Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ignorance is Anything but Bliss

Maybe it's me. Maybe my tolerance level is just much lower than usual. Maybe I'm just encountering more...less than intellectually scintillating people than normal as of late. 

I don't think it's me. 

Hard as it may be to grasp, but I think ignorance is on the upswing, and I think that's showing up on every level from personal to professional to global. I'm not saying this because I think I'm some kind of Mensa-qualified intellectual giant. I'm basing this statement entirely on events--some that I have witnessed and some we all have. Today has just been a benchmark day and really drove the situation home for me. 

Let me give you some examples. 

I'm one of those people who can upon occasion type faster than I  think. Not a slow thinker, just a very fast typist. People like me, with the gift/curse of 100 wpm, are the most likely to get involved in online spats. Surprising, actually, how insulting 140 characters or less can be under the right set of fingertips. That particular skill also can make you into a polarizing person. But I'm a writer. I *know* better than to get into flame wars. But sometimes they're just unavoidable. For example, if you want to get me really pissed off, insult my kids. Some *original phrase deleted* older gentleman whose previous attempts at insulting me consisted of "DUMB WOMAN" (that's a quote) saw a picture of me and my youngest daughter and posted on Twitter *spelling uncorrected* "Is she your lesban lovr? thats sick". 

She was 16 in the photo. Did not go over well. Why would he say that, you ask? Well, because I am a woman who loves sports, can discuss football knowledgeably, and calls up the same talk show he does to make actual points. So I called him homophobic and HE blocked ME for it! Reminded me of the time when I called out a blatant racist online, and his response was "I'm not a racist. And you spelled biggot (sp) wrong. It has two g's, like N*****R."


Yeah. Makes my head hurt still. Because I call the Paul Finebaum show, some butthead in Alabama throws out a homophobic slur at me--involving my own kid. 

Today I discovered that all Marines are trained killers. That's all. Just trained killers. Apparently, that is the only thing that defines the Marine Corps. Semper fi, indeed. And I am not capable of debating that because I am just a mother who never served (never mind the long military history of my family) and that I'm unintelligent because I write paranormal stuff (I don't write paranormal stuff) and weirdos like me probably think UFOs landed at Area 51. Always good to know. Did I mention that this particular *original phrase deleted* gentleman who made these statements self-identifies as a Marine?

Yeah. Take a couple of deep breaths. It might help. A Marine told me that all Marines are nothing but trained killers and that I, an American citizen, cannot refute that point because I am a mother and not a Marine. 

Nope. Breaths won't help. Shots might.

It's not just strangers online. A member of my husband's family told me once that the movie Gladiator was historically inaccurate. (Had to explain the concept of fiction to him) A neighbor whose tree fell on our house during a storm tried to claim that he shouldn't have to pay for damage or even remove the tree because it wasn't his fault our house was in the way and was, in fact, our fault because if we hadn't moved the car into the garage it would have broken the tree's fall and prevented the damage to the windows and doors on the front of the house. (Had to go through rudimentary gravity, wind velocity, and basic physics to him) And then there was the doctor who, before he ever examined me or looked at an x-ray of my injured spine, said, "Now if I had a magic pen that I could wave to make everything go away, things might be different. But you aren't hurt--you just want narcotics." even though in the x-ray I'd brought with me there was a blatantly obvious deformity (including a fracture) of my spine.

Don't get me wrong. We ALL say stupid stuff. I am guilty of the compound crime of hot temper/foot in mouth disease myself. And that typing faster than I think thing gets me into trouble if I hit send before I hit the brakes sometimes. Who hasn't sent something out into the world that they really wish wasn't lodged in the permanent memory card of the Internet?

Two word: sex tape. 

But outside of the microcosm of my little, unimportant world is the macrocosm of the world we share--and that's where ignorance snowballs into something ugly and dangerous. These petty examples of ignorance are symptoms, clues that lead us to the terrible realization that we're dealing with a national disease.

Right now in Baltimore, the National Guard has been mobilized to stop the ongoing and escalating violence--where ignorance, or maybe entitlement might be a better phrase--hones that ugly edge. For who in the world would think that protesting an obvious and tragic wrong justifies the type of behavior that's happening now? Do not mistake me here. I believe there is a viable and justifiable reason for communities in Baltimore to be outraged. But community outrage should never take the form or rampaging and random violence. Protest, yes. Loot the mall? Burn down businesses and homes? Torch cars? Get broadcast live nationally breaking into a liquor store and stealing the contents while claiming your actions are the responsibility of the authorities? Pretend that criminal behavior is a form of protest? Destroy the community you claim to be wanting to protect? 

What kind of protest involves stealing flat screen TVs and cell phones? Can you imagine what the great reformers of the American people would think of this? Can you imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. or Elizabeth Cady Stanton or David Thoreau's reactions to what is happening right now?

Tonight while Baltimore burns, the real outrage has to be that ignorance has eclipsed what should have happened today. Instead of using protest to initiate a real and necessary dialogue between the community and the authorities regarding the death of Freddie Gray, the relationship between the police and the citizens, and the alarming deterioration of race relations nationwide, the ignorance of people wholly uninvolved in the situation has led to a city overwhelmed by criminals and now about to be locked down by our own military. A tragedy has become a travesty, and the real issues are buried under a quagmire of horror. 

 The people who could affect any real, positive change in Baltimore are either holed up in their homes, or trying desperately to stop the rampage, like the courageous Nation of Islam folks who lined up and formed a non-violent human fence between rioters and police. Their voices will be drowned under the yells of the ignorant who are throwing bricks through windows or setting houses on fire, fueled no doubt by the booze they looted. 

And when, in future days, when the desperately needed dialogue begins, where will those rioters be? Not talking. Not trying to help. And for the most part, not being held responsible for their criminal behavior either. And they certainly will not be trying to find the right way to protest the tragedy that led to today's violence. 

My use of the word 'ignorance' was very deliberate. I realize that some might take that word the wrong way, particularly if they are determined to do so. Cultural ignorance has been claimed before. My French mother, whose Resistance-organizer father was shot dead in front of her as the Nazis fled from the Allied invasion, never forgave Germans--ANY German--for World War II. Any claim of 'but we didn't know' just enraged her. "How could you not know?" she sneered once at a dinner party, while all the rest of us squirmed. (Yes, I come by my temper naturally. I'm mild compared to her) "I was eight years old and living in France, and I knew that all you Nazis were burning Jews. You lived right there. You knew. You just didn't say it out loud. You didn't WANT to know." She was convinced that the German people were willfully and retroactively ignorant, and right or wrong nothing I or anyone else could say would change her mind. For a long time, I thought she was wrong. 

But lately I've started to wonder if such a thing as cultural ignorance was possible.  After Ferguson, I became convinced that it was not only possible, but epidemic. Just like a parent who turns away from their kid who pulls wings off birds and tortures dogs, we get shocked when our darling offspring turns into a serial killer. That's why on this spring day in Baltimore, I think we all see how dangerous ignorance can be if it goes on unchecked. 

The United States can no longer afford cultural, racial, or social ignorance. Ignorance is bankrupting us as a nation, as a people. Our country began with a dream of enlightenment, and sometimes, on days like today, it doesn't seem like we've met our promise. We, as individuals, have to accept our responsibility for contributing to a culture where the delusion is perpetuated that if we ignore a problem it'll somehow just go away. And just like we have to deal with the consequences if we hit send before we really think about what we're doing online, we are paying a heavy price now for all the looking the other way we did over the last few decades. 

If we had learned the lessons set by Watts or Kent State, we would not now be living through Ferguson and Baltimore. 

And we cannot address the ignorance of our society until we can acknowledge our own ignorance--and take personal responsibility for our actions that ensued. 

Bigot really only has one g. So does ignorance. Or ego. 

And guilt.