What do we know about people? Or rather, what do we know about ourselves? Because, whether we like it or not, much of what we think we know about others, comes from what we think we know about ourselves – we tend to use other people as a mirror; as a reflection of our best and worst qualities.
Perhaps it’s no wonder, then, that we are either drawn to, or repulsed by, certain personality types, different types of people.
Science says we’re attracted to those with the same DNA as us; that we’re predisposed to like those who look/think/act/live similar to the way we do. This seems like such a small-minded, and limiting, way to live in a world where “looks like me” is becoming an increasingly subjective, and polarizing, basis of judgment. But it shapes much of our day-to-day, even (especially) when we don’t realize it.
In recent years, the cultural trend seemed to be one of celebration; of differences and similarities alike, of togetherness.
After electing Barack Obama as the first black president in U.S. history, same-sex marriage was legalized across the United States (on June 26, 2015, at which point over 1/2 of states were already there).
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that denying the fundamental institution of marriage to same-sex couples violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
But perhaps more importantly are the almost intangible gains made during the eight years of the Obama presidency – and the many years before that: the general push toward acceptance; fostering a culture of inclusivity and equality. We’ve come a long way since the days blatant/accepted discrimination (the days of Jim Crow and Japanese internment camps, the subjugation of women, enslavement of black Americans, the genocide of indigenous populations, eugenics…), and unbidden inequality among “Others.”
And – while there might still be a long ways to go – the general cultural trend, at least socially, has been one of progress.
But this shouldn’t be surprising: Humans have a certain, innate willingness to explore new cultures, to meet new people. Inherently we want to connect. As scientist Matthew Lieberman says in the article Why We Are Wired To Connect,
“…Evolution has placed a bet that the best thing for our brain to do in any spare moment is to get ready to see the world socially. I think that makes a major statement about the extent to which we are built to be social creatures.”
People, especially when meeting face to face, are apt to include “others” in real world situations. Humanity has only achieved greatness, after all, by coming together to work together; through connection and community.
But people manage to be pretty terrible to each other as well – even (especially) before they get to know each other.
The fight between political “right” vs. political “left” is a relevant, and pressing example.
The right has been pushing the notion that conservatives are the ones now interested in free speech, and liberals have become intolerant (of intolerance?) in a quest for a PC paradise. This speaks primarily to the fact the internet left mobilizes very quickly against any issue deemed offensive to _______ minority group, as well the “liberal” penchant for marching and protesting. It doesn’t take into account the fact that it is a response to age-old inequality, or that the idea of limiting bullying, hate speech, and thinly-veiled (or not so thinly-veiled) racism, bigotry, prejudice, etc. comes from a good place.
And has also played a large role in that push toward progress.
But as we have said before (in the article Trolling is too mainstream), limiting any kind of speech can, and has, led to limiting more and many kinds of speech.
No one is looking for censorship. But it seems that healthy, positive discourse is becoming ever-increasingly a white rabbit.
Humans have a problem with negative assumptions. Once someone is lumped into a certain group, (e.g. red vs. blue, us vs. them in-general) it becomes the only determining factor. We tend to assume, often without realizing, that everyone thinks the way we do (called “false-consensus bias”) and when they don’t, we figure they must be ignorant, out of touch, socially inept, or simply an asshole.
And then we wonder why we find some people so hard to relate to – why it’s so hard to communicate, to connect, to even hold a conversation with some people when it is so easy to do so with others.
We are just people, after all
Poor social skills are a cause of this – perhaps the most benign cause of this. Be it nature or nurture, or a diagnosable disorder (like Asperger syndrome), there is a large section of the population that is not “socially smart” and do not interact well with others. And often have no need to.
But this is not the largest issue facing human communication in the early 21st Century.
Is the internet, a tool created for better communication, that has connected people in unprecedented ways, is actually making us more anti-social as a whole.
No way – we have so many more conversations per day than our parents’ and grandparents’ generations thanks to social media. We are more connected now than we ever have been before…
There is a penchant for latching on to what/who we agree with, and an unwillingness to accept the people/opinions we don’t, that is exacerbated by online connection. What is known in today’s parlance as an “echo chamber” (in which you hear nothing but your own views bouncing back at you) is a real problem – and a long list of online “friends” often only adds fuel to the imaginary fire of things being said, argued, shared from behind the safety of a computer screen.
We are becoming much more quick to dismiss: If someone is deemed un-relatable, disagreeable, hard to talk to, or simply annoying, they are quickly shut out, trolled, bullied. Social skills are a sign of strength; the sign of an “alpha,” and we are always drawn to power. When someone appears different than us, it is a weakness. If someone disagrees with us it is seen as an affront.
Humans are certainly an empathetic species. We feel connected to our fellow wo/man. But we’re also inherently defensive, fearful, and distrustful.
When we see people as less-than-people – like an avatar, profile pic, or simple set of words on a screen, say – it becomes much easier to discriminate, to hate, and to hurt. It’s a wartime tactic: We turn our enemies into sub-humans; we make them less like us. And we don’t have to wait for the battlefield in order to see how quickly people treat others this way: A computer screen can provide enough separation, the necessary barrier between us, i.e. when you don’t have to look at the person you’re speaking to/with, when you don’t have to see the emotional toll and impact of your words and/or actions, it becomes much easier to say and do things you wouldn’t normally say or do when conversing face-to-face.
I love it when you label me
And where do we draw the line between this DNA-driven penchant for sticking close to those that look/act/do similar to the way we look/act/do and the society-imposed labels constructs of the social sciences, borders, and community that seem to corral us in the same way? What’s the difference?
One certainly stems from the other – we can dismiss our “labels,” shed them onto the floor like an old t-shirt, to say, I am not what society calls me. I am me and nothing more. Say I am not my skin color, or my economic status/the neighborhood I was raised in. Not the product solely of those who came before me.
But society has been traditionally less-understanding – even as we continue to move forward as-a-whole.
Our biology – or when we classify our traits based on genetic makeup – often creates these labels. We cannot escape who, what, where we came from, or why. But everything else has been imposed upon us almost arbitrarily. What we look like, who we’d like to like, the way we’d like to live our lives, has throughout history been unfairly judged by the community as a whole.
There has been a strong movement to disregard this sort of classification. Part of this is the natural result of globalism – those lines have been blurred as the borders and barriers between us have been blurred. The mantra of “I don’t what color you are” or “I don’t care what you believe in” or “I don’t care who you’re attracted to” has been strong among those who embrace a future without such classification. A progressive future; one we have arguably been working toward for centuries.
At least, the classification of uncontrollable factors like skin color, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
But we as people also seek/need validation from others – now, it seems, more than ever. We need the approval of others to move forward, and social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have exploited this to the point where it’s hard to know if anything is posted without the intent of getting “likes” or “shares” or making it go viral. Is it progress, or does it just look like progress on the internet?
And this confusion is only getting worse.
Like YouTube videos made, each one stranger, or more controversial than the last for the most views, subscribers, attention. Or the phenomenon of adults pretending to be little kids to gain internet exposure.
The need for attention from others is reaching a peak desperation. People, people, people at their best and worst, everywhere. The internet has allowed us not only to see the people so very different than us, but also (and more importantly) how many people are so very similar. So desperate to break free from labels, from biological designation, we now have a country of people shouting over each other, trying to be heard by any means necessary.
So how do talk about anything real or important if we can no longer tell what is real or important?
Or, are we finally showing who/what we truly are?