Well, predictably it has happened, two Brooklyn police officers are dead…

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What happened today in Brooklyn, with two NYPD officers gunned down simply for their existing, is a predictable result. It is the very thing I was trying to prevent from happening by challenging simplistic and presumptive narratives.

In the wake of tragedies in Ferguson and later in Staten Island, events widely (and quite recklessly) framed in terms of race, I have tried to make the point (in multiple blog posts) that all forms of prejudice can have tragic consequences.  I wrote to urge people not to judge by mere appearances (blue, black or white) and to consider each individual case separately.

Unfortunately that effort to add perspective to a complex issue did not stop today’s events.  Calling for reason seems to make little progress against the reactionaries with rationales that eventually turn whole categories of people into privileged objects of contempt to be removed.

It seems everybody already knows that it is the other guy’s tribe that is at fault. They know that their own tribe always plays the part of the innocent victim and thus always has no responsibility for their own part.  It is this kind of mentality that justifies gunning down random people from the ‘other side’ in retaliation.  A continuing cycle of increasingly senseless violence is the predictable result.

This sadly could be easily solvable if we would change the vengeful tribe versus tribe thinking that presumes guilt, innocence or privilege on the basis of skin color and only remembers the sins of others:

“The victims of a conflict are assiduous historians and cultivators of memory. The perpetrators are pragmatists, firmly planted in the present. Ordinarily we tend to think of historical memory as a good thing, but when the events being remembered are lingering wounds that call for redress, it can be a call to violence.” (Steven Pinker, “Better Angels of Our Nature,” page 493)

Holding onto the past, making assumptions based in historical grievances, and treating individuals as a part of a group to be judged wholesale is the actual problem. 

Prejudice is the problem and we are all responsible in part.  Recognizing the folly of judging individuals based on the uniform they wear or the color of their skin, taking each case on the individual merits, that is a start to healing old divides.

But, who’s listening anymore, we all know everything we need to know about the ‘other’ side, right?

Will anyone see past their own prejudices and demands for blood from the ‘other’ side long enough to see a better way?

Jesus gave the better way…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:43-48)

Hopefully those employed by the NYPD officers are quicker at forgetting their own presumptions based in appearances. Hopefully they transcend the man who shot two of their colleagues in cold blood and who apparently could only see in terms of tribe and history.  There is hope when we stop seeing people in terms of color groups and see each as an individual worthy of being judged by their own behavior and not as categories based in appearance or profession.

We need to listen to Jesus and end the cycle of violence in our own response to events like this and others.  We need to be better at empathizing across tribal lines and less mindful of the perceived injustices against our own.  We need to become a people more concerned with higher ideals and less with our own superficial features.  Start now, start in yourself in your own heart first and the world can change.

Transcending cliché and seeking truth continually…

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“If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences.”  (H.P. Lovecraft)

If there is a biggest pet peeve of mine it is cliché spoken or otherwise lived out.  Cliché is “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.”  Or, restated in my own words, cliché is popular expression within a group assumed true and done thoughtlessly.

While I am likely guilty of over-thinking and suffer the downsides of that, many others seem to fall on the other side of not thinking enough which can be likewise perilous.  There is a grain of truth to many cliché phrases and the cliché ‘ignorance is bliss’ might apply as a reason most people avoid real critical thinking.

But it is not simply that some are too stupid to think independently, cliché living can be thought out and deliberate ignorance.  Parroting what your peers or cultural setting already believe (or ‘going with the flow’) comes with many perks.  Perks like group acceptance, not being thought of as weird, burned at the stake, persecuted, etc.

People do not like being wrong and people especially do not like being exposed as being wrong.  It is far easier to ‘kill the messenger’ than it is to humble ourselves to accept our own reasoning and logic could be flawed, incomplete or otherwise be made better.  Questions can make us uncomfortable, doubt is definitely uncomfortable and confidence (even misplaced confidence) is more emotionally pleasant.

Cliché, in some cases, can be overconfidence in what we know or what we think we know is best.  Confidence is good, but overconfidence can be deadly ignorance and is probably how George Anderson Custer became dead and remembered as a cliché.  What worked last time (or the last hundred times before) may not apply to the next time and thus we should always be open to further thought.

Framing reality in either/or ‘black and white’ terms provides a comforting simplicity of thought, but it can also be false dichotomy in an often multi-color, dynamic, both/and, evolving or complex reality.  For example, foreign cars may have had an edge in reliability over domestics, but that does not mean all foreign cars are more reliable nor that domestics still lag behind today.

Cliché thinking and acting can be a way to preserve our comfort zone.  Taking on popular prejudice, confirmation bias, false dichotomy, cultural psychosis, groupthink, and especially our own presumptions, requires extra effort.  Moving beyond the trite or simplistic perspective might require self-sacrifice, standing alone and being unpopular with your cultural peers.

But, most of all, avoiding cliché requires humility and an ability to identify our own blind spots.  If we have already concluded we are the smartest, we know best and others cannot do better, then we squander our potential to grow in our vision or understanding.  We need to look outside of ourselves (individually or collectively) for whole truth.

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.  Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.”  (Proverbs 16:18-19)

Do not be content with proud tradition or religious dogma, but actively seek the ‘mind of God’ that transcends culture and cliché.  Faith is not passed on like a family heirloom, it is taken up as a cross of humility, it identifies lovingly with ‘the other side’ and is the will to take a path less traveled.