« Unethical Amnesia | Main | Wish It Were True »

05/31/2016

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Jeremy M

Again, we see the logic of the upper classes regarding the less fortunate.

Make yourself more suitable to my own standards. While you work on that, stay the fuck out of my sight and don't ask for anything from me. Oh, and by the way, I'm going to actively squash any attempts you make at improving your situation.

It's just like the typical pro-lifer. They don't want access to birth control or safe abortions. To them, babies are the most precious lifeforms in existence until they are actually born.

Jim

If there was one thing that could make our species better, it would be the ability to easily transmit not just thought, but feeling. It's this confounded separateness that eases the path to so many atrocities. We're trapped inside our own individual realities. It takes effort, one in which so few are willing to give, to understand another person's reality on an emotional as well as intellectual level.

This young couple likely thinks they are being sophisticated (and perhaps green) by living in a city. They probably feel disgust at the squalor that comes with any city, but perhaps to them, they take the bad with the good, especially as the good brings them the self-satisfaction of living where they do. They just don't want any hint of the squalor to live so close to them.

As they get older, and as the first child is on the way, they will likely move to some isolated and wealthy community, and they will forget much about this time in their life. The homeless girl will become a distant memory.

And this girl, how can she not feel like the world is against her? She was probably trying to improve her life, only to be bitch-slapped back down again. Hopefully, she can stand up again, but any human has a limit to the oppression of others.

If she could have transmitted her reality to theirs in an instant, would they backtrack on their actions? Would they feel sorry? Would they forget her?

This lacking in our species is repeated over and over again, everywhere, every day. And the tragedy and horror underneath it all is that our minds allow us to minimize or forget these actions. We move on, and the little (and sometimes big) acts that harm others are left only to that other person's reality.

Jeremy MG

@Jim
I know a woman who came from a well-off family. When she graduated HS, they intended on moving back to their home state after spending years away due to her father's job transfer. She decided, much to their dismay, to stay behind with her HS sweetheart. While the family moved back home, they lived a relatively modest lifestyle with little to no help from her family (small apt in working class neighborhood, no car, low paying jobs). She eventually had an unplanned child with him. He turned out to be abusive. The minute she called her dad to tell him she had enough of the boyfriend, he drove 12 hours with a moving truck so she and her son could move back in with them.
While back home, she lived rent-free, earned grants for school, and was able to get high-paying, cash only, nannying jobs through her parents’ connections with other wealthy people. Her child had access to the best schools because of her parents’ neighborhood. Eventually, she got married and was able to put a huge down payment on a house with her earning while living with her parents.
I can tell you for a fact, that despite having had a least some perspective on what it means to be in that previous state, she still doesn't "get it". To her, it was all a matter or her hard work. None of the advantages she was given as a result of her parents’ status resonate with her. She’s not totally lacking empathy, but she doesn’t understand how people in her past situation would have been screwed if they were really doing it on their own.
Her siblings are the same, but definitely more unsympathetic towards lower classes. They had their share of fuckups (DUIs, expulsion from school due to drugs, running away from home to another state), but never seem to realize that their parents’ money kept them from being dead, destitute, or incarcerated. They will gladly chastise the people they view as social parasites, while lauding their own hard work.

Katherine

I've been on the receiving end of this aspect of human nature too many times. I should just learn to deal with it, but it never ceases to amaze me how humans prioritize status above their stated values, while insisting they don't. You never really know a person until you see how they treat their perceived "inferiors." It brings out unbelievable levels of hypocrisy in people. I did find a lot of value in your post about impairment of memory for unethical behavior, and my guess would be that if those acts were performed toward perceived social inferiors, memory would be even further impaired.

You could have a friend who is a philosopher specializing in ethics, advocating compassion for the less fortunate. If you expect that friend to be nice to the waitress, you don't know human nature.

I think another piece of our predicament is that high social status acts as a buffer which shields the wealthy, powerful and respected members of society from seeing just how shifty humans are. Since people are generally nice to them in their everyday lives, or they at least see people's good sides, this could lead them to an even more unrealistically optimistic assessment of human nature than what the average person holds. So if there are any policy makers with the public's best interest in mind, they would still be stuck making decisions colored by their own skewed experience of human nature.

Neo

Whenever I hear of behavior like Dave's neighbor, it sickens me to the bone. I'm not a bleeding-heart liberal. But whenever compassion is compromised by people's stupid sense of privilege...and not even that...worse yet, when it impinges in their solipsism and self-perception of privilege, it infuriates me.

What really gets my goat is the near universal level of contempt people have these days for those less fortunate. Even among the poorest of the poor, you see this behavior of contempt if they're able to find someone less fortunate than they are.

The level at which the sense of privilege, elitism and affluence pervades people's behavior has truly become ubiquitous in modern America. It is a rare day I don't experience it in one form or another in my daily routines. In the way people treat co-workers, the way people treat customer service employees (and the way they treat their customers I might add), the way people treat others rummaging through their garbage for recyclables, being exposed to the contempt, in an insecure vain attempt to feel a sense of privilege by others, is truly disgusting.

And quite frankly, I am sick and tire of hearing perfunctory clichéd arguments (by those trying to justify their own privilege, elitism and affluence) that it's human nature. Yes, it is human nature. But as human beings (who like to considers themselves "professionals"), if you are a "professional" animal incapable of higher cognitive abilities of compassion and common decency than go live in the wilderness with the rest of the animals and quit dragging the rest of us down with you!

Neo

@ Jeremy
Your observation and insight are dead on! They will think until the day they die, it was their own efforts that made them a "success".

And if they can do it, so can others.

And if others can't do it, there's something wrong with them, never mind the socioeconomic, political, monetary and corporate dual systems in place (one for the privileged and one for the rest of us).

They'll say, "This is a democracy. Go read Ayan Rand and Horatio Alger." And therein lies the roots of their hypocrisy.

Lidia17

Dave, I've never run into such an egregious example as that, myself, but I've often seen similar things in a minor key.

I can only imagine the inner programming runs this way: "I have this certain perq (roof over head), for which I 'worked hard' and thus 'deserve'. IF just-any-old-person can have a roof over their head without going through the soul-less pixel-farming, ass-kissing, certificationing, power-breakfasting, suit-/tie-/pantyhose-wearing and beltway-commuting... then there is something *Not Right* with the world. And the Not-Right part isn't the unnecessary corporate cube work or the commute but the "free" roof over someone else's head.

See, if they can't claim exclusivity to the "prize" (shelter), then it's like all they are living for is hollow and pointless, and that can't be.. CAN IT????

T e Cho

Dave, thaks for telling this. So sad, so sad, so disheartening.

More to a point though, i wonder how many refugees out there right now would rather just be slaves than struggling to survive. Its that tough im sure for some. And its not their fault for by far. There must be a small percent, maybe 1 in fifty thousand. Suicide rate is lower maybe. But also the distinction between slave and free is way more blurred these days...

All this is depressing, rightly so.

steve c

You noted that there seemed to be less interest in your post on unethical amnesia, but in my case, I am still mulling over the diagram and the implications, and now see a connection to this post on the homeless girl.

And to one more thing- religion. Just speculating here, but is it possible that for a regular churchgoer, whatever else the denominational window dressing might be, a weekly reminder of our "sinful nature" might make ethical amnesia just a bit less effective, and maybe even tug a portion of the flock toward their better self?

Without this weekly reminder, it's that much easier to think of ourselves as "good".

Dunno, church attendance is trending down, so maybe it is just one more reason for the anomie we all see around us. It's not what creed is coming from the pulpit, or what rites are practiced, but just the weekly reminder that we are flawed.

Brian

The problem is that we humans have evolved (but perhaps devolved is more apt) to the point where we must now "protect" ourselves from anything different, anything that might be scary, anything that might make us uncomfortable, anything that might cause those in one of our in-groups to be uncomfortable. We do this through the filtering process Dave describes, but, increasingly, I fear that we do it physically by removing ourselves from the presence of those things that make us uncomfortable. And, unfortunately, the more separated we are, the more things seem to make us uncomfortable.

Our civilization and social structures have grown (in size and complexity) past the point of familiarity. We no longer live in social structures where we know everybody, where we depend on them and they depend on us, where our collective well being is a mutually-dependent and, therefore, mutually-protected thing. Instead we have created societies where virtually nothing we need, want or use comes from somebody we actually know. We are completely separated from the people on whose actions we depend, and those who depend on what we provide are equally separated from us. In such a world, is it any wonder that our physical separation continues apace? Boxed into apartments in cities, isolated in McMansions in suburbs and exurbs, we are not even meaningfully in touch with our own neighbors. Our in-groups are increasing not made up of people with whom we physically interact, but of people with whom are interaction is digital or even ideological. We are more connected to these people than we are to people living just a few doors away.

In this world we have created, then, how easy it must be to ignore the suffering of people outside of your in-group. How easy, even, not to see it at all.

I'm sure those upscale neighbors of yours never contemplated the plight of that girl. I'm sure they never considered that their actions were immoral, or wrong. To do so they would have had to actually think about the girl and her situation, think about their situation in comparison, and ask difficult questions about uncomfortable subjects. So much easier to simply separate themselves from something that makes them uncomfortable. So much easier, even, to ask somebody else to do it for them.

This is the world we have created.

And Jesus wept...

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