t have to look at the person you’re speaking to/with, when you don’t have to see the impact of your words and actions. It becomes much easier to say and do things you wouldn’t normally say or do when conversing face to face.
I love it when you label me
And where do we draw the line between the DNA-driven penchant for sticking close to those that look/act/do similar to us, and the society-imposed labels that seem to corral us in the same way? What’s the difference?
One certainly stems from the other. It’s easy to dismiss our “labels.” To want to shed them onto the floor like clothing. To say, I am not what society calls me. I am me and nothing more.
I am not my skin color, or my economic status/the neighborhood I was raised in. Not the product solely of those who came before me.
But society has been traditionally less understanding. Even as we continue to progress.
Our biology, or when we classify our traits based on genetic makeup, often creates our labels. We cannot escape who, what, where we came from, or why. But everything else has been imposed upon us almost arbitrarily. What we look like, who we’d like to like, the way we’d like to live our lives, has throughout history been unfairly judged by the community as a whole.
There has been a strong movement to disregard this sort of classification. Part of this is the natural result of globalism – those lines have been blurred as the borders and barriers between us have been blurred. The mantra of “I don’t what color you are” or “I don’t care what you believe in” or “I don’t care who you’re attracted to” has been strong among those who embrace a future without classification. A progressive future. One we have arguably been working for throughout the last century.
At least, the classification of uncontrollable factors like skin color, nationality, sexual orientation, etc.
But we as people also seek/need validation from others. We need the approval of others to move forward, and social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have exploited this to the point where it’s hard to know if anything is posted without the intent of getting “likes” or “shares” or making it go viral. Is it progress, or does it just look like progress on the internet?
And it’s only getting worse.
Like the videos made, each one stranger, more extreme, or more controversial than the last for the most views, subscribers, and attention. Or the phenomenon of adults pretending to be kids to gain internet exposure.
The need for attention from others is reaching a peak desperation. People, people, people at their best and worst, everywhere. The internet has allowed us not only to see the people so very different than us, but also (and more importantly) how many people are so very similar. So desperate to break free from labels, from biological designation, we now have a country of people shouting over each other, trying to be heard by any means necessary.
So how do talk about anything real or important if we can no longer tell what is real or important?
Or, are we just finally showing who/what we truly are?