Sunday, October 30
Sunday, October 30, 2005
If you look beneath beliefs, you can see what's really going on when different groups argue about politics or religion: people feel more comfortable around people they see as similar to themselves. When they meet strangers who don't appear to share significant traits, they fear being judged, deconstructed or belittled, and they turn that judgment around to judge, deconstruct or belittle the other group. All that's necessary to subvert that little subroutine is for people to make contact with members of other groups in a social rather than political setting. Then there is a groundwork of familiarity and civility that puts politics or religion in the background and renders it less divisive.
But when people feel defensive, they put out "feelers", statements designed to get a positive or negative reaction from others. All groups do that, religious or not. Some do it more blatantly. When someone puts out feelers, they're really saying, "Here's my most controversial belief. If you accept me after this, then I know you're safe." But most people take feelers as challenges, and if their belief is different, they get into an argument and often fail to make contact in the future. That leaves hardened stereotypes in people's minds, rather than three dimensional images of real human beings.
If you look at the "culture war" in the US, it's a product of groups insulating themselves from other groups, failing to get realtime feedback that humanizes one group to another. People in the middle who genuinely care about people on both sides are often astonished by the mean-spiritedness and ignorance they see in the extremes. Eventually the middle will win, because most people are not totally isolated from people with different beliefs. Given the choice of having politics or religion tear families and friends apart, or finding common ground, most people will find common ground when the alternative is civil war or the emotional equivalent.