What drives people to inhuman behavior?
Hate and violence are usually a product of fear and ignorance, which often manifest in an inability to comprehend and a failure to communicate. Fear arises when people are confronted with anything outside their “normal” and anticipated field of vision and many persons’ actions become reduced to a level of animal behavior…fight or flight. Well-reasoned and tolerant individuals understand that, in most instances, differences are something to be valued, not persecuted. They are able to see life’s broader scope.
Fear resulting from visceral reactions and emotions, the so called “ick factor,” is probably the most insidious kind of fear because of how deeply it is rooted. Such alleged and absolute disgust is not an easy subject to broach, because it defies rationality and logic and denies all appeals to loftier emotions. It often resists comprehension and eludes communication. It’s so imbedded in the thinking of some bigots as to be unreachable and unchangeable. These recalcitrant individuals are generally the loudest ones carping about other individuals whose lives, interestingly, have no effect upon them.
Most of us have experienced irrational fears at one time or another. Many of us have probably also had this same kind of visceral reaction to one thing or another. Some people hate a specific food so much it makes them physically ill just to think about it. It’s one thing to have a visceral reaction over food, however, and another to systematically hate another person merely because of who they are, what they believe or how they look and how that jives with gut feelings.
How we deal with our own gut reactions may facilitate an understanding regarding how we relate to others’ differences and how we integrate ourselves into a world in which diversity can thrive. There is no reason to presume that how another is or is not different from me will impact my world. All too often, however, we find that the inability to refrain from transferring another’s life experiences upon ourselves, or vice versa, is responsible for the pain bigots inflict upon persons who for one reason or another are unlike them.
It’s been nine years since I acknowledged my gender diversity and, sadly, I’ve been confronted with more than my share of “ick factor” moments and treatment. There was the doctor who manifested physical revulsion after I informed him of my intention to initiate hormone replacement therapy. And, then there was the church group from Concord who picketed Charlotte Pride. They spent the afternoon with their megaphone informing us how we were an abomination. I suspect that most LGBT persons have encountered this kind of unassailable and inexcusable vitriol. Just the sight of two women kissing, two men holding hands or non-normative attire is enough to send some of these cretins into a panic. They seem to believe that even observation will lead to infection of some sort.
The ability to overcome these instinctive and habitual responses is part of what being human is. The question is how do we encourage human behavior? Is it possible to legislate opinions and attitudes? Probably not…it hasn’t really worked in the past. I believe that change happens by two different timetables acting concurrently: the first is slow and inexorable, the second catalytic and dramatic. Consequently, we see those who embrace incremental change and those who consistently push for radical change. Both are necessary; with timing, both can be effective, but poor timing can lead to deleterious results. Many of us decry the incremental approach because political realities have demonstrated that revisiting legislation can often be a matter of years in which discriminatory behavior will go unaddressed. Worst case scenario is that such behavior becomes institutionalized.
My thought is that the court of public opinion is the usual milieu for incremental change. Activists and advocates, however, often pursue a radical agenda because they know that any individuals left unprotected may have to suffer for years before inequities are addressed. They also understand that presenting the stark reality of discrimination is useful in shaping that public opinion. Furthermore, since legislation is often built on compromise, it is valuable to fight for the greatest protection for the greatest number of persons. Ideally, we fight for equal opportunity and equal treatment for everyone. Lastly, it often takes herculean measures to counter the vitriol of baseless fear which manifests as the ick factor. Persons who let ignorance and their gut feelings dominate their thinking are generally the loudest pushing for institutionalized discriminination. They spread their dogma using a campaign of fear designed to scare others into availing themselves of the same baseless and ignorant non-rationale.
I have a friend who suggested that we will never fully get rid of bigotry, and perhaps that’s true; but, we can attempt to reduce the numbers and try to mitigate the consequences. Remember…as much as we fight to establish our identities amongst ourselves, the real enemies are those who allow their gut instincts to govern their ability to reason, their capacity to relate or their desire to learn. They speak louder, write more verbiage and affect more moderate and conservative legislators than anyone else. They help to keep public opinion entrenched in a stilted and recalcitrant paradigm rooted in their faulty ability to comprehend what humanity and diversity are and have in common. The purveyors of ick factor thinking must be shown for the bigots they really are! : :
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