Tag Archives: culture

The Myth Fights Back

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Zimmerman stalked Martin in silence, a menacing, alarming presence with ill will. He does not seem to have given any thought to how he appeared. It may even be likely that he intended to appear threatening, as posturing men with defensive mindsets often do.

He was a man in possession of a flashlight that didn’t work, a metaphor for the self-illuminating insights that he never had.

All of his preparations were aimed at having the edge in a fight. He worked his body regularly for this purpose with MMA training three times a week. He didn’t just work out to be fit, he worked to beat an opponent in a fist fight.

He legally carried a handgun loaded with hollow point bullets. Warning shots, incapacitating shots were not part of his vocabulary, not an option in his arsenal.

Zimmerman was a man fighting for his life before he ever drove down that street or left his car that night.

All of his preparations were for this moment. He showed no concern for avoiding or preventing a fight.

Across the country, many white people have been cheated or lied to or harmed in some way by another person but never by a young black man. And yet those same white people are still afraid of young black men, more than of any other group.

When Mel Gibson barked out his famous curse, “I hope you get raped by a pack of n*ggers!” – he was expressing his own worst fears, not an actual realistic threat. His target of intimidation was in more danger of being raped by Mel Gibson. There was no feral pack of other-race men imminently circling, about to attack her. It was a myth in his over-wrought mind.

Before the Civil War, southern gentlemen couldn’t stop talking about how scary the black men were. Controlling these mental threats required maximum posturing, intimidation, and force. No public punishment was ever too severe. Those white men lived in fear that someday their advantage might be reversed. Just as Zimmerman, armed and dangerous, was living in fear.

Being pursued, Trayvon Martin knew that George Zimmerman was up to no good and that he himself had done nothing wrong. If Martin had run away Zimmerman would have held him in contempt as another “asshole” who got away. Zimmerman didn’t want him to get away.

In the grip of the myth Zimmerman knew that the young man he pursued was up to no good and had surely done something wrong. He chased him because to his mind Martin was running away, and getting away.

Myths are part of the culture of a country. In the south, fear of the overwhelming number of slaves hardened into a myth that rationalized southern fear and violence.

In such a fear myth, increasing numbers of the feared only inflate the myth. Even positive encounters with black people seem to reinforce the myth, exceptions that may well be considered proof of the rule.

Out in the national conversation held on Twitter, fear of the myth has been palpable this week. Even such a highly visible demonstration of the injustice of the myth as Trayvon Martin’s death still reinforces the fear of the myth.

How do we integrate a myth with reality when the myth is impervious and resistant to reality?

The myth fights back.

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Here, There Be Dragons!

Ship Garthsnaid, ca 1920s

Centuries ago, there probably really were people who believed that there were dragons and demons at the edges of the world. Judging by the widespread anti-science sentiment today, there probably were a great many people who believed these things.

But probably none of them sailed with Columbus or with any other intrepid explorer who set off for the edge of the world. None of them ever found a new world filled with treasures.

Some of those dragon believers may have eventually learned the truth:

Demonizing something is a good way to prevent people from going there.

It’s a great way to keep people locked into place.

And that means that sometimes it marks a place that is worth looking into.

Sometimes a warning is meant to prevent people from breaking laws or from hurting someone else. A warning like that is prudent to follow. Luckily those kinds of warnings are usually obvious. A stop sign on the road means stop! A high voltage warning means stay away or be zapped!

But sometimes the warning is an unsubstantiated demonization of a place or a process or people; if it clouds the mind with fear of it, if it’s meant to keep people from looking further, there may be another truth hidden behind it.

It might just be an attempt to lock you in place.

Image: Ship Garthsnaid, ca 1920s by National Library NZ on The Commons, on Flickr

Conformity Kills

dominos

Conformity Kills People

Bullies enforce it, suicides are driven by shame from it, hate crimes are committed for it, riots break out over it, war crimes are fueled by it.

Conformity Kills Ideas

No one ever achieved a break-through innovation by conforming or by letting a conformist kill it.

Conformity Kills Organizations

Companies cling to obsolete processes and products, keep trying to do the same things only more. Boards don’t recognize the need to change, executives fall into groupthink and make terrible decisions because no one steps out of line to point out flaws that should be obvious.

Conformity is dangerous when conditions change dramatically.

Conformity doubles down on losses again and again.

Conformity can be as comforting and as dangerous as falling asleep in the snow.

Image: dominos by greg westfall., on Flickr