Us Vs Them: The Human Condition

US VS THEM: THE HUMAN CONDITION

Racism. A rightfully hateful word. It’s full of rage and disgust and the judgement that whatever is different is bad. Or if it’s not bad, it at least is predisposed to certain proclivities that can’t be ignored. For most people, racism as a term implies the eternal struggle between black and white (any sort of prejudice towards foreign entities tends to be more in the “xenophobic” category in most minds. Unless you’re African). It is filled to the brim with assumptions of character, class, wealth, identity, and mannerisms. It doesn’t care if it’s accurate, only that the wielder is secure in their own mind about what’s right and what’s wrong.

     Unfortunately, we don’t get racism without stereotypes. And stereotypes exist because of certain truths we’re all familiar with. Yet those truths come from over generalization based on a limited interaction with select individuals. Which of course colorizes perspectives and leads to general prejudices for which we’re all guilty.

     Let’s look at a prime example that I think shines a bright light on my line of thought. This is an example that, regrettably, is all too prevalent in our society and serves as the driving force of confusion, fear, and ignorance.

     The example being, but of course, the perception of White Vs Black. These perceptions are a result of two different prognostications: All Black people are criminals. And all White people are racist.

     Out of these misunderstandings you get the Black Lives Matter movement and its counterpoint: All Lives Matter. Both are correct in their assertions but are driven by a disconcerting bias both wield like a lethal weapon, changing the type of discourse we as a nation need to be having.

     The Black Lives Matter movement was spearheaded as a response to police violence and brutality. It says that Black people shouldn’t be targeted for being Black and that officers need to be held to a higher level of accountability. A sentiment that is completely reasonable but that in and of itself has approached its methods like all police and White people are the enemy. At least, this is how the movement is perceived from those outside of it.

     With the All Lives Matter movement, we have a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement (And from here we get campaigns like Blue Lives Matter and the ill-conceived suggestion of a White Lives Matter movement in the works. But we’ll focus on the umbrella thought of All Lives Matter). The line of reasoning here being that you can’t just focus on one set of people. Everyone is important and deserve the same rights and respect. Which, again, is a reasonable line of thought.

     The biggest problem with these movements is their unwillingness to see through each other’s eyes. There are officers out there who are racist and more accountability is never a bad thing (though for some reason some would argue against that notion and would rather assume that authority would never turn on them). Yet, those officers make up only a small percentage of the police force and the truth is just as many incidents of police shooting unarmed White people occurs yearly as well. Though the media doesn’t help here as sensationalism is the big draw and a certain narrative must be maintained.

     Just the same there are Black people out there who do commit crimes as well. It’s a reality but one based in selectivity. And certainly the police need to be able to respond to criminal behavior be it breaking and entering, theft, rioting, or murder. There is a truth to be found in the facts that there is a large portion of Black youth who are criminals and do threaten members of society.

     I can hear it now. “That was the most racist thing I’ve ever read!” And that’s part of the problem. If we, as a society, are unable to discuss race related incidents without shouting “that’s racist” there will never be a solution to our ails. You’ll note that I didn’t say all Black people are criminals. Didn’t even say all Black youth are criminals. And I didn’t even suggest that it was a majority of Black youth. And this is because I don’t believe it to be true.

     In fact based on the data I’ve seen crimes as a whole tend to gravitate towards certain pockets of society. And just because one pocket is of a certain color does not imply it’s indicative of an ethnicity as a whole.

     Statistics will show fairly accurately that most crime is committed in heavy population centers. And those statistics are pretty consistent percentage wise over the various ethnicities guilty of perpetrating said crimes. (I’m not going to bore you with those stats here but you can find them quite easily via government and FBI websites. This is more an opinion piece and my thoughts than a paper on these issues though I can provide those stats if it becomes necessary.)

     Regardless of ethnicity commented on: White, Black, Asian, Native, Latino, etc, the list goes on, the data pretty consistently points to poverty and convenience as the main motivations of crime and that is the same across the board. Afterall, law enforcement didn’t just spring up overnight because a certain ethnicity moved in. It’s been necessary since the dawn of civilization because wherever you find humans, you find crime.

     So if we all experience the same issues, and stereotypes are driven by interactions with individuals and small groups (gangs, rednecks, hate groups, rioters, or however else we perceive these outliers) then why do we, as a species, cling to this belief that certain other people are just no good? Why do we cling to the idea that all muslims are terrorists despite knowing those are isolated groups of militants who are often ostracized even in their own homelands? Why do we continue to  harbor the ill feeling that all Jews are covetous and greedy despite the knowledge not every Jewish person is an accountant or lawyer or even have an opinion in political affairs? Let alone know how to balance their own checkbooks? Why does the notion linger that all Black people love watermelon and fried chicken when we know for a fact that EVERYONE loves watermelon and fried chicken? Ok, that last one is not factual just a strong feeling because KFC is not kept open by just Black folk.

     But now that we’ve opened that can of worms, why is there a perception that KFC is for White folk while Church’s is a Black establishment? They are both popular. Both good. And both prove that Americans love chicken.

     The problem, unfortunately, is the most simple thing yet the most complex aspect of being human: Us Vs Them. Or, in the most simple term, tribalism. Our species has its origins in surviving the elements through family groupings. And anything that wasn’t our family was a threat. And this mentality still seems to hold sway over civilization to this day.

     “If it doesn’t look like me, it doesn’t sound like us, it’s a threat to our way of life.” And that’s the view the individual in society seems to adopt. Because it’s simple. It’s far simpler to hate someone for being different than it is to accept them for who they are.

     It’s far easier to come up with a muslim ban because the assumption is all muslims are going to kill us and enforce sharia law rather than look to the socio economic issues that have led to militancy worldwide and try to solve THAT problem.

     It’s easier to ignore the Black Lives Matter movement in favor of an All Lives Matter movement because there’s no way there could be endemic issues with American values that would lead to the impoverished and left behind getting into conflicts with law enforcement. Because clearly poor people are poor because they want to be, right? And their issues with the police are a result of their own impulsive behavior. And therefore they have no respect for law enforcement.

     It’s far simpler to build a wall dividing the US from Mexico over fears we’re being overrun by illegal immigrants, than to really look at the problem and figure out why so many are taking the life and death risks of crossing the Rio Grande looking for opportunities and safety that they can’t find back home.

     It’s easier to say that we’re a Christian nation that’s the best nation in the world and turn our backs on those who are suffering most and pretend we still have the moral highground when we’re sacrificing everything we hold most precious out of fear than it is to acknowledge that every religious perspective holds wisdom and gives people a sense of security.

     Because that’s how tribalism works.

     It cares about nobody else but our own. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. And if you want to be with us then that means you were never one of us to begin with. And we further isolate ourselves and put ourselves in even more vulnerable positions as a result.

     Until we can resolve this inner state of chaos, I worry that we’ll never be able to truly solve the issues of our time.

     Issues like terrorism. Issues like nationalism. Issues like global warming. Issues like illegal immigration. Issues like racism and all the other –isms we have to contend with. Issues like dwindling supplies of fresh water and adequate sources of food production. All of it.

     Because, sadly, time is running out. And these issues are not just going to go away. We have to be able to discuss these problems rationally or we truly will lose ourselves to “them”. Only that “them” we’ll discover too late was always “us”.

 

 

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Video Games Still Have A Lot of Growing Up to Do

So, I’m still upset. March, 2012, I’m waiting desperately for the grand finale of my all time greatest video game series to date: Mass Effect 3. I love Mass Effect. The immersive story telling, choices that effect a galaxy, intense character interactions. This was literally the game that let you decide the fate of the galaxy based on your actions. The first game was phenomenal. The second game very actiony but took the story down to a more personal level with an epic conclusion where your character might not even survive! And then came ME3. So much anticipation. Yet, as soon as the action starts I’m already losing some of the story. Where was the trial of Shepard? Where was the Batarian/Human war? Eh that was miniscule. I dived in and enjoyed the game immensely. Right up until the final fifteen minutes of the game where suddenly the narrative took a turn for the worse. Suddenly, we get this starchild who has all the answers in the galaxy (and all those answers were asinine and ridiculous to boot), the Reapers –the ultimate baddies we’ve been gearing up to do battle with–were nothing more than pawns to the starbrat, and none of our choices we made over the course of three games mattered one iota!  It was a slap in the face and I couldn’t help but stare at the screen in dismay and hatred and depression and regret. How could this have happened? I was justifiably outraged and wen to the internet looking for answers. Maybe there was a secret ending? Nope. This was the final ‘artistic’ vision of Bioware. So I gave my own two cents worth to the growing backlash to the ending of ME3 which was starting to look like Mass Effect-gate. But the developers stood behind the ending and decided to give dlc that would answer burning questions to the fans eyes, ears, minds, souls, and whatever. Only those answers didn’t really answer anything and the narrative of Mass Effect remained destroyed.

I still like Mass Effect, mind you, but something got lost in the translation of fan outrage that I think developers are still ignoring to this day. I heard a lot of ire being cast out by the development community: entitled fans, vocal minority, people who just didn’t ‘get it’. But this confuses the issue. It wasn’t entitlement that created the backlash. It was the failure of actually writing a decent story in the end. Looking back on ME3 I see now so many issues that plagued this game. Lore was ignored, characters did dumb things, the Reapers weren’t the real threat–Cerberus was (a terrorist organization in the fiction that somehow got a hold of an army that must have been cloned on a private world because damn that was a lot of them) and the Illusive Man was now completely evil and idiotic. The developers didn’t understand one crucial thing: we weren’t pissed Shepard died, we were pissed that you didn’t finish the story! It just…ended! And then we get a bunch of nonsensical scenes to wrap up the very last narrative in Shepard’s story and this iteration of Mass Effect. Nothing was explained! We’re not dummies. We can infer. But we’d much rather you just finished the story and not give us lazy cinematics! If you wrote a book and then in the end the lead character just died and everything that happened just went into limbo you’d expect the readers to stop reading that author’s books. Period. 

But apparently video games have a different idea of story telling. The problem lies in how the narrative unfolds. We have a game. You play a game. And oft times the story is secondary to the gameplay which means oft times more you get really ridiculous stories with piss poor climaxes that don’t serve the narrative at all. This is what I felt about Mass Effect 3. But that game isn’t the only perpetrator of bad narrative in the end game (or even in the game itself.) Over the years gamers have been given all sorts of lunkers that fail to deliver a logical narrative that delivers the impact that we’re looking for. Assassin’s Creed III took a similar avenue in not delivering the goods by just completely ignoring the narrative’s direction and decided to just call it quits with the lead character’s story. Granted the lead character had gone stale because the writers didn’t know what to do with him. But I’ve seen this lazy execution before: Deux Ex, Final Fantasy, Xenosaga, Assassin’s Creed, a slew of RPG’s…hell the list can go on indefinitely.

Here’s a thought, perhaps the writers should have an end game in mind BEFORE they start making the game. Especially where you have a multi-game narrative spanning over so many titles. Mass Effect seems to exist purely for the choices players can make and exploring cool worlds. But with the end of that the choice angle disappeared as did world exploration. So what happened? They didn’t have a plan. They didn’t have a total story outline. Same thing with Assassin’s Creed. It got so sloppy that they didn’t know what else to do with it other than just end the story.

It seems to me game developers are only concerned with the action a game develops. But, games have come quite far in terms of narrative storytelling. So you can’t just ignore story like the old days with the Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. Those games were just about the fun. Nowadays the medium has to tell a compelling story as well. Just look at the phenomenal Last of Us. Naughty Dog game us a superb game with fun gameplay mechanics, intense scenarios, and guess what? an awesome end game! The narrative was complete! Did bad things happen? Yes! But it was an excellent experience that puts it at the top of my list of all time great games, even beating out Mass Effect in my opinion.

Story story story, guys! Lay it out first then bring it to us! And if you fail own up to it. Don’t insist we just feel ‘entitled’ because you are way out of the ballpark on that. We want the complete package. If Shepard has to die, so be it. But you’d better do it in a compelling logical fashion not give us some Star child that makes our character choose one of three pretty colors where the character then jumps into a beam and desintegrates leaving a galaxy in turmoil, our teammates abandoned, and the economy in tatters. Oh and then try to suggest no our teammates were evacuated while being fired at by a massive two kilometer tall instrument of death and somehow leaving the solar system just when all hell is breaking loose! That is illogical and unacceptable! You can write better than that!