I think it was my being adopted that caused me to view the world around me as an outsider would. I didn’t feel I fit in. It wasn’t my parents’ fault. They were great. I’ve been very fortunate. I came to a way of being, and of seeing the world, as an anthropologist would. Outsiders have insights on society that insiders do not see, because of denial, direct profit, fear of change, a lack of curiosity, etc. Insiders do not wish to interrogate why things are the way they are, as they see no benefit from it. We must remember that that is a privilege—to go through life without the cares and concerns of those who tell us all is not well.
All of our most brilliant, visionary writers on the human condition were, or are, outsiders, or take an outsider stance in order to reflect back to the society a more clear and true picture of the state of affairs. They are open to new experiences. They are driven to learn. They often have a passion for justice, and wish to fashion a better world.
This “better world” doesn’t just get delivered by Amazon drone. It isn’t gifted to us from on high. We don’t get there from here by waiting, wishing, hoping, or pretending. We’ve come a long way from the caves, and from enslavement, and there was one constant: change. Things changed, through trial and error, through struggle, through discovery; the interplay of people, goods, and ideas.
There’s been great progress. Not everything brought along for the ride is salutary; some things that have survived time are toxic to us. We do it to ourselves, whether we are aware of it or not.
We are actors in a particular place and time. We are in the act of “history”. There are those among us who believe all is well, that things will always be this way, and the way we find things is natural, inevitable, and fixed. They aren’t right. They simply are incorrect.
Educators use the concept of “accommodation”. About.com says “the process of accommodation involves altering one’s existing schemas, or ideas, as a result of new information or new experiences. New schemas may also be developed during this process.”
We also know, through research, that dislodging false information is more difficult to perform than incorporating new ideas. There are still those who think the earth is flat, and there’s nothing you can do—nothing—to convince them otherwise.
I loathe the metaphor of learning or books as medicine, but there are folks desperately in need of a prescription. I have a list of three books for you to read: Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond; Maps of Time, by David Christian; and Winner-Take-All Politics, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.
If you can get through those, understand the concepts within, reflect on our world, and still hold that you are superior to “them”; that “they” are beneath “us”; that the world we find is somehow outside of history; that we are in some vacuum untouched by the past, the present, and what’s ahead, then I congratulate you. You are a member of the Certain Ones, the folk who flit through life without an ounce of reflection, who cannot think for themselves if they tried, (which they wouldn’t), who experience empathy as a foreign, invasive species, who may even lack a conscience.
That’s what psychopaths pick up from today’s America: they study human behavior, in order to pass. They have learned that a lack of conscience can get you places. Today’s system reinforces psychopathic tendencies, to some extent.
I’ve gone afield. My point is that there is a malady which afflicts a good part of our citizenry that is incredibly difficult to attenuate, to dislodge. There is a breathtaking ignorance of reality they take pride in, that they revel in, that they wear literally on their bodies.
When one sits and thinks about our world, the absurdity of it all, the realization that it is passivity and ignorance that guides us, that the innermost insecurities of average white people here and now governs our policies, it’s enough to run for cover.
The insiders think only of what they’ll lose. I have always wondered about the great things we could gain, like comity, peace, health–both psychic and physical–diversity of solutions, equality of opportunity instead of a rigged game.
I ask you to think of what you have to gain from this life, now, here, instead of washing your hands of it; instead of projecting your anger about your own plight onto others. I ask you to seek the better angels of your nature. I ask you to not offend me by telling me to “act like an American”. What does that even mean? Do you know? If that means we should pretend all is well, and to shut up about it, you have the wrong motherfucker.
To be concrete, I stand with the people who break the law to get the law, 100%, every time. You already guessed that. Not the criminals, but the ones who peaceably expressed their First Amendment rights regarding an outrage with a long history. For these people are outsiders, forced by history to be anthropologists. Some of us may be quite ignorant of the things we know, and be deprived of the material goods we all strive after, but they carry one prized possession—a knowledge—we can see if we just opened our eyes: the truth.
That sounds simple. I believe it is. I have to be wrong! Surely, a main drawback is the hard work we all must do to act on this truth. This we are too tired, or scared, or uninterested, to pursue. And so we stumble one from one conflagration to another, tiptoeing through the minefields, praying for problems we countenance or encourage to magically go away. THEY WON’T GO AWAY UNLESS AND UNTIL WE MAKE IT SO.
I’m not the only one. I don’t feel so alone with my knowledge, like I did when younger. There are many people who know what I do. I have allies; I am their ally.
I live in Ferguson, MO. It was not my choice, and things are far from ideal, but my version of Ferguson has changed from a negative view toward a more expansive and generous one. These are my people. We get along here. The people of Ferguson struggle, but they work hard, and like many Americans frustrated with the demands of modern life, turn inward to our digital hearths. We don’t talk to each other and see each other as much as we should.
I’ve often said to myself, “I’m gonna get out of here and never look back.” I’ve changed my mind. I think I’m going to stay a while…