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Shortchanging people through low expectations: Societal Edition!

November 11, 2011

I have hesitated to post because I’ve continued to be so crappy lately at responding to other people’s comments, e-mails, and blogs. Because of communication problems, whether or not I like to think of it in those terms given some of the interpretations frequently placed on that model–greatly exaggerated by pain, fatigue, etc. While I really do wish my system’s response to trying to pull more energy into healing and remineralizing bone were not to pull it away from language functions, yeah, it happens. Taking in what other people are saying and then formulating and wrapping words around a response is something that requires a lot of energy in the first place, if I don’t want to just start spouting not-so-relevant babble (which kinda feeds avoidance, indeed).

So, I really don’t want to offend people I know and like, or make them think I’m just not interested. Actually, it’s extremely frustrating because I do care a lot, and that frustration eats up more ability. Again, Anne C.’s “WTF, brain?” just about covers it.  Also, I don’t want to come across as sterotypically monologuing while ignoring other people and their reactions. But, just because I can try to wrap words around ideas enough to post doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to respond coherently to what other people write. Lots of accrued disability shame with this kind of thing doesn’t make things easier, though I’m slowly coming around to the idea that maybe people who understand what’s going on won’t start hating me.

At any rate, yesterday I reshared a rather good piece on Google Plus: Tolerating Intolerance: Deconstructing The ‘Right’ To Bigotry. I was more interested in the wider applications of this, but the tagline that showed up under the link really was effective at attracting readers: “Arguments against homosexuals in the military lead to an examination of what the real world is as it relates to bigots and bigotry.”

That has attracted more comments than anything else I’ve posted there so far.

(And, before I go further, I’ll throw out two related posts from Sparky: Tolerance VS. Acceptance and I refuse to tolerate intolerance. Excellent, as usual. I have always thought of “tolerance” as the bare minimum acceptable behavior if you are going to deal with other people, rather than as a goal.)

So, the comments went in some interesting directions. (G+ isn’t set up to let you link to them individually, unfortunately.) From one person in one of my gaming circles, we got the idea that the whole clinging to DADT was basically driven by trying not to alienate the large numbers of grunts recruited from Central Texas in particular. I just wasn’t about to touch that one. I’ve pretty much lost my taste for online arguments more or less for the sake of argument.

Most of the rest of the thread, up to now, consists of a couple of progressives engaging (fairly politely) with someone else from a gaming circle–active military, AFAICT–who keeps expounding on some tired old arguments.  I have mostly stayed out of that, too, but finally had to throw in a rather long comment. He does not seem to be a troll, but I am getting well past fed up with said tired arguments for excluding people, coming out of the same old tired assumptions that are so ingrained in dominant US culture that a lot of people don’t even realize they are assumptions. It’s hardly limited to the military, though that culture does get its own particular rigid versions of the SOS going.

Since it does apply pretty much to Life, The Universe, and Everything, I thought I’d paste it in over here (with a quote from another site thrown in after the original space-saving link).

It looks like we’re talking about several different things here, sometimes at cross-purposes. Everybody does have a right to whatever kinds of opinions they want. (Bearing in mind one of my dad’s favorite sayings, “opinions are like assholes…”) As other people have pointed out, how you act based on those is a different matter entirely.

“I however, I would say you should not, not cannot, harass someone for being gay. And you have every right to refuse to work with them. And as a result, your employer has every right to tell you to hit the road because of your refusal to work with certain individuals.”

Sounds like we agree there.

One of the problems I have with the argument that certain groups of people will immediately disrupt things by their very presence is that the same predictions were made about racially integrating units. (And the code talkers needed guards mostly to protect them from other personnel ganging up on them. And getting called “Chief” was the least of what my grandfather ran into in the same era.) And people learned to deal with that change. It sounds like not giving much credit to responsible adults for being able to adapt to circumstances and behave professionally. The important thing there? Actually being expected to act like a reasonable adult and behave professionally toward the people you’re working with and closely depending on to help keep each other alive. And recognize that you’ve got a lot more in common than different, and need to pull together.

And I know that people can learn to do that if they’re given half a chance. I mean, my people came from more than one culture where it was totally normal and non-disruptive for women to go warrior–and, yeah, a good number go into the military now that they can, for the same reasons men do. (And it usually gets brushed over in the wider culture that, say, a lot of the Chickamauga were women whose families had gotten killed.) Ditto for a person’s sexual orientation: not really anybody else’s concern unless they turn it into one and let their own reactions get in the way of common goals. Or pretty much anything else different about a person.

And, still, where I come from, people are mostly expected to keep their assholery to themselves:

[Oh, I know that shit happens… It never takes away the shock of hearing about it, though.

Let me tell you a bit about where I grew up, and this story has little to do with feminism really, but…

I went to school in an area that didn’t have serious cliques, and where the football players and cheerleaders were, strangely enough, some of the nicest people in school. It’s like upside-down land to what I hear about in other places and what I see in teen movies, in a lot of ways. How weird is that?
People still generally keep their assholishness to themselves around here, in my experience. I know it’s not that way all over, as I saw a lot of it elsewhere in the military (which is both sexist AND religious as hell, unfortunately), but I didn’t grow up with as much of it. I see more and more of it as I grow older, though, and more people around me fall into poverty. It’s almost like they revert to the most hickish, racist, sexist caricatures. STILL, I don’t see as much of that sort of thing openly, at least. We grows us some strong womens around here, though 🙂 I used to enjoy joking that my ex would toss a refrigerator at someone who messed with her. I’m from Roanoke, VA, btw, if anyone’s had a different experience, here. I know that my experience IS through my own lens of privilege, and I probably missed a lot.]

The man speaks truth. I never ran into so much open bigotry and people honestly seeming to thrive on not getting along and keeping petty nastiness going until I moved to London.

It’s not impossible for people to work together unless the culture they’re in says this can’t happen, and that change is bad. Better to try to change this than keep telling people they’re less capable than they are, eh?

(A lot of my school experiences did bear more similarity to the institutional badness that the military gets going, AFAICT–at least in a district run by incomers, more along “Kill the Hillbilly…” lines. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop after transferring into a neighboring district with dynamics more like this guy describes. But, yeah, that was interesting exposure to some ideas about how the Real World works, even if I didn’t understand why any of it was happening at the time; more on that in another post later. BTW, more on the “strong women” thing in another post; that is a very real set of expectations that has as much of a dark side as any other version, IME, especially as it butts up against assimilative pressure and those crappier ideas about gender.)

Can’t say I’m that surprised that nobody has responded to that one in a couple of hours now.

Going back to that embedded quote, I also wish I had trouble believing that more people might be buying into the dog-eat-dog scarcity ethic, and believing they must squabble over crumbs as the economic situation back home continues to get more desperately bad. That’s creeping assimilation for you. It’s also impossible to avoid the kind of universalist gaslighting that keeps turning up like a bad penny, that things could possibly ever be any different. It makes me sad, angry, ashamed, and over all disappointed, though.

The more I have had to look at differences in expectations about how the Real World–as opposed to the one a lot of people are actually living in, apparently–should/does work, the more horrified I have gotten at the piss-poor expectations of how people might be able to behave if they tried.

I mean, we know that stereotype threat is very real, and that kids in particular will largely believe what they keep getting told about how capable they are in various areas–and perform accordingly. We know that different types of institutions founded on certain assumptions are prone to taking on lives of their own and defaulting to a certain type of outlook, and this will strongly influence individuals’ behavior (usually not for the better). We even know that, for example:

“You could get the impression that having sexist beliefs, or prejudiced beliefs more generally, is just an individual thing — ‘my beliefs don’t impact you,'” Brandt says. But this study shows that isn’t true. If individual people in a society are sexist, men and women in that society become less equal.

I would actually expect more of a vicious cyclical relationship there, rather than it going only one way. Which is kind of what a lot of people have been saying for a long time, about various faces of bigotry. But there is some research to back some of that up. See also a recent piece: Why equality is a distant dream: Girls, boys and the real differences between them, which is not what it sounds like. Made me want to weep and/or throttle some kind of amorphous target.*

And that’s kinda the point here. If we know that people will live down to expectations on a personal level, or in various sizes of groups–what kind of effect will a whole society that tells you human nature is basically bad and violent, and certain ways of treating other people are normal and universal have on people’s ability to learn better ways of interacting and even thinking about problems?**

How can you even hope to change this, especially when built into the system is the idea that things are Just Like That in the Real World (and everyone else is Just As Bad If Not Worse)? Damned if I know, but progressive pragmatism would have to enter into it somewhere. This, of course, is complicated by the number of people thoroughly trained to think that no other outcomes are possible, much less ones beneficial to everyone involved.

With any luck, I can clean up a post I started on yesterday, but which rambled totally out of control, which ties rape culture and its very emphasis on sexualized violence into a lot of the same social themes. Yes, people can do better, if they even know they can–and stop teaching that differential respect and hurting other people is normal.

ETA 14 Nov.: I ran across this video today, so thought I’d share it. One of my great-aunts was a WAVE. And it’s a shame that so many people coming out of Native cultures now barely know about this history themselves, if at all.


* Not least: “In the UK, teenage girls between 16 and 19 are most at risk of domestic violence.”, especially thinking about some of the boundary-testing/violating and outright violent interpersonal behavior apparently considered OK in public that still horrifies me. I honestly am not used to a lot of the disrespectful/contemptuous behaviors I keep seeing being normalized, on the street or anywhere else. See also, in spite of the horrible title that’s more a symptom than anything else, Plight of teens abused by violent loverstrigger warning for a graphic photo of a girl’s battered face. (If you will still refer to an abusive clown as a “lover”, there’s something bad wrong.) Bolding added:

More than half of girls and a quarter of boys questioned in the study, which focused on disadvantaged children, had been in a violent relationship before the age of 18.

A quarter of the girls said they had suffered severe violence such as being head-butted, slapped, punched or having earrings ripped out…

Two thirds of girls and a third of boys said they had suffered emotional violence, such as being with a controlling partner.

Around half of girls thought this type of behaviour was normal.

It breaks my heart, but I have no trouble believing it. (And, as much as some people would want to focus on that, this shit has very little to do with socioeconomic background. “There is not a typical woman who will be battered – the risk factor is being born female.”) This also implies–and backs up my own observations–that it’s not just girls who see this stuff as normal. I have been frightened for several girls and women; if their partners were acting like that in public–with nobody intervening or even offering feedback–how were they behaving in private?! (Yes, people other than girls and women do get abused, but I have not seen that going on in a store, on the bus, on a crowded street, etc.)

will wade in and intervene to keep someone from getting immediately injured, but I do not expect any backup whatsoever here should things turn violent, totally contrary to my own learned expections.*** Nor do I kid myself into thinking that this will make a blind bit of difference in the longer term, other than maybe letting the victim know that not everybody thinks their being abused in public is fine and dandy. I hate feeling so helpless as a bystander, much less dropped down in a culture that takes people read as women less seriously in general.

** This basic idea looms large in the mega-post on xenophobia I’ve been trying to get around to. If you can learn it, you can unlearn it–even if that’s more difficult once your actual neurological setup is shaped into certain ruts. And, yeah, it ain’t a universal approach to human relations. People can do better than that.

*** Including when I had to cry for two days over not being able to do anything when I saw a group of 6-8 teenage boys abusing a dog in Ilford town centre. I was just out of a PT appointment for my back, and would have likely gotten arrested myself for beating them with my cane and trying to take the poor dog away from them. With no help from passersby who were ignoring their kicking a dog in the head, dealing with that many kids who weren’t used to random women policing that shit. Still, I half-blamed myself for doing nothing besides making a couple of angry comments. That made me even sicker because the poor dog was a banned Irish Staffie who would get seized and killed when–not if, the way they were treating him–he took somebody’s leg off.

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