Posts Tagged ‘Native Americans’

Calls for Racial Justice Gained Steam with Empathy

June 30, 2020

The title of this piece is identical to the title of an article by Jamil Zaki in the Health & Science Section of the 23 June 2020 issue of The Washington Post. The subtitle asks the question, what kept people from supporting these movements before?

A key answer to this question comes from research on the perverse relationship between power and empathy. Empathy is people’s ability to share and understand each other’s experience. Empathy is not a hard-wired trait, but a skill . The right experiences, habits and practices can increase our empathic capacity, the same way we can get stronger by going to the gym. But there is s dark side to this idea: Other experiences can cause our empathy to atrophy, similar to a muscle we don’t use.

Power and privilege can sap our ability to understand others. In a series of studies, psychologist Michael Kraus and his colleagues measured people’s socio-economic status, as well as their ability to decipher emotions in pictures and in-person interactions. People higher in status were less accurate about other people’s feelings. Recent work has replicated these results and also found that high-status individuals make more errors when trying to take other people’s perspective.

Kraus and his colleagues have documented the empathic failures that come with privilege. Higher-status individuals display less interest when talking with strangers and report less concern for the suffering of others. These gaps play out in racial contexts as well. In another study, Kraus found that high-income white Americans overestimate racial economic equality more than black Americans or low -income white Americans.

These findings were bleak enough to make one journalist conclude, “power causes brain damage.” But powerful people are not incapable of empathy and should not be let off the hook from working at it. Like other skills, empathy takes practice, and people practice it when they are motivated to do so. Individuals who are relatively underprivileged realize they need others to succeed whereas people with power often deicide they can go it alone. Consistent with this idea, lower-status individuals pay more attention to faces, people and social cues than those with high status.

People without power often have to understand the perspective of high-power groups, which is the default in media, culture and work. By contrast, high-status individuals don’t have to understand others perspective to survive. This is one way privilege works its way into our minds. Not only are privileged people exempt from material struggles, they can comfortably ignore everyone else’s.

In some cases, powerful individuals have incentives not to understand. Genuinely peering into others’ worlds might force them into ugly realizations that they contribute to and benefit from injustice. To avoid that discomfort, they might turn down their empathy even further. In one series of studies, psychologists reminded members of high-power groups—such as white Americans—of their group’s responsibility for past violence—for instance, against Native Americans. Participants responded by dehumanizing victims to avoid guilt.

This is one irony of power: It expands the change a person could make while narrowing the aperture of whom they truly see. But this is not inevitable. When powerful people choose to empathize, they become more cooperative and more invested in justice. In one particularly relevant series of studies, Emile Bruneau and his colleagues asked members of low-power groups to “perspective give,” sharing their stories, and high-power individuals to perspective, paraphrasing what they’d heard. These dialogues increased connection and positive regard between groups—not by ignoring existing power structures but by reversing them.

In the past few weeks, many people have opened their eyes to suffering they had previously ignored. Much credit for this should go to activists and organizers who have made it harder to look away. Can increase in concern about racial injustice last? Empathy is a powerful psychological spark, but it often extinguishes quickly to support long-term change. As emotional stories leave our collective consciousness, people move on. Suffering continues, but those in power no longer see it.

Rather than depending on empathy to last, another strategy would be to leverage the care and energy of this moment into structural change—for instance, commitments to diversity leadership in education, business, and government. Rather than depending on people in power to listen more intently, change might come when we ensure the people who have previously been kept out of power have more chances to speak and be heard.

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Spirituality and Ethics

June 19, 2019

This is the ninth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the tenth section of this book.

Rushkoff begins, “…the vast majority of humankind’s experience was spent understanding time as circular. Only recently did we adopt a more historical approach to time, and a correspondingly more aggressive way of manifesting our spiritual destiny. That’s the main difference between the spiritual systems that humans lived with over many millennia and the infant religions that fielded colonialism in the last dozen or so centuries.

In a cyclical understanding of time, the consequences of one’s action can never be externalized or avoided, Everyone reincarnates, so if you do something bad to another person, you’ll have to meet them again. If you spoil the natural world, you will be reborn into it yourself. Time and history are nonexistent, and the individual is living in the constant present. As a result, everything and everyone is interdependent and emanating from the same shared source of life.

The invention of writing gave people the ability to record the past and make promises into the future. Historical time was born, which marks the end of the spirituality of an eternal present, and the beginning of linear religion and monotheism. Before the end of a past and a future, it was difficult to explain how a single, all-powerful god could exist if there was still so much wrong with Creation. With the addition of history, the imperfect world could be justified as a work in progress. God was perfect, but his plan for the world was not yet complete.”

Unfortunately, the focus on the future enabled intended ends to justify almost any means. Inhumane disasters like the Crusades as well as the progressive philosophies of Hegel and Marx all depended on a teleological view of our world. Although these approaches elevate our commitment to ethics and social justice, they also tend to divorce us from the present. We feel enabled to do violence now for some supposedly higher cause and future payoff.

So we drive forward, ignoring the devastation we create in our wake. We permanently clear forests, and extract coal, oil, and water that can’t be replenished. The planet and its people are resources to be used up and thrown away. Human beings are enslaved to build luxury technologies that subject people in faraway places to pollution and poverty. Corporations dismiss these devastating side effects as externalities, that is the collateral damage of doing business, falling entirely on people and places unacknowledged on their spreadsheets.

Rushkoff informs us that upon encountering the destructiveness of European colonialists, Native Americans concluded that the invaders must have a disease. They called it “wettiko:’ a delusional belief that cannibalizing the life force of others is a logical and morally upright way to live. Native Americans believe that wettiko derived from people’s inability to see themselves as enmeshed, interdependent parts of the natural environment. When this disconnect has occurred, nature is no longer seen as something to be emulated but as something to be conquered. Women, natives, the moon, and the woods are all dark and evil, but can be subdued by man, his civilizing institutions, his weapons, and his machines. Might makes right, because might is itself an expression of the divine.

Rushkoff is quick to note that wettiko can’t be blamed entirely on Europeans. This tendency goes back at least as far as sedentary living with the hoarding of grain, and the enslavement of workers. Wanton destruction has long been recognized as a kind of malady. It’s the disease from which the Pharaoh of biblical legend was suffering—so much so that God was said to have “hardened his heart: disconnecting him from all empathy and connection with nature.

Rushkoff is also quick to note that both Judaism and Christianity sought to inoculate themselves from the threat of wettiko. Their priests understood that disconnecting from nature and worshipping an abstract God was bound to make people feel less empathic and connected. Judaism attempted to compensate for this by keeping God out of the picture—literally undepicted. Christianity similarly sought to retrieve the insight that a religion is less important as a thing in itself than as a way of experiencing and expressing love to others.

Unfortunately the crucifix became an emblem of divine conquest, first in the Crusades, and later, with the advent of capitalism and industrialism, for colonial empires to enact and spread wettiko as never before. And the law, originally developed as a way of articulating a spiritual code of ethics, became a tool for chartered monopolies to dominate the world, backed by royal gunships. Although Europeans took colonial victories as providential, Native Americans saw white men as suffering from a former mental illness that leads it’s victims to consume far more than they need to survive, and results in an “icy heart” incapable of compassion.

Rushkoff concludes this section by writing, “It’s time to rebalance our reasons with Reason, and occupy that strange, uniquely human place: both a humble part of nature, yet also conscious and capable of leaving the world better than when we found it.”

The Second Mountain

May 10, 2019

The “Second Mountain” is a book by David Brooks: The subtitle is “The Quest for a Moral Life.” The first mountain referred to in the title is Hyper-Individualism. The second mountain is Relationalism. The first phase of his life was characterized by his hyper-individualism. This phase of his life ended in divorce and unhappiness. He moved on to Relationalism, concern for his fellow humans, and is now happy. He argues that Relationalism is the way to go. Although HM agrees, Brooks falls short on his Relationalism.

Before HM explains how Brooks falls short, he would like to underscore two parts of his book that HM finds praiseworthy. Brooks writes, “In eighteenth-century America, Colonial society and Native American society sat, unhappily, side by side. As time went by, settlers from Europe began defecting to live with the natives. No natives defected to live with the colonials. This bothered the Europeans. They had, they assumed, the superior civilization, and yet people were voting with their feet to live in the other way. The colonials occasionally persuaded natives to come with them, and taught them English, but very quickly the natives returned home. During the war with the Indians, many European settlers were taken prisoner and lived in Indian tribes. They had plenty of chances to escaped and return, but did not. When Europeans came to “rescue’ them, they fled into the woods to hide from their ‘rescuers.’

The difference was that people in Indian villages had a communal culture and close attachments. They lived in a spiritual culture that saw all creations as a single unity. The Europeans had an individualistic culture and were more separable. When actually given the choice, a lot of people preferred community over self. The story made HM think that it’s possible for a whole society to get itself into a place where it’s fundamentally disordered.”

The second praiseworthy point is his calling out the soul specifically. Too many religions are preoccupied with biological life. Biological life should be irrelevant to religions and spiritual beliefs. It is the soul that is of central concern.

Here are two paragraphs from the Conclusion with which HM strongly agrees.

“The world is in the midst of one of those transition moments. The individualistic moral ecology is crumbling around us. It has left people naked and alone. For many, the first instinctive reaction is to the evolutionary one: Revert to tribe. If we as a society respond to the excesses of “I’m Free to Be Myself” with an era of “Revert to Tribe,” then the twenty-first century will be a time of conflict and violence that will make the twentieth look like child’s play,

There is another way to find belonging. There is another way to find meaning and purpose. There is another vision of a healthy society. It is through relations. It is by going deep into ourselves and finding there our illimitable ability to care, and then spreading outward in commitment to others.”
The examples he provides of building relations are definitely commendable. But these alone will fall short. Government programs and government assistance are also needed and often provide the most efficient means of dealing with problems. Brooks is blinded because he looks at the world through Republican lenses. Unfortunately, in the United States too many Democrats are also suffering from faulty lenses. All other advanced countries have government supplied medical care. The data show that not only are these programs more effective with respect to medical care, they are also cost effective. Political propaganda and lies in the United States blind people to these results replicated in every other advanced country.

The preceding paragraph provides a good example of how beliefs and compartmentalization preclude or hinder critical thinking. Brooks identifies himself as a conservative. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. Politics needs both liberal and conservative approaches. Unfortunately, his conservatism leads him to compartmentalize. He has beliefs as to what functions government should perform and which functions they should not. Unfortunately, this compartmentalization puts medical care as something government should not do. So even in spite of the voluminous data that government supplied health care is both more economical and provides better medical care, he remains blind to that evidence. And it is quite likely he never looked for it. But good critical thinking requires examining how to justify the data in support one’s political decision and not just by blind belief.

College educations in these countries are also more affordable. It is not surprising that the United States always finished behind these countries when the survey is on happiness.

Brooks also makes derogatory comments on meditation. Meditation and contemplative prayer are central to finding meaning and purpose. But Brooks is entirely focused on western civilization and apparently is oblivious of the wisdom of the east.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Enemy

May 13, 2016

The fourth cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is the Enemy.  The most conspicuous example of the enemy is in warfare when there is an explicit enemy to be fought.  Enemies are usually demonized.   However, there are more subtle examples of the enemy.  When cheap labor was needed during the colonization of North American, Africans were regarded as being sub-human.  Consequently, they could be captured sold into slavery and treated as farm animals. Frequently, they were treated worse than farm animals.  Then, there were the native americans who already occupied North America.  They were the unfortunate occupants of the land these Europeans wanted.  Consequently, they were dehumanized and regarded as the enemy.

How could the holocaust happen?  Through an extensive and elaborate propaganda program conducted by the Nazis, Jews were dehumanized.  There were side benefits of this dehumanization.  Jewish property was confiscated and the Jews provided a cheap source of labor.  However, Nazi ideology required that Jews be exterminated.  This extermination was so important to the Nazis that when they were losing the war, they devoted sources needed to fund the war effort to the extermination of the Jews instead.

Actually it is easier to understand what the Nazis did that what the remainder of the free world did not, with a few notable exceptions, do.  And that was to offer refuge to the refugees.  While Jews were not explicitly the enemy, they still had a lower status that allowed them to be ignored.

The response to the holocaust was “Never Again.”  But it has occurred “again” and several times already, and it will continue to occur.

Research has indicated that it is remarkably easy to create enemy groups.  The authors state that three elements are required to form these enemy groups.  The first is the opportunity for kindness or cruelth, situations in which people can interact either nicely or nastily.  The second element is reciprocity.  Reciprocity is when you are friendly to people who treat you nicely and unfriendly to people who treat you nastily.  Healthy memory feels compelled to state that while these elements might be required in research designed to study artificially created enemy groups, this certainly was not true of the Jews in Germany.  Utilitarian need is more likely the requirement in the real world.  The third element is transitivity.  Transitivity means sharing your group’s opinion of others—liking the group’s friends and disliking the group’s enemies.

Research has indicated how easy it is to form us versus them groups.  To do this, social psychologists have created the “minimal-groups paradigm.”  In one experiment participants were shown hundreds of dots and asked them to guess the number.   The researchers knew the exact average of the number of dots and divided the participants into two groups, “Underestimators” and Overestimators.”  People in each group were kind to those in their group, but cruel to people in the other group.

A creative third-grade teacher, Mrs. Jane Elliot, in rural Iowa as a result of the assassination of the Rev Martin Luther King, Jr., wanted her students to learn firsthand about the pernicious effects of prejudice.  She made a new racial distinction proclaiming that children with brown eyes were inferior to children with blue eyes.  In no time the blue-eye children grew smug and powerful and treated their brown-eye classmates with condescension and cruelty, seeing them as less than human.

The social psychologist Muzafer Sherif conducted the classic “Robbers Cave” experiment at a boys’ summer camp.  The camp had two cluster of cabins dividd by a small forest, and boys randomly assigned to one side, “the Eagles,” or the other, “the Rattlers.”  In short order the boys had bonded strongly with their own groups and held nothing but contempt toward the other group., in spite of them all being fundamentally the same.  The authors note that in real life boys no older than those in this Robber’s Cave Study are told that they are a Crip( blue) or a Blood (red) and are expected to show unwavering allegiance to their brothers and ruthless cruelty to their rivals.  In these gangs handguns are used to claim and hold drug-distribution territory.

Another group that is technically not the enemy, but which is regarded as being unworthy are the homeless.  These people are regarded as psychotic, substance abusers, or bums, and not worthy of our consideration.  This provides a means of avoiding the problem rather than feeling empathy towards these people and working to solve the problem.

Can anything be done about this problem?  One approach is to get people in the different groups to work together to solve a problem  During wartime in the military it has been found that different racial groups need to depend upon each other in combat.  Consequently, they bond and there are few interracial problems.  There was a very good documentary on this topic during the Viet Nam war titled “same mud, same blood.”
Racial problems are more likely in support units who are more likely fighting boredom than the enemy.

One group doing yeoman’s work to address this issue is the Southern Poverty Law Centers  .In addition to programs on teaching tolerance they have worked with individual members of hate groups to remove the source of their hate.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.