Jul 30, 2016
Welcome to the dojo! By special request of Hunter's mom, we're going to take our skills on the road and see what Mixed Mental Arts can do about a current, real world social issue like Black Lives Matter. One of the many wonderful things about social media is that it has revealed just how bad at humans are at making sense of things are. We're the same species that for a long time believed that the best explanation for lightning was an angry man on a cloud. Well into the 1800s, scientists believed infectious diseases were caused by bad smells and that if you didn't smell your own droppings then you wouldn't get sick. (The "whoever smelt it dealt it" logic of kids wasn't that far from the medical state of the art just two hundred years ago.) And if you still doubt just how bad all humans are at explaining things, then take a wander around the internet and google 9/11, Obama birth certificate, GMOs, vaccines, global warming, Trump, Clinton or any other damn thing. The number of theories that surround any of these things and just how opposite these things are tells you that clearly our species isn't very good at figuring out why things happen in the world. So, that Hunter's mom wants a little help understanding Black Lives Matter is simply a recognition of a hole in every human's mental game. Fortunately, there's a group of people who stake their reputations and their lives on figuring out why things happen. They will do anything to be right. And careers are made and broken on taking down current World Champions of explaining the world. And after generations and generations of entering the intellectual octagon, they've gotten some pretty darn good explanations for why things happen. They're scientists. Like all other humans, they're individually crappy at figuring things out but collectively their explanations are pretty good. (PS This whole blurb up until now is partly here because this topic is so emotional that there's a good chance that some of the things said in this podcast will be massively misunderstood. There's always a disaster scenario for even the best intentioned well thought out response to a situation that is then posted on the internet and so we've got to plan for that.) So, we're going to introduce a couple of key concepts that are going to be vital not just to understanding Black Lives Matter but that are going to be real fundamentals we use again and again in Mixed Mental Arts: 1) The Dunbar Number: Humans can only have a limited number of relationships to other humans in their head. Hint: It's not 7 billion people. Stereotyping is necessary. The issue is that we often form our stereotypes around the worst-behaved people in another group. Terrorists explicitly use that psychological quirk to set people against each other. The problem is that we tend to massively underestimate the importance of bad behavior in our own group on others. So, some dude flushes a Koran down the toilet and posts it on social media. Americans don't see the big deal because it isn't their holy book. However, that one dude has a huge impact on how Muslims perceive Americans. Ted Cruz says he wants to bomb the middle east to see if sand glows to get elected in the US but, in practice, he's handing a huge propaganda tool to ISIS that actually makes the US less safe. Lena Dunham says dining hall sushi is cultural appropriation and liberals brush that off as dumb but it gets played on Fox News again and again and is exactly why conservatives think liberals are entitled, spoiled and out of touch with the real world. Lena Dunham gives all liberals a bad name. Just as companies have to protect their brand so do groups. It doesn't matter what the facts are. It is the perception. And when there's money on the line people take those perceptions very seriously. With black lives matter and terrorism, we're not talking about money; we're talking about lives. The lives of cops, African-American men, innocent Europeans and Americans and the majority of Arabs who are so wrapped up in their own lives that they don't spend much time worrying about how other groups perceive them. The UAE, however, takes this very seriously. They had a bunch of young guys with more money than sense going and driving fast sports cars recklessly around London and giving all Emiratis a bad name. And so, they passed a law that traffic offenses committed by their citizens anywhere would be prosecuted in the UAE. Just like in a marriage between two people, things are going to work best if both sides make an effort to improve relations but even if one side or individual makes more of an effort than things can get a lot better. 2) Shit we pick up from our parents without even realizing it. Racism is now hundreds of years old. Like anything we pick up from our parents and the people around us, it is transmitted blindly from generation to generation mostly by emotional cues on the face. The problem is how you then deal with fucked up shit in your own family. As they say in alcoholics anonymous, we are as sick as our secrets. And racism has long been the dirty secret in the American family's life. The truth is though that the fundamental belief has never really been dealt with. Superficials have changed like the law but the basic belief has lurked below the surface. The problem is that shaming racists doesn't actually bring that dirty family secret out. It only drives it deeper under the surface because shame makes us hide things that we're ashamed of. If we want this to be the generation that ends racism once and for all (and Bryan and I want that very badly) then we have to have a conversation about racism without judgment which is emotionally easy for two white guys to say and incredibly hard for black people who have had their whole lives shaped by other people's dumb ideas about them. Sadly though, that's the nature of what the human family is going through right now. We've all been shoved together by globalization and social media and now things are coming to light that haven't been dealt with for a very long time. Some are hundreds of years old like racism. Some date back to the rise of agriculture like sexism. And some are very new like the fears of factory workers who are being made unemployed but globalization and the rise of robots. This is not humanity's first rodeo. We've been here before. We've seen it in our own families and there are plenty of historical examples. For example, Scott Atran did a famous study of possible solutions to the Israel-Palestine situation. He offered people from both sides three solutions. The first gave each group their own country. The second gave each group their own country and a cash buyout. The third solution gave each group their own country, no money and a purely symbolic recognition by the other group of the other's right to exist. The third solution was the only one with enough support to get passed. When a family member dies, the splitting up of the stuff matters but it's also about symbolic acts. We all know that other people's families should make nice and, yet, when it's our own family the feelings are so strong that we often don't practice what we preach. The challenge is not to understand your own group; it's understanding why the group that hates your group would hate you. That's tough. But any Mixed Mental Artist knows that you don't get better by doing the easy thing; you get better by challenging yourself as much as possible.