Us versus Them

I’ve been reading a book called Sapiens, a nonfiction accounting of human evolution and the growth of culture/religion/industry for all of humanity. It’s actually quite good and informative, and reminded me of what I used to know from my Anthropology classes in addition to those things discovered since I branched off from the field. Part of what is so interesting about it is the idea of “shared myths” which have been the basis for every culture since the start of conscious thought. You would think that would mean shared religious mythology, and it certainly contains that. But what struck me most is the shared myths that have been perpetuated toward the formation of every empire, democracy, etc. That is, the existence of everything in culture is formed as a response to enough people sharing the same imagination as to what it means to be Us. Is paper money worth anything more than the paper it’s printed on? No. But we all believe it is worth something and have based our entire economy on that belief. We have believed it into being.

At the heart of the Sapiens book is the shared myth of Us versus Them. It is the mentality that kept us safe when we were foraging across the savannah, trying to stay alive. The ability to be able to determine “ally” from “predator” at a moments notice. Although we are no longer on the savannah, the mentality of Us vs. Them perpetuates, but we use different markers now. The accepted mentality that has lasted longest in America is that Us is straight and white. Them being anyone that doesn’t fall under the same umbrella (LGBT, muslims, hispanics, black people, Native Americans, etc). It’s why slavery lasted for so long, and why we assume that immigrants and refugees are trying to kill us in our sleep, caused the near eradication of Native Peoples in America, and countless other horrors. The need to maintain Us and limit how many Them are allowed to be here is a powerful motivator.

Now onto our current predicament. When I hear lies told by Kellyanne Conway and Trump, I laugh. I point at it and say “omg no one is going to believe this shit, it’s ridiculous.” But see, lots of people will 100% believe it. Because at the heart of everything we want to see evidence that justifies our views and validates our prejudices. We can look at a mountain of evidence, a tidal wave of stories that tell us “these are people and they are the same as you and me.” Still when all you see is Us and Them, that suffering over there sure is sad, but it doesn’t affect Us so it’ll be ok. 

I used to be like that. I grew up with a lot of other white people in a nice friendly white bubble and would think “I don’t get why these black people are so mad” and “I don’t know how I feel about Affirmative Action” and “why can’t everyone just forget the past and move forward?” Until I started meeting more people and realizing so many do not have the same opportunities I have taken for granted. And once you see inequality in one instance, you see it everywhere. That’s not because inequality is suddenly everywhere, it just means that you are now seeing what has been there all along. 

However, many are incapable of seeing anything that does not align with their own personal experiences. “If I can do it, so can anyone. Just pull your bootstraps.” They can’t. We cut off their bootstraps. And whipped them with their bootstraps, and have actively prevented them from having any access to bootstrap-making materials for generations and we now say “why can’t you just do it and why are you so angry, we let you have boots.” And when a single Them pushes past all the obstacles we have created and makes any progress you say “See I told you, all you had to do was try hard just like I did!” But their road was a mountain. Our road, no matter how hard we may think it was, was easier.

Now when you see people taking to the streets, horrified and terrified of new executive orders targeting their family, and Trump tells you “it’s fine. Don’t worry about it,” do you listen to him? Do you ignore what you are seeing and turn away? Do you question why you want to do so? Next time examine your knee jerk reaction and ask yourself whether you would react differently if someone you knew and cared for was directly affected. 

Open your eyes to see everyone instead of forcing people into a false dichotomy that you are terrified to lose. Privilege feels good, but that doesn’t make it right. This is not Your America. It’s all of ours. I know you think you don’t have anything against Them. But try to recognize when you do. Be honest with yourself even when it’s uncomfortable. That’s how seeing begins.

Advertisements
Us versus Them