Write about an assumption.
I am many things. I am asexual and genderless. I am a believer in absolute equality and the shamefulness of ownership and possession. I am against democracy and believe that self-government is the source of much of the world’s problems and should be eliminated. I believe we need to be saved from ourselves and that indulging desires should be prohibited both by culture and by law. I believe that government should be by consensus of the educated elite, non-representative and shouldn’t care in the slightest what is popular except to note that what people want is almost always the wrong choice. I believe in absolute pacifism, the abolition of all military and a general reduction in policing and increase in obvious and comprehensive individual surveillance regardless of guilt or innocence.
So I assume the vast majority of people hate me and everything I stand for. Am I wrong? Possibly but I doubt it.
I am branded many things, although the most frequent two are liberal and communist. Let’s talk about those for a minute.
A liberal is someone who doesn’t believe that things shouldn’t be done the way they’re done now just because it’s how they were done in the past. Given that the past is plagued by millennia of war, suppression, oppression and entrenched misogyny, racism and other versions of hatred, I find myself wondering how anyone who isn’t liberal by this definition hasn’t already been executed for crimes against humanity. I strongly believe that hate thoughts are war crimes whether they’ve been acted on at all and that racism should be punished by exile — and since humans occupy this planet, I mean exile not from a nation, which is a silly concept that belongs to the nineteenth century now that we don’t need borders or individual government, but from earth. If people want to live lives of hatred and violence, let them do so in a new penal colony — on Mars. They can turn their shameful violence into cultivation of a new human settlement and do some good for the species rather than the untold harm they are already doing. The desired punishment aside, though, I am absolutely serious. Who gets up in the morning and says “the world is great the way it is” and “let’s not try to make this a better world”. Seriously. There is an old Jewish proverb — pride lives in the dung heap. Being happy with the status quo, in other words, is a shitty way to live.
While we’re at it, there’s another one — there’s a basic rule of caution — don’t be overcautious. Simply put, if you think the world could be better and are worried that in trying to improve it you’ll make it worse, there’s no point in living. You have to take a chance to move forward. Buddhists are called on to spend their lives, their thoughts and their actions for the betterment of all life — this is often talked about as “all sentient beings” which translates to modern English as “anyone who thinks”, since that’s what sentience is. Thinking is the result of language and communication (both internally and externally) so what’s meant by this is, improving the world for all humans. That’s what the Buddha taught. I think we may have to interpret it a little more literally than that. We are living in a world and an age in which thinking has been prized by one group within society and derided by another. Nobody is ambivalent about thinking. Either you truly want to be intelligent or you don’t. Either you want to understand or you don’t. Either you are curious or you’re not. You want to know the truth or you don’t care as long as you pretend to already know it. There are two political parties aligned with these differing positions. One supports the idea of learning, education and thought. The other fights against it with violent tribalism, hatred and raising up the average and mediocre.
There’s nothing wrong with being an “average American”. There never has been. What there’s something wrong with is setting that as the bar for achievement. If you live your life as average, that’s not at all a bad thing to achieve. But if you ever stop trying to make yourself better, stop reaching for a way to learn more, know more, help more people, care about more than you’re already doing, no matter how you end up getting to the end of your life, you gave up your humanity and died on the inside long ago. My criticism isn’t that there’s something hatefully wrong with the result — it’s that there’s a disaster in the goal. If you are satisfied with yourself, if you ever look in the mirror and say “I’m good enough and I don’t need to be better”, it’s over. And when many people do it, our species is done and we can get out of the way and make room for a return to a purely animal-dominated earth in our wake. There are many self-help books that tell us to look in the mirror and say such things. Not only are they wrong, interpreting their instruction in this way is silly. I know what they’re getting at. They’re teaching a millennia-old teaching about self-acceptance. That’s very different from how people are reading it today. The teaching isn’t that we are ok the way we are and we should be satisfied. It’s that we are ok the way we are, shouldn’t shit on ourselves all the time and should go forward from here looking to get better. Everyone can improve. Everyone can learn. Everyone can help people. Everyone can love. And everyone can change.
That’s not an assumption. It’s simply fact.
But what of assumptions in my case? I make many of them, as do we all. We’re all biased. We all look at the world through a lens. It’s not that we need to stop having assumptions or ways of seeing the world. It’s that we need to identify them and stop pretending we’re being objective. We’re not. Objectivity isn’t a human trait. We can’t do it.
I assume that most people out there hate me. And I have assumed that most of my life. It may have something to do with my autism that makes me see other people as threatening. But it may have something to do with the fact that they are actually threatening and have in far too many instances made good on those threats.
There is a general assumption in the modern western world that if someone hurts you, you have a right to hurt them back. If someone hits you, it’s ok to hit them back. And that if you perceive yourself as being disrespected, you have a right to harm the other person. This is a horrendous way of living. Payback and tit-for-tat? From a culture that pretends to be based on the Christian teachings of “turn the other cheek” and “do to others as you’d have them do to you”? I know this culture has strayed far from its roots but when I hear people say they want to get back at their exes by cheating, that they want to pay someone back for keeping them up all night with loud music or that they would go and strangle someone for hitting on their partner, I cringe inside and outside.
Not only is this a fundamentally disastrous way of functioning for a society, there is a far larger problem. Objectivity. We can’t do it. Humans simply aren’t biologically or neurologically capable of objectivity, especially in questions of emotion and perception. I’m not objective and neither are you. Unless you’re a computer. And if you’re a digital intelligence of some sort, you’re only objective until a human writes your code. Which I assume probably happened at some point, as all software has inherent biases. Where do these two things meet? If you believe that it’s appropriate and acceptable (at this point it even seems culturally required — “come on, are you going to let him disrespect you like that and get away with it?”) to hurt someone for their actions against you rather than simply accepting and walking away or, even better, accepting and actively forgiving and caring, what happens when you perceive someone as acting against you? What happens when you take someone’s facial expression as disrespectful? What about when the words someone says that are directed at a general topic hit close to home and you feel they’re attacking you? In such a situation, you may indeed feel that it is acceptable to hurt that person in return. Given that people typically respond to my daily existence with anger and hatred, living in a society where people are given the impetus to act violently and harmfully on those thoughts, I am bound to get hurt and so is anyone else who thinks deeply and holds opinions that are different from the accepted norms.
And it has happened to me. Not by the people you’d expect. I have lived in some of the most violent places in the western world and visited many others. I have never felt particularly frightened to walk through places after dark that others constantly caution others agains — I could give a list but I’ll just point out east London as the most recent of these places where I spent a fair amount of time late at night, as that’s where I was living at the time, without having any particular apprehension about walking the streets. But I’m terrified to go outside because of people. I was attacked by a middle aged middle class guy and beaten almost to death in the middle of a sunny afternoon in a shopping district. I was attacked by not one but several police officers in varying situations, in none of which I was doing anything either violent or dangerous — two of which may be summarized as “I was sitting in a parked car waiting with the doors and windows closed” and “I was driving on a highway at the speed and within the lane of the majority of other traffic” and in neither case, nor any of the others, was I actually accused of committing a crime. These are just a few of the examples of culturally-permitted attacks on me and I am not an exception in the slightest to what I have witnessed among others who share beliefs and traits with me.
So my assumption is, to be clear, that those who are different are hated, persecuted and attacked. It is not safe anymore in this world to be in the minority — not only in skin color or immigration status but in holding any opinion that isn’t seen by the average-focused, self-satisfied tribalists (followers of Trump, one might say, although that’s nowhere near a broad enough brush to include people who think this way) as normal.
Being different has been the source of all human progress. If we’d been satisfied with living in the trees, eating without fire, traveling at a walking pace, sleeping under the stars or even communicating at the speed of travel or going without knowing what’s beyond this planet, how would we ever have achieved the amazing technological advancements that our species has made? Without different, divergent and highly-minority thought and actions, we wouldn’t have the ability to travel, to communicate or to heal.
I have other assumptions, too, as do we all. I believe that western culture in general is based on the notion of greed and controlling, possessing and hating, competing with and fighting and that it will be a good day for all humanity when western culture has been relegated to the scrap heap by the decline of military and economic power concentrated in this part of the globe. I believe that silence and peace is preferable to noise and conflict without exception. But more than anything else, I believe I am living in a world that is unsafe and committed to hurting me. Perhaps if it would stop proving me right, I could change my assumption. Your move.