Friday, December 5, 2014

Guilty by association

To be anti-establishment in the age I grew up in wasn't really a choice. Separated as I was from the dominant pop-culture narratives glorified in the movies and music I consumed, such as a first world lived experience, unguarded access to unfettered public space, and a single all-encompassing homogeneous language with which I could articulate my day-to-day struggles with modernity, aspiration and other assorted coming-of-age bullshit to anyone willing to listen, I still grew up hating the idea of a culture of political correctness, an uncool striving after social markers of success such as a nice house and kempt children, and the police. This last item wasn't a random assignation of contempt for any and all guardians of public order but the result of a clearly defined negative generalisation of the class of people chosen to police the rest of us, and the reasons for it encompassed, as it must do for juveniles everywhere in the world, peer group pressure, the threat of an enforced conditional freedom, and the looming shadow of familial shame in case something went wrong in my many and varied interactions with men in uniform. Indeed, it is difficult to say that I universally reviled all police - many local heroes and highly principled and celebrated men in our community were police officers. My contempt was reserved for only those I met and saw on the streets of my city on a daily basis.
This is a time of an establishment backlash across the world. People across America are converging on their town-halls and city centres to protest acts by police that explicitly targeted members of the black community, and a culture intent on portraying and acting upon an entire race's supposedly inherent criminality. Calls for respect of the law of the land and patience till investigations into the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have concluded are being met with shriller voices calling for an overhaul of the law of the land and mass civil disturbances till such overhauls are achieved. On the other side of the world, the federal government in Australia is trying desperately and unsuccessfully to convince its citizens that they have been spoiled rotten by hand-outs and fairy god-motherly treatment by previous governments that must end lest the economy collapses under the weight of a too generous public policy. Across an ocean and the Dead Sea, the State of Israel is fighting a moral crisis of its own making by unilaterally declaring a whole race of its residents sub-human, a case of a historically sanitised and polished pot calling a haplessly disenfranchised and stateless kettle black.
If there was ever a time to picket the streets and hold up screaming placards it would seem that it is now, but rarely, if ever, does such a sentiment prompt an ethical examination of a simple, visual and easily breakable pattern of collective behaviour that must stare everyone in the face. That of judgement. We look at a person and decide who they are, what they amount to and what they must dream of based purely on their physical appearance and the circumstance of our encountering them within the confines of a particular physical space. This pattern repeats itself in every single one of us irrespective of where we come from, where we're going and what we've been through in subjective experience. There is never a time we do not judge a human being we encounter, and at those times when we are confused about someone, perhaps within a space-time vortex that is discordant with our expectations, we quickly accept that the exception must prove the rule. This judgement follows us around most sensitively when we find ourselves out of our natural environments and those of us not used to the experience quickly learn to bury the feeling of being singled out as different, even positively, if only to indulge the illusion that we will eventually come around to being accepted by the majority or, if all else fails, to return from whence we came. People in uniform are judged by people not in uniform on the basis of their subjective experiences of encounters with a person in uniform or a particularly strong impression made by a work of fiction or non-fiction depicting an encounter with a person in uniform. I do not and never will profess to know what a person of colour in America goes through every single day of his/her life because, first of all, I am not a person of colour in America and second, because I do not want to be someone else. As an Australian resident of Indian descent I do encounter glimpses of judgement in the sudden facial reactions and physical signs that others display on encountering me, which may or may not be symptoms of a persecution complex or worse depending on my mood or the time of day. Palestinians in Israel, I'm sure, have a markedly different view of the Israelis they encounter every single day of their lives.
Wouldn't it be easier to see me as I am, a human being as full of hopes, dreams, loves, passions, desires and darkness as you when you encounter me for the first time and only later, if our encounter leads to such an eventuality, indulge who I might want to be and how you want to be seen by me.
Perhaps the one positive lesson we can all glean from this turmoil around the world is to learn to judge one another differently, if at all.

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