• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Memorial Day, 2018

That these dead shall not have died in vain…

Rita and I are in Japan on holiday. When we arrived in Japan, everything and everyone seemed strange, forbidding. Ten days later, the strange has begun to seem normal. 

And even as Japan and the Japanese begin to take on a certain familiarity, I still notice the people who look more like me. And my eyes seem to be drawn to words in the English language with which I am comfortable. Tribe runs deep. Implicit tribal bias?

We see a group of Japanese young men taking a selfie. We offer to take a photo of them. They thank us in perfect English. It turns out they’re Americans, New Jerseyites going to Princeton. 

Implicit tribal bias gone astray? 

Which brings us to 2018 America where we are again engaged in a great civil war testing whether our nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that we are all created equal, can long endure. And, like our first civil war, our challenge is to extend the blessings of liberty to all of our people. 

In an analysis of the recent high school mass shooting in Texas, David French writing in the National Review, draws on a 2015 New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell, which draws in-turn from a scholarly work by Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter.

The bottom line of their analysis suggests that we shouldn’t look at mass shootings in isolation, trying to identify the specific failings of the shooter. Granovetter analyzing riots instead of mass murders suggests that we should look at these events as connected, as part of a wave.

Gladwell writes:

Granovetter thought it was a mistake to focus on the decision-making processes of each rioter in isolation. In his view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds—which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that—and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him was grabbing cameras from the electronics store.

Does not this same perspective apply to the recent wave of anti-Black and anti-immigrant behavior we’ve been witnessing? When the President calls immigrants from Mexico ‘rapists and muggers;’ when he falsely equates American Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists with Americans who believe the words of the Declaration that we are all created equal; when he refers to people who aren’t like him as ‘animals’ and refers to poor African countries as ‘shitholes,’ isn’t he like the zero threshold rioter throwing that first rock? And, since he’s the President, don’t his actions serve to suggest that it’s OK for others to emulate him. Is this how we get the recent Starbucks episode, the bigoted rant by the NY attorney hearing workers speaking Spanish, the racial profiling by the Border Patrol Agent in Montana who stopped two women solely because they were speaking Spanish?

And not just Trump. When Hillary Clinton called Trump’s supporters ‘deplorables,’ was  she not acting at threshold zero, giving her supporters cover to discount all of Trump’s supporters, giving them permission to dismiss his supporters as bigots and racists and –   well – deplorable? 

If we’re honest with each other, don’t we have to acknowledge that implicit tribal bias cuts both ways. 

Perhaps then, instead of blaming Trump for this rise in racist behavior and Hillary as an exemplar of an implicit tribal bias against the other side, perhaps we should be grateful that what was once implicit has now been brought into the sunshine. If we have a cancer in the system, don’t we want to know about it so we can take action?

Trump and Hillary – and the people following their lead – make it hard to deny that implicit bias exists. And, knowing it exists, seeing it so clearly, means we have an opportunity to do something about it.

Which brings us back to our trip to Japan and the recognition of my own in-this-case benign implicit tribal bias.

To paraphrase James Madison writing about factions, implicit bias is to culture what Oxygen is to fire. It’s there. It’s natural. And – in and of itself – it is neither good nor bad.

Imagine if, instead of denying the existence of implicit bias, we acknowledged it. And, having acknowledged it, we could recognize it in ourselves. And, having recognized it, we might not become that hundredth person, that righteous upstanding citizen who in that moment of truth sets his beliefs aside and joins the racist mob.

Let’s imagine taking the President at his word. What if we were to assume, as he said after Charlottesville, that there are fine people on both sides? What if we were to assume that many of the people exhibiting racist anti-immigrant behavior are righteous upstanding citizens with a bias threshold of 10 or 100?

What then might we do to move their bias threshold to 1,000 or even 10,000? Let us start with wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, written 2500 years ago in China. 

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
… compassion … simplicity … humility …
and become an enemy yourself.

Speaking at last week’s Royal Wedding Michael Curry, quoting Martin Luther King Jr, said We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love, And when we do that, we will make of this whole world a new world. But love, love is the only way.

King understood that we are all bound together in the same tapestry, that none are free until all are free. That love is the only way to proceed.

In January, 2017, Philosopher Ken Wilbur wrote a piece titled “Trump and a Post-Truth World.” In it he points out that the objective to extend the blessings of liberty to everyone could not move forward until it slowed down and embraced even those who felt differently. 

Wilbur is suggesting we consciously endeavor to replace our implicit tribal bias with an explicit love bias. 

Imagine if we dedicated ourselves on this Memorial Day to set our explicit love bias threshold to zero. Imagine if we became, as Gandhi implored us to be, the change we want to see.

Let freedom ring.



Copyright © 2018. Stan Stahl, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay provided the essay is reproduced unedited and in its entirety, its source is identified as The Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org, and this copyright NOTICE is included.

Get these essays sent to you by email:

Speak Your Mind