Tribalism is the big problem of our age. We form clubs and gang up on nonmembers. The dimensions along which we slice our mutual humanity are numerous --- race, sex, religion, language, wealth,... --- and the amount of suffering which results is incalculable.

My wife is "black" and I'm "white." No big deal. It's easy to forget about race, most of the time, when one lives with a person and interacts with her constantly in all sorts of contexts. The same sort of forgetting can happen at school, at work, wherever people are near each other and communicate. It often takes longer to break through the barriers, however, because the equivalent contact hours accumulate more slowly. Perhaps there's a human factor that sets the timescale for establishing interpersonal rapport: for getting to the point where one can see somebody as an individual and not a member of a category.

Generally it's tougher to forget about gender (I would say "sex", but that might be misinterpreted!). There are megayears of evolution for that kind of discrimination, and the ultimate penalty, extinction, for getting it wrong. But one can learn to see through gender; people do develop genuine friendships and collegial bonds across sexual boundaries (hard as that may be for the lust-stricken to believe).

It's like art: the big trick is simply learning to see again --- to stop forcing visual elements into categories and rendering them as icons. The usual (embarrassingly bad) sketches that most adults produce are built of cartoon tokens: "face" = "head symbol" + "eye symbols" + "nose symbol" + "mouth symbol", etc. Ugh! Quality zooms as soon as one discovers how to control that tokenization process and draw shapes as they are, natural forms projected on the retina.

To see people as people --- rather than as mere instances of a race, a sex, a whatever --- that's the magic. There's a skill to doing it, and the more one becomes conscious of that skill and practices it, the better one does it.

Monday, February 28, 2000 at 06:03:09 (EST) = 2000-02-28

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicArt - TopicThinking

(correlates: PartyLines, ReadyWillingAble, OnFailure, ...)