So I’ve been dealing with this teensy weensy anger issue lately. Oh, I’ve always had a hothead lurking behind my smile, and some of you have met her. But this, this is different. This is big, overwhelming anger. This is anger at the ignorance that allows inequality to reign and injustice to prevail. I’m talking about the kind of ignorance in which people make a statement as if it were fact, provide no substance to support it, get really loud when you ask for evidence, and then pull a circle of like-minded folks around them as if having a majority makes you right. Or maybe it’s just what it appears to be, a show of force. As if having the ability to kick my ass somehow equates to legitimacy. As if you can be right by force.
I mean, I understand why people hang out with others who share their ideas, however false they may be. It’s comforting. There is strength and safety in numbers, at least sometimes. Although, nearly 3 million additional votes weren’t enough to elect a president. Being 50.8% of the population, even after you deduct the 3 of us women who are killed every day by intimate partners or family, isn’t enough to ensure women equal pay.
I get it. I get how like-minded people support one another and take care of one another, and that’s reassuring to know someone has your back. Like when you are 64% of the country’s population and somehow only 39% of the prison population. Or better yet, how you can influence the actions of others over time to arrange for African-Americans, who are only 13% of the at-large population, to make up 40% of the prison population, rendering black men anything but at-large. I get how it helps you sleep at night to know that all those crazy people, all 1.2 million of them, have been rounded up and put in jail so you don’t have to deal with them on the street or – gasp – in your neighborhood. You probably don’t even know that 95% of all criminal court cases end in plea bargain. That sounds pretty good, right? Like the government says, not going to trial saves the taxpayers money, right?
What’s that you say? You say you didn’t do any of those things? You say you think it’s horrible that women are so easily killed by their partners? You say it’s terrible that the scales of justice seem so unfairly weighted? You say you think it’s a shame that mentally ill people don’t have a place to get treatment and end up in jail instead? Did you just shrug? Yeah, I know. It’s not your fault. You didn’t do it. You’re not a cop, a prosecutor, a judge, a politician. You are just an average person with a decent job, raising a family, trying to enjoy life. I know. You think that guilty people go to jail and innocent people are almost always set free, and you trust the criminal justice system to take care of all that. You haven’t had a jury summons in 20 years, and you only know one person who has actually sat on a jury, but you don’t think twice about that because you just obey the law and go about your business, right? That stuff is someone else’s concern.
Well I say that’s just bullshit. Who are these people who are in charge of all these things if not you? The vast majority of them are elected officials, powerful people who are often beholden to other powerful people for helping them be elected. Because of the nature of our political system, any elected official is at risk of corruption. It’s more accurate to think of elected officials as puppets than decision makers. I’m sure some of them will get their knickers in a bunch over me saying that, but it’s the truth. It’s not an accusation, it’s just a fact. These people who are at great risk of corruption, people whom you have elected either by vote or by abstaining from voting, are the ones running the country and every system within it. So if you aren’t responsible, who is?
Have you heard the term “gerrymandering”? Do you know what it means? It’s OK if you don’t, that’s part of the legitimation process for the powerful, educated folks to toss around words that us commoners don’t understand so that we won’t look too close or question what they are doing. Gerrymandering is the process by which voting districts are altered to facilitate the election of certain candidates. Yes, it can be used to achieve the goals of any political party. My state of North Carolina recently got their hands slapped by the U.S. Supreme Court for using gerrymandering to suppress minority votes and shift the election to conservatives. The same thing is done with school districts to keep poor and minority students out of the public schools in affluent neighborhoods. You may remember this as a little thing called segregation against which the Supreme Court ruled in 1954. Surprise! While you were sleeping, many of our schools were slowly re-segregated.
There’s a term in sociology called legitimation. It’s like gas-lighting for the masses. You’ve seen it at work, we all have, we just didn’t know it had a name. It’s how like-minded citizens became lynch mobs in the mid-20th century. It’s how stop-and-frisk has remained the standard policy implemented by most cops against African-Americans despite Federal court rulings making it illegal, and despite some of those cops being minorities themselves. It’s how Philando Castille was shot dead in a car by police, with his girlfriend and her child in the car, for what is commonly known as “driving while black”. Legitimation is the process by which we are told repeatedly that something is real, true, good, or just and we come to believe it despite a lack of evidence, and often notwithstanding our own experiences to the contrary.
Where am I going with this? Well, I’ve just shown you in one relatively short article how you can take what you know and test it with simple internet searches. Yes, reading the articles and really understanding them takes time, and yes there are bad information sources out there, and yes we are indeed overwhelmed with information these days. You have to seek out legitimate sources. I will admit to sometimes being a headline reader myself. I get it. However, if your response to an opposing viewpoint is to raise your voice, hurl personal insults at the opposition, and exit the conversation without further investigation, then you may want to consider that your argument is hollow. It might not be. But unless you understand your opponent’s argument, you can’t know if you’ve missed something or not. Now, if they are the one calling you names and hurling insults at you, or if this is the 15th time you’ve had to have the same conversation with them, then you have my permission to block, block, block – or in the 3-D world, walk away. No one should have to take abuse. But if you are the abuser, why don’t you just do a little investigation? Hey, no one will ever know that you stooped to investigating their ridiculous claims. Maybe their claims won’t seem so ridiculous once you have checked it out.
Legitimation is a powerful force. It is easy to go along with the crowd. It’s just not always accurate.
Don’t be too legit.