From the same people who brought you We are all Bozos on This Bus, and The Further Adventures of Nick Danger, an old Firesign Theatre bit asks, “who am us anyway?” Well, I just popped in on a Facebook conversation about the sighting of a white supremacist in PA, “SS decals on the truck. Nazi tattoos, nazi sweatshirt. Right here in,” Smalltown, PA. Immediate reactions suggested that the individual was a hired propagandist working for any number of different agents. Other reactions suggested that the KKK was active all through Western PA. I don’t know about either of these probabilities but I wouldn’t be surprised, if either, or both, were true. There is an anti-other element all through central and western PA. And, while I don’t know the eastern part of the state as well, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if it was state-wide. I’m not just picking on my home state. I’ve lived in a number of different towns in five plus states and two countries and what I’ve seen indicates that this simple anti-other bias from Smalltown, PA, is actually endemic to Smalltown, USA or even a Smalltown, everywhere. It’s a very large part of “who we am.”
This anti-other sentiment is not an active thing, like the Neo-Nazi or KKK style of racism, which is public and very-very easy to hate (or love, I guess, if that’s your thing). It is a part of the local sub-culture that lies beneath the surface and it is hard to see unless you are an outsider and become a part of the town / church / family / club. In fact, this anti-other sentiment is grounded in a set of reality assumptions attached to small-town / coal patch / quarry town, PA. These assumptions posit the inherent superiority of race / religion / pre-US nationality or anything that sets people in a group or area apart from the riff-raff and establish for the holder a place “as good as any and better than most.” In a very real way, these assumptions form the basis of “who we am.”
The biggest problem with such assumptions is that, while they don’t posit anything beyond a vague notion of superiority, neither are they questioned by their holders. The nature of any reality assumption is that the holder is often completely unaware that his or her notions of reality are grounded in unproven or unprovable assumptions. As they can only be seen from the outside, there is no form of peer review, as it were, because it is an assumption shared among many peers and outsiders who might question the assumption are rare. Further, as assumptions, these beliefs are unthinkingly granted the status of “universal truth” and any rational thought on the subject ends there. Many, perhaps most, people don’t question their place in their own reality. In the case of assumptions that establish a place for the holder “as good as any and better than most,” other potential problems become apparent.
As these assumptions are internal to an individual or small group, they do not in and of themselves lead down the road to riots, hatred, and lynchings. The real problem is that, because of their unquestioned validity in the eyes of unwitting subscribers, reality assumptions of this nature are easily subject to external influences. Such influences, deliberate or not, are interpreted through the lens created by the assumptions and it is here that the horrible range of actions embraced by the active anti-other movements become possible. The reality assumption is a precursor; activation is the horrible realization of potential. This activation is what we are seeing now in America. Certain elements of the Republican campaign for the Presidency have, deliberately or otherwise, in their all-out quest for power, activated the underlying assumptions of superiority in Republican American. Further, Liberal, largely Democratic elements, through instilling similar assumptions in differing groups, have created even more instances of potential for activation and have spent the last fifty years activating them.
If you are among the many who can’t see why “other” people and their supporters are flying off the handle and going from zero to highly agitated in the micro-second since the last election, it’s because of fear. Fear of deportation, fear of physical and mental violence, fear of losing what gains have been made in the last century-and-a-half for a lot of “other”s.
If you are among the “others” who can’t see why Republican America is have been dancing gleefully around the Trump election, it’s also because of fear. Fear of loss of place, loss of America (whatever that means), fear of other.
That’s not the worst though. Worst is that the open nature of our society makes it easy for outside influences to gain a foothold and encourage destructive paths. If you don’t believe that, look at international elements in the US peace movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the IWW “Wobbly” movements of the early twentieth century. Imagine that type of interference actively sponsored by a large nation-state or two, a government and people that are too blind to spot such interference and take it seriously.
In reality, it all comes back to Smalltown, USA and the reality assumptions underpinning local anti-other feelings regardless of the source. There is no logical way to reconcile the notion that everyone is superior to everyone else.
Sucks, huh? Fortunately no one has ever said that America was bound by logic. Assuming that the outside influences don’t get too big a grip on things, America will survive this little lesson in humility. Our country works best when we work together–when the reality assumptions stay buried in Smalltown and when we exercise tolerance for other. That’s what we’re being reminded of right now: tolerance. “Other” will always be here. You, regardless of who you “am anyway,” are other to many-many Americans. Your job as an American does not include doing that of God. Nor does it include judging people exercising their Constitutional rights. Nor does it include being better than the Joneses.
You are not the Joneses. They are other. You are unlikely to understand why they are making the choices they make. Rather, learn tolerance for all. Question the basis of your own thoughts and actions. If they’re grounded in any sort of notion that you’re better than your fellow Americans or fellow travelers in the world, perhaps you should reconsider your own reality assumptions.
OK: quick reality check, people, what’s the first thing you thought when you saw the phrase “fellow travelers?” Was it “people,” without modifiers? If not, with respect, perhaps you’ve got some work to do.