I know I hammer on this topic quite frequently. There are several reasons for that, not the least of which is the fact that most people seem to have a rather desperate desire to evade the whole issue.
For example, one you admit that “Billy-Bob is a Baptist because Billy-Bob was born in the Bible-belt” – from that point on (if you are at all honest) – it becomes impossible to accept Billy-Bob’s own “explanation” for what he claims to “believe” (and the “practices” putatively resulting from such “beliefs”):
- First, it is overwhelmingly likely that our hypothetical “Billy-Bob” has been deliberately kept ignorant of the (supposed) “Beliefs” and “practices”) of those “foreign” to his particular bigoted, insular little “community”.
At the same time, he has most likely been none-too-subtly “conditioned” to experience a mixture of fear and contempt for such “foreign” beliefs and practices.
This leads to the – otherwise totally incomprehensible – fact that hates and fears something he essentially knows next to nothing about.
Now, undoubtedly, many people will simply hand-wave away the fact that the above state of “mind” at least strongly resembles other forms of bigotry, as a mere coincidence.
I don’t buy that.
The fact is: unless Billy-Bob has had the TIME and OPPORTUNITY to actively learn about “foreign” beliefs/practices – then both his professed ‘beliefs” AND the “practices” to which they putatively lead are MERELY APING AND PARROTING – most likely of “Mommy and Daddy” (and/or some equivalent “role-model”).
2. “Billy-Bob” will vehemently deny the above (if he even bothers to think about the issue at all). He will be unable to do so – mostly because it necessarily implies that the “beliefs” and “practices” he considers most central to his “identity” — the most important thing(s) in his life – are nothing more, less or other than a (superficially) “grown-up” version of what young children do when they play “Dress-up” games:
Now, if those in “authority” have done their work correctly, “Billy-Bob” will have been socially lobotomized to the point where he is (ideally) unable to think “outside” of his specific demographic/geographical “box” – or even admit that the “box” exists, at all.
Now, IF something truly extraordinary happens, Billy-Bob might be able to snap out of his socially-constructed stupor long enough to start asking the sort of questions which (inevitably) prove “dangerous” to those in “authority”.
This sort of Existential crisis could be something as simple as inadvertently coming into personal contact with one of those hated/feared “foreigners”, and observing that the disgusting infidel (gasp!) does some things DIFFERENTLY.
Alternatively, he could come into contact with one of those hated/feared “foreigners”, and notice instead that he and the “foreigner” are SIMILAR in some way:
This is humorously illustrated in the following cartoon I found on Youtube some while back:
Either way, Billy-Bob is (at that point – and to that extent) at-risk for actually functioning at the distinctively HUMAN level – if only for a few moments:
As Ayn Rand put the issue:
In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.
When man unfocuses his mind, he may be said to be conscious in a subhuman sense of the word, since he experiences sensations and perceptions. But in the sense of the word applicable to man—in the sense of a consciousness which is aware of reality and able to deal with it, a consciousness able to direct the actions and provide for the survival of a human being—an unfocused mind is not conscious.
Psychologically, the choice “to think or not” is the choice “to focus or not.” Existentially, the choice “to focus or not” is the choice “to be conscious or not.” Metaphysically, the choice “to be conscious or not” is the choice of life or death.
Now, assuming that Billy-Bob doesn’t reflexively shy away from the “culture shock” (and retreat back to his bigoted subcultural “hug-box”), he is confronted the (daunting) task of having to evaluate (instead of merely aping and parroting) the “beliefs” and actions of those around him — starting with himself, and his erstwhile “role-models”.
Time for another Ayn Rand quote:
A social system is a set of moral-political-economic principles embodied in a society’s laws, institutions, and government, which determine the relationships, the terms of association, among the men living in a given geographical area. It is obvious that these terms and relationships depend on an identification of man’s nature, that they would be different if they pertain to a society of rational beings or to a colony of ants. It is obvious that they will be radically different if men deal with one another as free, independent individuals, on the premise that every man is an end in himself—or as members of a pack, each regarding the others as the means to his ends and to the ends of “the pack as a whole.”
There are only two fundamental questions (or two aspects of the same question) that determine the nature of any social system: Does a social system recognize individual rights?—and: Does a social system ban physical force from human relationships? The answer to the second question is the practical implementation of the answer to the first.
At any rate: I think my primary “problem” (from a sociological point of view), is that – having no credible “role-models” to mindlessly ape and parrot, and no “peer group” into which I could mindlessly sink, I’ve become something between an outsider and gadfly:
I’m not capable of being oblivious to the antics of the myriad geography/demography-based “identity-groups” — but by the same token, I can’t take the vast majority of them seriously, either.
I can’t help wondering whether I’m witnessing the result of rational, informed evaluations and choices on the part of an individual, or merely an overgrown toddler playing “dress-up”.