Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Greatest Desire

I took a lot of philosophy classes in college. But there was one line that's really stuck with me the most. It's from Aristotle. Now this is highly paraphrased and "in my own words," but the quote basically says that the greatest desire of the weak is to have power over others. I think about this concept because it springs up a lot. I'm sometimes guilty of it myself. But lets go through and look at this.

Gossip is a big example. We love to say mean, embarrassing, or hurtful things about others. But even if what we're saying is true, the fact that we engage in this shows weakness in our character. We do it because we want to knock others down. A person strong of character need not do this.

The Jerry Springer show is another. When I look at that show, I see a bunch of troubled individuals who need patience, understanding, and help. Instead, they are wound up and exploited for high drama and high ratings. But why do people watch it? Partly because it appeals to us on an emotional level. Humans are emotional beings, and part of us watches because we want to help. But another part of us watches for the, "Man, look at these idiots," and "and I thought my life was going bad. Thank god I'm not these people," factors.

Knowledge is another big divide. Want to start a nerd fight? Ask a bunch of nerds about what being a ninja *really* means. I've seen that question devolve into name calling and threats of physical violence. Why do we fight over this stuff? Why do we *have* to be right? It's our weakness. "Knowing" the answer to things that the "lesser" people don't know gives us power over others. There's a big difference between being educated in something and being opinionated in it. Too few people know the difference. And I'm dangerously close to sounding like a hypocrit here by saying I do. But I'm not perfect, nor am I always strong of character.

I think culture has to be the biggest divide of them all. It's the understanding of culture that makes me the most thankful for my education in Anthropology. I've learned many great things from my time spent in class. One of my favorite lessons is from the words of Franz Boas. He's a mixed bag--someone who famously fudged his lab results in his attempt to try and prove that living in the US would give you a larger brain. But aside from that nuttiness, Boas argued that culture is a series of strategies designed to solve problems unique to a people's environment. As such, one people's culture is just as valuable as another's.

I'll give you examples. I used to have a dim opinion of Ebonics. When a black person would "axe someone a question," I'd roll my eyes. Is it really that hard to say "ask"? How lazy are you? We live in America. You should learn to speak English like the rest of us.

But then I thought about it. The founders of this emerging country hated the British so much, that we intentionally changed the spelling of many words. Now, some people might not realize that "gray" is the American spelling and "grey" is the British. But I think most of us know we took the "u" out of British spelled words like "honour," and "colour." Those words even felt weird for me to type like that. Still, there are more modern examples of dialect. Having lived in California all my life, I didn't know that "hella" was a regional word. I hella say "hella" all the hella time when I talk. I don't normally type it though. People from the south say "y'all,' which I use too because it's so useful. Y'all should hella do the same. Some east coast people drop "r" sounds. Like people from Boston who might say, "Pawk the caw in Hawvawd Yawd." I heard that this started due to a movement of east coast people being influenced by Britain around the first World War.

So the question is, why are we fine with all that, but not fine when the African American community speaks with their own changes? Seems like a double standard. But speaking more about culture, if we understand that all culture is equal, then we understand that the "high culture" of ultra wealthy aristocrats is just as good as Redneck culture. So if someone says they're "more cultured" because they go to art galleries instead of monster truck pulls, they're wrong. The term "more cultured" is meaningless. Culture is just as valuable if you're wearing smokey eye make up, big hair, and animal prints, if you're wearing traditional Hopi clothing and singing to the corn, if you're going to the graveyards on Nov 2nd to leave food for loved ones that have passed, or if you're at the park and you've got a 40 in one hand and you're pounding on the table with the other because you just won a round of dominoes.

All people have value. All people can teach us something. No one is above us and no one is below.

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