Last weekend I attended a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Dinner. It’s an annual event held by congregations across the country, as a chance to get to know people from the congregation and to share entertainment, conversation and good food.
During the conversation at dinner, the subject of race came up.
The conversation drifted to discussing how we can get past the foundations of race without sounding racist which put me in mind of the documentary Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey. The DVD is available through PBS, but some enterprising YouTuber put the show up in a series of episodes with Spanish subtitles.
If you haven’t watched this documentary, stop reading right now and go watch it. Seriously. I’ll wait.
For me, the theories and research became a game-changer for my views not just on race but on cultural differences. So I surprised myself by saying that while we can say there’s no differences genetically between us white folks, and our African, Asian, Arab and European brethren, there’s a danger in carrying the conversation too far, because it’s easy to conflate racial stereotyping and cultural choice and with the myth of gender choice.
We don’t choose the color of our skin, the shape of our eyes, who we find attractive or how our bodies function. Moreover, our brains are designed to sort everything we encounter into select boxes. Our cultural training gives us the context for deciding what to do with those boxes once we’ve done the sorting.
But there’s a trap, and until I read these articles today, I didn’t have a way to articulate what that trap was because I am so fundamentally American in my belief structure that I can’t see the forest for the trees, or the rest of the world for my own borders. I suspect I’m not alone.
We Aren’t the World: Joe Henrich and his colleagues are shaking the foundations of psychology and economics—and hoping to change the way social scientists think about human behavior and culture.
I have had more than a passing interest in anthropology over the course of my life. In fact, before I became a theatre major, I was going to be an anthropology major. I’m drawn to the research and understanding of human behavior and how it affects societies.
Coming from an areligious background, I find it more than a little strange to be committed to attending services weekly, and more than a little strange when I visit services in other religions, because I have no tools to work with, no existing framework on which to hang my belief system. It is nearly impossible for me to attend any service, UU or otherwise, without observing the ritual from the outside. UU congregations are by far the most welcoming because there is an overriding desire to incorporate the principles by which we live, which transcend virtually all other religions.
From the Unitarian Universalist Association’s web page (http://www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/index.shtml), this is a summary of the UU Principles:
There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:
- Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
- Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
- Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
- Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
- Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
- Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
There is a social aspect to UU faith that attracts me, coupled with a completely different way of worshiping that includes and encourages laughter, discussion, meditation, two-way communication and sharing in ways I haven’t found with other religious groups except, perhaps, the Quakers.
But that’s not all.
Shortly after encountering the first article, I saw this one.
When I read these two admittedly scholarly research papers, it was easy for me to find them connected, because they both address our perceptions of reality based on empirical evidence we seldom collect outside our own safe spheres of reference.
In other words, they both tell us we can’t see the forest for the trees.
I have made a career of putting information out and correcting inaccurate information when I’ve found evidence that suggests the contrary, but in the end, we can never truly know reality if we don’t have the truth as it exists, not as we perceive it. It is impossible for us to view information without the filters we have built by being part of our society. Changing those filters takes work. There are too many times when people view that work as unnecessary, even bothersome.
Witness, for example, Richard Nixon’s fall.
Yeah, okay. I’m dating myself. If you’re not of a certain age, you won’t have the tools you need to understand where I’m headed with this, but bear with me for a moment.
Until David Frost caught Nixon on tape saying he, as President, was above the law, there was still a question about whether he had done anything illegal. Gerald Ford’s pardon was insufficient to take away the stain of the acts which forced Nixon to resign. To this day we will never truly know what happened and how it came to be because a good deal of the motive behind Nixon’s activities were buried with him.
Nixon’s legacy, that we can never truly trust the elected officials in charge of our country, persists to this day in the form of Birthers who would rather discuss President Obama’s birth certificate and legitimate claim to the Presidency than look at the country as a whole and try to find a way to fix the problems we have now, thanks to more lies from corporate entities that are more concerned with the bottom line and CEO salaries than with the lives of the people they serve.
We got here because we believe our way is the right way to live. We support those who have their own best interests in mind because they have told us to believe they are doing the things they do for us.
But what if we’re wrong? What if they’ve lied?
The French Revolution came about because the people got sick of starving to death and took it on themselves to reduce the long-standing ruling class to severed heads. The present-day American aristocracy has done its level best to deflect violence away from the true source of trouble, incarcerating anyone who seems interested in taking them down. Our government is no longer of, by and for the People, unless those people are the rich ruling class. The rest of us are here to make sure the American Aristocracy maintains their hold on the upper class.
We are almost 50 years away from landing our people, Americans, on the moon. We are fighting to keep North Korea and Iran from gaining the bomb because we have no control over their activities. We know our borders are insecure and we have done our best to lock them down, only to reduce our country to panic-stricken sheep who believe everything our politicians say, because they must be right.
Our children are starving automatons designed to follow the herd, not to innovate or be creative. And if they don’t tow the religious line, they are also incarcerated, if they don’t fall prey to random shooting violence, drugs or worse.
We spend our time watching fairy tales on TV, or modern-day gladiators in an electronic Colosseum. In the end, whatever we do will be too little too late.
And all because we think we know what’s best for the rest of the world. Because we are Americans.
When the revolution comes, it won’t be televised. I just wonder when it’s going to start.