Why a series about alienation?
Where have we been?
In the first half of this century, two world wars attested to some nation's desires to dominate other nations. In the final quarter, world powers have beaten their chest and rattled sabres, but progressively sought more peaceful solutions. Although periods of domestic violence have usually followed periods of defensive wars, mostly third world countries have continued the legacy of armed aggression and ethnic cleansing. But it is difficult to get even "enlightened" nations to intervene.
Is where we have been really different from where we are today? Are we really learning to live together peacefully and tolerantly? Or would people still settle disputes with a dual? Are civilization's laws and force simply the only things that prevent rampant violence and inhumanity? What would happen if the restraints suddenly disappeared? Would the US become another Balkans conflict? Would Britain? Germany? Brazil? Animosities abound in all of these countries. Animosities abound within countries, states, provinces, cities, communities, neighborhoods, schools, and even within homes. The people who murder each other typically know each other - friends, relatives, associates, classmates, neighbors. And greed still brings violence as a result of drug smuggling, requiring wild West tactics to stop it. Where are we in our moral and ethical evolution?
We are in a critical era - a moment in history that can go either way. More nations and people than ever before have the ability to destroy large numbers of other people. Everyone wants to assert their way or their rights. The cost of gun related violence is one example. Bullet wounds cost us about $33 billion dollars a year to treat, and an incredible loss of life (30,000 annually) which includes accidental shootings of children. School shootings are another example. One or two students bent on vengeance can too easily murder many students or an entire school. International terrorists can strike at major metropolitan areas, killing thousands at a time. Drug trafficers with heavy weaponry regularly kill others in the US and other countries. And while one warped individual blows up government buildings to assert his feelings about government, another blows up the Olympics and abortion clinics to make his point. Yet another burned twenty-six churches in the midWest and South. Another individual killed his family then went on a killing spree to get those who "Wanted to see him fail."
There were 8000 hate crimes in the US in 1998. America's heartland has become fertile ground for hate groups, having fully 25% of those in the US, while having considerably less than 25% of the population. Isolation perhaps? Ethnic cleansing is another example. And values are an example - in third world countries, the measure of respect has become the nuclear bomb. But while nations and people have gained the technical expertise to create a bomb, whether nuclear, biological, or made from fertilizer, have they gained the intelligence to control aggression? Or is intelligence dominated by animosity?
Reactionary? Alarmist? We need to guard against getting a polarized point of view about our situation and the future. For example, one 1999 television program purports to warn of us of the impending doom from Y2K computer issues. To be sure, there are real issues, and there are also competent people working on them. There are likely to be some problems. The program gives us warnings from prophets throughout history, then tells us that we are surrounded by computer chips in everyday appliances. In a good news, bad news scenario, it tells us that most aren't date sensitive, then tells us of the small percentage that is, we don't know which ones they are. Alarm! Alarm! Alarm! Who presents this program to us? Manufacturers who are selling Y2K survival gear. Hmmm, what's wrong with this picture?
So, is there good news? Yes, violent crime in the US is down 25% since the early seventies. This probably has as much to do with the ending of the influence of a very violent war (Vietnam), record high employment levels, a good relative level of prosperity, and the maturing of the baby-boom generation. But if a politician would take an opinion poll today for his running platform, crime would be at the top of the list of citizen concerns. Part of the reason is because there is a fear perpetuating culture which continuously barrages us with bad news. For example, while murder rates dropped 20% in the last 25 years, the number of murder stories on newscasts actually increased 600 percent, reports Barry Glassner in his book The Culture of Fear. Murder is big news - gets big ratings - gets big advertising dollars. Life and death - capturers the viewer. Rape and sexual assault are also big news. How much should they dominate the news? Rape and sexual assault are down 40%.
Yet people's perception is that the world is a very scary and violent place. People move into communities with security fences and guarded gates, install bars on their windows and security cameras on their doors and around their homes, and put half a dozen locks on their doors, install a monitored security system, buy security dogs, plus put a gun at close reach. One would think that the surreal futuristic movies filmed in a blue haze with filth and decay all around is swiftly coming true, instead of the opposite.
The really good news supports my confidence in the human race to achieve victory over the violence and hate that tears us apart. But the problem is, technology is moving ahead much faster than we are progressing. And when I hear other's attitudes in middle America about their "different" neighbors, I wonder sometimes if the progress is illusory.
The age of technology carries with it both blessing and curse. In a reckless race pitting technologically assured destruction against progress in human decency, the Twentieth Century will prove man's appointment with disasterous failure, or prove the teamwork of man and God to live peacefully.
Why do people hold such animosity for each other? While there are many answers, I think that one of the primary reasons is alienation. Alienation simply means that we are cut off, separated - isolated from each other by walls. Some walls are built from injustice, some from greed, some from suspicion born of differences, some from beliefs born of culture and religion, some from misperceptions and misunderstandings, and some from different wants, needs, and objectives. And at the heart of the cause of alienation is a lack of respect for other people. Lack of respect is sometimes a philosophical problem (or religious), a psychological problem, or simply a spiritual problem from a lack of growth or exclusive self interest. It's a bad attitude.
What can we do? Removing alienation isn't simply a matter of tearing down walls and bringing people together to sing love songs. People who hate each other, fight when they get together - it makes things worse. Some people even need enemies to maintain their hold on togetherness or power. Fighting "them" brings "us" together. Alienation serves a purpose of preserving identity, control, and power. Power? Recently even commercials blatantly appeal to the easily led, saying that buying an expensive car isn't about anything but power, as if flaunting power held more than temporary satisfaction.
What we can't do is hide from those who feel alienated from us and will destroy us. Just building homes with walls around them, adding more locks on the door and security systems, sending children to private schools with more security, and driving an armored car isn't an answer. It's a poisoned vision of the future that believes we can't work it out, that too many people are too bad. In contrast, in some societies there is minimal crime and violence is rare. Eventually we must find the will to emulate those societies in which alienation and violence are rare, or eventually "those on the outide" will break through the gates.
One of the main premise's behind this site, and an overriding condition of all that is placed on this site, is what kind of future are we inventing for ourselves? This stems from the belief that we do have control over the destiny of mankind, and that we are the first recipients of the result of the rules, mores, laws, customs, meanings, beliefs, ways of life, and environment that we establish, good or bad. There are many well meaning people who do not believe so. Their view of the world is that we are in an out of control tail spin bound for destruction, and their instincts tell them that the best thing that we can do is to protect ourselves from the world, largely by isolating ourselves from it. This includes a large number of religious fundamentalists of all faiths, many others who's lives are dominated by fear, and those strongly independent and self-sufficient survivalist types. Some are only capable of seeing gloom and doom.
I doubt the gloom and doom forecasts. Not a head-in-the-clouds type person, I don't hide from reality. I feel that if a sufficient number of people take their responsibilities seriously enough, we will continue to control the future and prevent our own demise. It is because we have laws that we enforce, and community organizations, and religious institutions, that a level of peace is preserved and people are tolerated and guided until they reach a level of maturity at which point they are able to control themselves and learn human decency. Without national and international laws, our minimalist rules of behavior, the world would not survive.
But technology has created the ultimate test - placed massive destructive technology in the hands of the irresponsible and unstable. What can we do? We create the culture we live in - it evolves. We face monumental questions, such as, should every person have access to weapons that can kill humungous numbers of people? The US Constitution guarantees a "right to bear arms." Were the founding fathers, who used muzzle loaders, thinking of automatic assault weapons and hand held missle launchers? Did they intend for every teenager to own a machine gun? Did they foresee 30,000 dead each year, children killing children, and a medical cost of 33 billion annually? Do we still face the same threats that the founding fathers were reacting to? And do we live in a world in which the right to bear arms needs to be so strongly asserted? The one constant in this world is change.
"For any student of history, change is the law of life. Any attempt to contain it guarantees an explosion down the road; the more rigid the adherence to the status quo, the more violent the ultimate outcome will be."
Where have we been... Where are we... Where are we going? I can't save the world, but all of us can create a better world one day and one person at a time. There is something each of us can do, and story tellers tell stories as well as living real lives in this world. What can we say? If alienation is one key problem, what will tear down those walls? How do we engender a respect for all people, and change attitudes that harbor animosity?
This is what the fall series, Alienation, is about. And this won't be about the Marxist view of alienation, which is about separation from the fruits of labor, or about some perception that we are alienated because of oppression or injustice, or about any other established perspective. This series will look primarily at the more subtle things which separate us from each other. Why are some disenfranchised, on the sidelines, moving in some direction that ultimately conflicts with the society around which they revolve? Some love society and some hate it, but it is central to both. Some are part of it and identify with it. Some are apart from it, yet define themselves by what they perceive is wrong with society. How do society and individuals become enemies?
This series will also look at how poisonous attitudes are built and maintained, the role of education and religion in planting the seeds of attitudes - both destructive and constructive, some of the psychological and cultural needs for separateness from others, and especially what others are finding that works to bring people and nations together into tolerant relationships. I'm sure that I won't be right in all that I say, so I challenge others to write better.
Although I think that most stories have minimal impact in shaping our lives, I do feel that certain types of stories can have major impact in influencing some attitudes, even though attitude is difficult to change when it is anchored emotionally. For example, when a thief has stolen something valuable from you, breeching your security and destroying your illusion of safety, your attitude becomes emotionally rooted. It becomes difficult to think of a thief in kindly terms. Emotion is a primary component in attitude, and it is very difficult to change an attitude once it has been shaped by emotion. Attitude is also very difficult to change through education alone. Knowledge is not very influential in changing strongly ingrained habits and beliefs, especially not if emotionally anchored. But certain types of stories are able to touch people both emotionally and intellectually, and empower attitude change in those who are receptive.
For example, in Japan, those who are born with disabilities used to be viewed as a shame to their families. That kind of cultural image doesn't just evaporate - it takes a long time to change those attitudes. Hirotada Ototake was born with no limbs. But his mother accepted him with pride, and now he has a best selling autobiography that is changing people's attitudes toward the disabled. In a land with over 5 million disabled, plus a rapidly growing number of age related disabilities, his story is refreshing and encouraging to those with disabilities, as well as changing attitudes toward them. What is different and winning about Hirotada? His attitude.
Some of the concepts that I will present, including problems and solutions in use, are the following:
Also, the framework for a story for exploring many of these themes will be presented early.
Other distribution restrictions: None