“Illegal alien?” How dare you!

Want to know what’s wrong with the term “illegal alien”? Actually, it’s a semantics thing; nothing is actually wrong with it per se. However, it does have certain derogative connotations about the person the label is attached to. Let’s dig into that for a minute …

I am also known as an alien. My “alien registration number” is the number attached to my green card. I am a legal alien, but I am still an alien and that feels like someone shit on my grave. It offends me. That feeling, though, is purely emotional. Emotional responses and reactions always make me dig deeper into what happened or what was said because I want to know what the rationale is behind the emotion. It’s how my brain works. I want to figure out the motivation behind reactions and responses that seem so purely driven by emotion. I want to understand what makes people tick. So for me, being offended by the term “alien” means that somewhere deep down, I have some issues with the word. Add to that the often used term “illegal alien” and I am downright angry because “illegal?” fuck off. #emotionaltiradeengaged #watchout (Ugh. Hash tags have made it into my writing now – shameful!)

I looked up the definition for the word “alien”, and to my surprise, the definition of “from another planet/world” was number 3 in the list. Number 1 in the list of definitions was “belonging to a foreign country”. That shattered my whole worldview because in my mind “alien” is the same as “ET” and “ALF” and I will not be categorised in the same space as fictional entities from another world. That feels insulting to me. But as I sat looking at the screen dejected, a caveat at the bottom of the definition page caught my eye: “ORIGIN Middle English: via Old French from Latin alienus ‘belonging to another’, from alius ‘other’.” And there it was – the origin of this word that makes me so angry is the very basis for bigotry and discrimination – “other”.

The question is, if one doesn’t know the origin of the word, does it have the same psychological impact? Probably not; which would explain why so many people defend the term “illegal alien” so vehemently. Maybe if they knew the origin of the word and the subconscious effect that that origin had on people, they might have a better understanding of why the term is so offensive to some.

Thinking about it some more, I realise that if you have never been a student of literature, languages, or culture you might never understand how “other” is an integral part of our subconscious serving to alienate and dehumanise “other” so that we feel better about denying civility and courtesy to those who inhabit that realm.

This is an intellectual conversation and one that I can’t have with everyone because the majority of people think it’s a waste of time to be this intellectually inclined. And thus the nuances of terms such as “alien” will continue to lose flavour over time.

My conclusion? Basically I need to just inure myself to people who consistently say “illegal alien” and move on. People from other countries who cross borders with other countries without express permission are actually breaking the law and are technically “illegal aliens” indeed. Never mind that their crime is more of the misdemeanour flavour rather than the criminal flavour, it’s still against the law.

/sigh

On Hellen Keller …

I fell in love (sorta) with Helen Keller early in life. Before I realised just how much of a literary and inspirational icon she is. To be honest, I still don’t know how much of a literary and inspirational icon she is. I’ve a few articles queued up to read on her and I have a plan to get up out of this bed eventually (I’ve recently had major surgery and am still recovering) and do some thorough research on her and her life.

I knew early on that she was both blind and deaf and that she once said:

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence; and I learn whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”

If you ask me for my favourite quote, that would be the one I’d give you. It’s the perfect embodiment of how I see life. I’m not blind and I am not deaf.  I have bad eyesight that’s correctable to 20/15, but by itself I am about 20/75 … or something.  (I actually don’t know what my eyesight is uncorrected; I should ask next time I get tested …). I hear really well. Sometimes too well. Part of being HSP is hearing, seeing, smelling, feeling things that normally go unnoticed. But I am not blind or deaf at all and thus I can’t even begin to relate to her on that level. Nevertheless, I feel that I get the idea of being satisfied with whatever lot in life one is given and making the best of whatever it is you have while striving to make life better still for the self and for those around you.

In reading more about her, I’ve learned that she espoused several other ideas that run parallel to my own. One of those in particular is the notion that it is in education – truly open and honest education – that tolerance lies. We cannot know how to accept our fellow man, regardless of his state and stature, until we learn that there are several other people in the world who see the world differently. 

“The highest result of education is tolerance. Long ago men fought and died for their faith; but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage — the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience. Tolerance is the first principle of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think. No loss by flood and lightening, no destruction of cities and temples by the hostile forces of nature, has deprived man of so many noble lives and impulses as those which his tolerance has destroyed.”

Hellen Keller was an optimist and this is how she is known and what she is famous for. I am not that much of an optimist. In fact, I tend to be a bit idealistic and somewhat fatalistic. Still, I can appreciate the optimists perspective, because if I spent my time indulging my idealism and fatalism, I would probably go jump off the nearest bridge.

Why am I suddenly waxing poetic on some dead deaf-mute from the late 19th century (and who died in the early 20th century)? It was her birthday yesterday.

Theories about the “problem in America today”

I am trying very hard to blog more often. I am also trying to tell myself that my blog posts don’t always have to be my own thoughts and views. I can also link other people’s thoughts and views as well. And here is one shining example of that realisation.

Browing Google+, as I so very infrequently do, I stumbled onto this post that outlines the main reason that David Niose (a blogger/writer at PsychologyToday.com) thinks “America” is devolving. He says it’s all about anti-intellectualism. Since I know opinion pieces are just that, I tend to check out the comments more on these pieces because sometimes commenters bring up relevant information and opinions that present a foil or a bolster to the piece’s premise. In this case, someone in the comments mentioned “pseudointellectualism” which struck a chord with me. English language form is to use the preface “pseudo” when we mean to introduce the notion of “false” or “pretend” to a topic. A lot of people argue based on emotion rather than rationale. There may be facts embedded in their arguments, but for the most part, it’s all emotion.

Anyway, the wonderful thing I like about the way PsychologyToday.com does their stuff is that they link “response articles” to pieces like this one. And in this case, we have two responses to this piece that present slightly different perspectives: Ravi Chandra’s assertion that it is more self-centredness than anti-intellectualism that is contributing to the this new “America” and Michael Austin’s agreement from a Christian’s perspective that the problem is anti-intellectualism.

I love this kind of stuff. Thought provoking.

I’d also add that this isn’t a problem limited to the United States. This is a disease that is global. Ignorance and denial does not know borders.

I’d also like to add that even with these articles in mind, none of this is that simple. One cannot distill the world’s or one country’s problems into one word. But this gives us a very real place to start fixing things – education, rationale, critical thinking.

How much does groupthink contribute to implicit bias?

This sounds like the title for an academic paper, doesn’t it? Heh. Maybe I should work my way into academia and write thoughtful, philosophical papers on the human condition. Yeah … no. That’s not me. Not in the least.

I may not be model material for academia, but I do think a great deal about the human condition. Maybe too much. In fact, my husband would agree that I think too much. He’s told me that on several occasions. My reaction is that I’ve got a brain and brains do best when used and I use mine to think. Thus, I am using my brain – exercising it, if you’d like, in much the same way people go to step class. /nod When they cut me open, they’ll find my brain limber and beautifully muscle-toned. I am rambling …

While putting sheets and towels in the washing machine, loading the dishwasher, and making breakfast (including gloriously stand-the-spoon-up-in-it coffee) this morning, it occurred to me that maybe part of what we’re seeing with this categorical denial of racial bias and the perpetuation of systems that exhibit racial bias is less about systems theory (although I am sure there is plenty of that), and plenty to do with groupthink. How else can you justify an entire police department participating in behaviour that is as reprehensible as confiscating a “bike of a 54-year-old black man because he didn’t have a receipt proving that it belonged to him”?

Yes. I am aware that my linked article is from a well-known progressive site. Based on how Vox.com articles are written, it’s pretty obvious that if they were going to be classified on one or another side of the political spectrum, they would necessarily fall centre of left. I don’t care. This isn’t about politics. I’m apolitical, remember?

It doesn’t matter who you are, when you look at the big picture, one cannot deny that there does seem to be an overwhelming amount of evidence that supports a pattern of racial bias. And I am not calling anyone a racist. I can’t do that. I don’t have enough info about anyone. Besides, I don’t want to. Being called a racist is horrible. Ugh. I can’t even begin to imagine …

I am a big picture person. I tend to see the overall view rather than the detailed individualised view. I don’t know where that came from. I can’t trace back to any particular event or lesson in my life. I just tend to look at things from a broader perspective than most people I’ve met. It’s a curse sometimes because it makes me deny myself things I want “for the greater good”. Bah. Hate that shit. Sometimes I wish I could be selfish. I don’t think I know how. But I digress …

The big picture shows that there is something going on. There has to be. And here’s what I think it is: groupthink. Know what that is? It’s that shit that happens when you’re with a group of people and you’re all having a grand old time and one person says “we should go get a few brews” and someone else goes “yeah! great idea. let’s do that” and a few more people nod and smile and agree (you never notice that some of this agreement is kind of lacklustre, like they’d rather not) and before you know it, you’re thinking “I may as well go too cos if I don’t they’ll think I’m a snob or something”. That’s groupthink … a rather simplified version, but still exemplary.

I am perfectly able to envision a situation where a seasoned policeman says he thinks that dude stole the bicycle he’s on, and his rookie partner accepts that because experience is valued highly in law enforcement. And before you know it, an entire police department is going along with it because “cop instincts”.

I am not ridiculing cop instincts. Far from it. It’s kept my own husband alive more than once. Cop instincts tend to be good ones. They deal with all kinds of people all day long, every day, for years; decades. You kinda get a feel for how people think after a while. “Cop instincts” saves lives.

I wonder if you can spot the point of failure in my scenario, though. Can you? I’ll wait.



It’s the seasoned policeman. He’s got this little bias thing going on in his head. He probably doesn’t even realise it. It’s been there for all his life, ever since that old granduncle of his told him that there was something inherently bad about black people. He doesn’t consciously think there is something bad about black people and he certainly would not be one to say it out loud, even if he had doubts about it. Hell, maybe he even had a run in or two with a black guy once who stole bikes constantly and who stood out in his memory for some reason. Nothing wrong with that at all. Perfectly understandable. “Cop instincts” – right? They might have kept him safe from that good-for-nothing-bike-thief way back before now. Except, that memory, that instinct made him target someone entirely different without any obvious reason and his experience and respected “cop instincts” made everyone else support him.

It’s important to remember that I’m not blaming our seasoned policeman for anything. I’m not saying he’s a bad person or a bad policeman. I’m not even saying that anything should be done to him as a result. Hell, I’d probably have sided with him too were I his partner.

No; the effects of psychological phenomena such as groupthink isn’t something we can always see or even prevent. It happens even when we don’t even realise it – like that bloody night out with the boys drinking when you really would have preferred to just go home and binge-watch Dexter on Netflix.

What’s the solution? I dunno. Do you have any ideas? Cos all I do is think of causes and effects, dude. I haven’t quite gotten to solutions yet. I may need help there. I think my strengths are more seeing “what is and why”, rather than the creation of the “how it should be”. Hell, how can we build a “what should be” when human nature consistently and relentlessly sabotages every attempt, anyway?

Seriously. All I am asking is that we can at least admit that something is wrong and that maybe we need to take a closer look at the shit we do, say, and think before we go off half-cocked. Yeah? How’s that sound?

What depression really is … from someone who knows.

The other day I wrote a phrase/quote and posted it on my respective social media timelines. It got some attention because of the really apt imagery it evoked. But I wanted to talk about it more, because this is a thing most people don’t understand and probably one of the most often miscategorised afflictions of all time.

Here’s what I wrote:

Depression is like trying to climb up a muddy hillside. There’s no place to grip & you keep falling face down in sucking, cold mud.

I had to condense it down to less than 140 characters so it’d fit on Twitter too. But the whole thought as it initially started out was this:

It feels like trying to climb up a steep, muddy hillside. There’s no where to put your hands and feet and you keep falling back down into the muck and you’re covered head to toe in sticky, sucking, cold mud.

I thought it was some pretty powerful imagery. Cold, muddy, mucky, the inability to be really comfortable with yourself and your surroundings for no reason that you can discern. Furthermore, there is so very little you can do until you find the help you need. In this imagery, a ladder or a rope or simply a helping hand would work great …  if only you could get your hand on it.

The worst part about depression is that somehow you find yourself thinking you deserve to be sitting in that bloody mud. It’s pretty irrational, but something about how you view your life up to that point tells you that being in that mud is all the result of every decision you ever made up to that point and thus a perfectly justifiable position to be in.

Some of us are able to keep trying until we get out and those people think, “Well, if I can do it, anyone can.” Which is kind of a cop-out on empathy. There is no natural or unnatural law anywhere that makes us all the same and capable of the same things at the same levels of competence. You may think I am just as smart as you are and thus able to accomplish the same things, but that isn’t true. We are individual people capable of different things. And being depressed – chronically now, not just feeling blue today – means we just want to lay down in that mud and say, “I’ll try again tomorrow … maybe” because it is truly exhausting have to keep trying to climb out day in, day out.

 

On echo chambers and the stark contrasts that exist among them

I think I sit in a particularly advantageous position of straddling several different cultures and ideologies because of the friends I have on my many social media contact lists. For some reason, I have collected a most diverse group of friends.

Facebook provides the most of this experience because of the nature of Facebook sharing. As a sampling of all the different people on my list, there’s the ultra conservatives (whose posts I have to go searching for because they don’t show up in my news feed – damn that filter bubble), and the staunch liberals, and there are the Jamaicans and the other Caribbeanites, then I have the Europeans (who I also have to go seeking their posts out separately too – probably Facebook’s annoying geographic filtering at work), and the Asians (same – have to seek their posts out) … and then national and political sectioning aside, I see the women and the men, the non-whites and the whites, the religious and the not-so-religious, and the downright irreligious … the point I am trying to make is that there are so many different people in my friends lists that I get to see all different perspectives play out on social media and it is fascinating. Especially when I have these visceral reactions to the things they post. That is usually a signal to me that I need to work on something internally.

One of the ways I know that my list is so diverse is when I see something pop up in my news feed that is just completely outside the rest of things on my feed (… one of these things is not like the other …) and I think, “Well, that kind of doesn’t fit in with the general flow of things”. And then I realise that on their feed, that is likely a post that fits right in. And right there is the whole “oh-shit” moment when I realise just how much of an echo chamber our news feeds can be. If we don’t hear the voices of those outside our general circles, we don’t realise just how insulated we are from the rest of the world. I mean, there’s so much happening elsewhere in the world and we often forget (or can’t handle it) because we are so embroiled in what’s happening within our circle.

I like to seek out as much of the different chambers as I can to get a better feel of what it’s like in someone else’s chamber. I like to keep myself reminded that my world is small and closeted and that there is a whole other world out there to partake of. One that doesn’t resemble my world in any way, shape, or form. It’s humbling and grounding. And something I would highly recommend to anyone.

Trevor Noah is slated to be the new Daily Show host, yeah.

I have this feeling that it’s all a big April Fool’s Joke and that Jon is going to tell us in a week or two that it was all a big joke and Trevor is just simply joining their staff as a regular “correspondent”. I don’t know why that is. All I know that after watching his routine on Netflix, that surreality is a bit stronger. Why? Let me tell you …

Two things struck me as I watched him: (1) that he seemed very uncomfortable in front of the audience; almost amateurish and inexperienced; and (2) that his routine seems overly obsessed with race in America. That he is inexperienced is probably true. His Wikipedia page states that he’s met with considerable success in other countries but that he is still quite new on the US circuit. That feeling of inexperience is likely to smooth out over the course of time as he gets a feel of what US audiences like and don’t like.

There has been much controversy surrounding his being named Jon successor. At first it was all about the fat jokes and the Jew jokes; and now there are those atheist jokes. And they all seem to have fallen so hard they fell through several floors before falling flat … assuming they were jokes at all. I notice that the first horror at his Twitter timeline was over the fat jokes and Jew jokes and the fact that he could make such ambiguous statements (because we still aren’t sure they are not jokes) about a marginalised group. It took a whole 2 days before I saw that the atheists also have bones to pick with him over statements made in the wake of Christopher Hitchens passing that were also ambiguously offensive (because those are also supposed to be jokes too although one wonders … but I digress). Atheists are also a marginalised group, but that they were left out of the initial outrage speaks volumes about our individual perspectives. I wonder how many other groups have been targeted by his so-called jokes but went unnoticed because those groups are so invisible that no one notices when they are being targeted?

Perspective is a hell of an equaliser. Take his race-centric routine. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to make a reference to how the US has traditionally handled race issues and what impact those ways have on his experiences here. He is from South Africa where race has always been a high stakes issue. He was born into a racial divide that personifies racism. In spite of his experiences at home in South Africa, the issue of race in the US is very confusing to him and he works it out in his comedy routine. The thing is, US Americans claim that this is a post-racial society. But those of us coming from outside think that is the most oblivious statement ever. The US is more embroiled in racial issues than they ever have been because now the racism is no longer obvious and on the individual “you stay over there” level. It’s in the system and the tiny little biases no one is even aware they have until they call an 18 year old man a demon (and sometimes even then they don’t realise it).

If nothing else, Noah will be good for this so-called “post-racial” society because he can shine some light into places most US Americans don’t even know exist. It’s the same place I find myself in. They say you never see yourself more clearly than when someone tells you how you look. (I don’t know who said that. I just pulled that out of my ass. It sounded good at the time. Sue me.) Noah and others like him bring a perspective that the US ought to welcome. Even if you don’t see his perspective as being unquestionably neutral, you can at least see it as bringing contrasts to a situation that has too long been seen in insular ways.

And to those who wonder whether he can be trusted with our national media spotlight, I say he will be good for some issues. His thoughts and opinions on fat people, or Jews, or religious/irreligious may be controversial, but we can’t expect him to be perfect. And he will be very good for the discussion on race – which is a discussion that still needs to happen. Maybe even more so than the fat, Jew, religious ones because those are already happening. The one on race isn’t. At least not in ways that it needs to.