The Plague of All Plagues

A little more than a week ago, America and the world watched in horror as a scene unfolded that, were it in a movie, would’ve been labeled gratuitous violence, torture porn even, and had us questioning aloud what kind of twisted writer would even imagine such depravity. There was a man on the ground, immobilized for just under ten minutes, gasping for breath, pleading, “I can’t breathe,” pleading for his life and calling out for his mother as another grown man knelt on his neck, all while three of the killer’s accomplices stood smugly by, preventing horrified onlookers from intervening. It was utterly grotesque, disgusting, and an image that few who saw it will easily purge from their heads.


But George Floyd was not a fictional character. The man brutally crushing his throat, and the three men standing by enabling him, were not actors but police officers. We literally watched a human being getting murdered by the very people ostensibly tasked with protecting him. His crime? Allegedly, spending a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill on some cigarettes. A minor infraction on a normal day, but in the midst of a pandemic that’s exacerbated the misery of millions of Americans languishing in a ruthless system of survivalist capitalism that operates on a gradient ranging from cutthroat cage fighting at the bottom to golden parachutes at the top, one that, in a just society, would’ve most likely been excused on grounds of compassion and understanding with little more than a gentle slap on the wrist.


Oh, who am I kidding? George’s crime wasn’t using spurious cash. No, he was guilty of something far more devastating. George was guilty of being Black.


George’s murder was a particularly heinous iteration of an act we’ve seen all too many times. Bad enough that we keep on seeing Black Americans being shot in the back by police officers or vigilantes—and seeing those cops get off scot-free because of some bullshit about how “the officer felt his life was threatened” (because, you know, having your back turned to someone while moving away from them at a rapid rate of speed is such a threatening gesture). George wasn’t just murdered. He was tortured to death.


It keeps happening. And happening. And the outrage flows from our lips and keyboards, accompanied by florid soliloquies about how we’re going to “change” and “learn from this” and “come away stronger” and all that. And we’re shocked when, a few months later, the same damned thing happens all over again. I mean, didn’t they see our poster boards? Don’t they know how mad we are about this?


We act like crimes such as those committed against George, and Breonna, and Ahmaud, and the despicably long list of the rest are happening in a vacuum. It’s just a few bad apples, right? No, it can’t be something deeper. It can’t be that America is a nation suffering from a debilitating moral illness.


Right?


Wrong. And I think most of us know this deep down, even those whose sense of pride and patriotism prohibits them from stating it outright. But what do we do about it? Sure, the protests (the ones that aren’t wrecking businesses, often owned by or providing employment to the very people we’re supposed to be fighting for), the statements of solidarity, and so forth are great. But those tend to be ephemeral; as soon as #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd and #BlackLivesMatter stop trending, they’re conveniently in the rearview. Not for all of us, of course, but humans do tend to have short attention spans.


If we’re serious about making change, and not just jumping on a fashionable, fleeting social media trend, then we have to do more than talk about it. You know what they say: “Talk is cheap; whiskey costs money.” (I assume it is, anyway; I’m a teetotaler.) The change has to start from within ourselves, for a society is only as good as the people that make it up. Small steps, but ones that will pay dividends in the long term. And it just so happens that I have some thoughts on how we might do that, starting at the individual level, up to the societal one, and ultimately, as humanity. Keep in mind that these are merely one idiot’s thoughts on a problem that concerns all of humankind, so read accordingly.


What we can do as individuals


Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will control your life and you will call it fate. – Carl Jung


Understand unconscious bias. Many commentators have discussed the need for Americans—particularly those of us with pale skin—to educate ourselves about the history and origins of systemic racism in our country. I agree with this (spoiler alert: it’s much worse than what you learned in high school history class), as it’s vital for gaining perspective on just how deeply entwined discrimination is into our national DNA. But I would argue that it’s equally important, and possibly more so, to understand the science and psychology of racism. I think it stands to reason that you can’t challenge institutional racism without first identifying your own biases. Because, historically, ignoring a problem or denying its existence has never been an effective catalyst for change or progress.


Most employers—well, my employer, at least, and I’m sure this isn’t a unique situation—provide some kind of mandatory anti-discrimination training that at least covers the broad strokes of what unconscious bias is. I’d like to see this enhanced beyond a handful of slides in an hour-long PowerPoint presentation; I’ll expand on this in the societal segment.


Over the course of my fiction-writing endeavors, I’ve learned a great deal about the human mind and how it works. Now, I should stress the caveat that I’m by no means an expert; I’ve read some books and articles, watched some documentaries and lectures, but if you really want to understand the science, I encourage you to seek out actual experts and not just a guy with a bachelor’s degree in aviation management and a fondness for making shit up. But what I have learned has given me an invaluable perspective.


Alas, it doesn’t paint a particularly rosy picture. Without getting into the nuances—and getting way out of my league—the short of it is that our brains are basically programmed for prejudice. We’re naturally tribal. It’s essentially an evolutionary outgrowth of wolfpack mentality. Our “tribe,” be it racial, ideological, or whatever, is our pack, and our unconscious mind, which works a bit like a computer algorithm, interprets anyone not like us as a threat to the pack. Natural law says that the threat must be eliminated. That’s survival instinct. And it served our species well in our meteoric rise to the top of the food chain, as our ancient ancestors slaughtered all the other advanced Hominins to extinction. (Yeah, I know, my Irish ass is 40% Neanderthal so not really to extinction, whatever.)


The problem is that, now, with the competition eliminated, that instinct has no vector. The only competition we have is from other humans.


If it sounds like I’m using nature as an excuse for racism, you’ve got me 100% wrong. For one thing, if you’re reading and comprehending this post right now, then clearly, you are not a dog. You needn’t think like one. You don’t need a pack to run with. And, if you do, let humanity itself be your pack. And if you must be tribal, then at least have the good sense to see other tribes as collaborators and allies rather than threats.


Humans have evolved the ability to act on reason and virtue rather than mere instinct; that they seldom do is another matter entirely, but we do have the capacity. And, if we’re truly human, we have the moral responsibility. I’ve written another blog post detailing why I believe that human morality is wholly incompatible with the law of nature, and therefore, the latter must be overcome. Humans did not become the dominant species on this planet by acquiescing to the laws of nature, but by outmaneuvering nature, both external threats and innate instincts. Without getting into too much waffling about my beliefs, I would argue that human doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as Homo sapiens; you’ve got to be the latter to be the former, but the other way around? Eh, not so much. Our humanity lies in our virtues, our willingness to give nature the middle finger when it compels us to turn against each other.


It’s also true that, in times of crisis, humans are wont to double down on their tribalism. Crises rip the blanket of security out from under our feet. We feel unsafe. Worst of all, we feel like we don’t have control anymore, and that’s a tough pill for humans to swallow. Even those who talk about having the serenity to accept what they can’t change usually still hold to some indirect belief in a controlling figure. That’s why we invented gods. They’re the anthropomorphisms of the forces outside our control, and we really, really, really want them to be benevolent. So, when you say “it’s all in God’s hands,” you’re implying that there’s a sentient being on some sidereal throne making all these things happen, and it’s okay because that being has humanity’s best interests in mind. We’re basically children assuming our heavenly daddy will make it all better.


But the crisis situation is still beyond our control, and if we can’t control it, we want someone to blame for it. God is beyond reproach, so we need an “other.” That, dear Trumplings, is why rational people get so angry when you call the current pandemic the “China Virus.” It’s not some politically correct attempt to undermine your free speech. That kind of rhetoric has consequences, and we understand and recognize them. As much as I hate to admit it, the yam-headed imbecile currently occupying the White House knows what he’s doing. He knows he can’t just come out and say “Asians are responsible for doing this, and therefore, Asians are your enemy.” He has to be more subtle, or people might pick up on the racism. The seeds of bias are already planted; he just needs to nurture them, build that resentment in his rabid fanbase until they grow into strangler vines wrapped around whatever is left of their sensibility. And he can still play his pathetic victim card at the end of the day. It’s logical, right? The novel coronavirus originated in China, therefore China is responsible, and therefore Chinese people are responsible, and therefore people of Asian ancestry/origin. This is what happens when you use free speech and incomplete logic as blunt instruments.


All humans suffer from unconscious bias, but it’s especially important for white people to understand them. And you need to resist the urge to bristle at the suggestion. It’s not that we’re being called out unfairly. We simply need to understand that our forebears were the ones who instituted the systems that are so oppressive to our fellow humans, and we’re the ones with the hard power and influence. (I say “hard power and influence” because, while it’s true that the pop culture sector is trending blacker, our society still seems to view those athletes, entertainers, and the like as monkeys in a zoo; we’re happy for them to amuse us, but when they dare to speak on the matters that affect their communities, all too often they’re instructed to shut up and get back in their cages.) We need to recognize the profundity of our biases’ consequences. Which brings us to the next topic…


Acknowledge white privilege. This one shouldn’t be anywhere near as controversial as it is. A guy who looks like me can walk into a grocery store with a loaded assault rifle and it’s no big thing; all the while, Black Americans are having the cops called on them for unthinkable crimes like: mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, going for a walk, calmly reminding white people that park rules apply to them too, and worst yet, existing. If I’d dropped a fake twenty, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had my throat crushed. Hell, I could probably tell the cop I didn’t know it was fake, pay a small fine (or just a legit twenty bucks), and that would be the end of it.


Oh, and if white privilege isn’t a thing, why is the Army being called on the BLM protests, while just a few weeks ago, when a bunch of whiny libertarians armed like Navy SEALs were shouting Nazi slogans and lynching effigies of state governors all because those governors had the nerve to put logical restrictions in place to protect public health in the midst of a global pandemic, the cops were all smiles and Chatty Cathy with them?


Don’t answer that. I know the answer.


The existence of white privilege is wrong, and none of us should feel good about or indifferent to it, but it’s not something we need to self-flagellate over. Actually, I find this to be a counterproductive (and often sanctimonious) practice. Yeah, there’s a lot of rhetoric that seems to insinuate that “whiteness” is some sort of original sin of which we must be cured, or that every individual white person bears the guilt for the sins of everyone who has ever lived who shared our general genetic composition. That’s just breeding resentment in people who would otherwise be willing to do the right thing. Why the guilt? If you’re recognizing the problem, and working to better yourself and do your part to remedy it, then there’s no need. The only ones who should feel guilty are those who hear the truth and blithely nod their heads while letting it go in one ear and out the other.


We are, however, responsible for it. Guilt is a static burden; responsibility is a living call to action. Yes, we are responsible for others’ failures. That’s part of being a good human. “I didn’t make the mess (even if I have benefited from it), but I’ll pitch in to clean it up.”


Look, I’m not gonna pull any punches here. All this stuff about recognizing biases and privileges? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Even those of us who actively try often find ourselves slipping. You’re literally trying to override an unconscious process with a conscious one. It’s like trying to push water uphill sometimes. Those unconscious processes are so efficient for a very good reason. Conscious effort requires a lot more energy, and human beings have only a finite amount of that. But there’s a fatal flaw in our programming. Our forebears had the comfort of being blissfully ignorant to the flaw, and you see the mess they’ve left us with. We have no such excuse, and we have a moral responsibility to break from the path of least resistance. Otherwise, the cycle of iniquity will only perpetuate.


Listen actively. I keep hearing some variation of the phrase “I’m going to start listening” coming from everyone from celebrities to athletes to business owners to working-class protesters. That’s good. That’s a start. Long overdue for some, but it’s a start.


Just make sure you’re actually listening, and not just hearing. Most of the people making these statements are acknowledging that they’ll never be able to fully understand what those in marginalized communities go through every day, and they’re absolutely right. Forgive me for sounding cynical, but, bearing in mind the prior points, I’m not sure they fully comprehend the magnitude of what they’re saying.


Let me explain. I hear the word “empathy” being thrown around a lot. I don’t think most people who use that word know what it means. Empathy literally means to feel what another person is feeling. You’ve just acknowledged that you’ll never be able to understand what Black people or other people of color endure. Yet, you’re using a word that insinuates that you can. Semantics, you might argue, but I think that, in some cases, in the back of our minds, we go into these conversations with good intentions, but can’t help transplanting our own assumptions over what we’re hearing. Most people cannot empathize (though, through technological advancement, this may soon no longer be the case—more on that at the end); the best we can do is to take what we’re hearing, and our approximation of what we think the other person is feeling, and filter it through the prism of our own experience. So, when you’re listening to your Black colleagues, friends, and neighbors, as you’ve promised you would, make sure you’re aware of your own limitations. Failure to recognize that blind spot can have negative consequences.


Call out the bullshit. It’s neither funny nor harmless. This is actually one I’m working on improving right now. I’m a fairly soft-spoken person, and usually avoid conflict like the plague. I occasionally find myself surrounded by more dominant personalities, more boisterous voices. It’s terribly uncomfortable, and even if I can conjure up a good rebuttal quickly enough to get a word in (oh, also, I’m not terribly quick to my wits and thus don’t handle myself well in verbal arguments), I simply can’t project my voice loudly enough to keep from getting overpowered.


Like I said, I’m working on this. Because, in the wake of the recent spate of racist killings and the associated protests, I’ve been hearing an uptick in racist comments. Some are overt; others simply rehash damaging stereotypes and, perhaps unknowingly, perpetuate the ethos of discrimination and dehumanization.


The hardest part is when you have to confront loved ones, especially those who are unaware of or unconcerned with the folly of their ways. Because you probably know them as good people. It’s a lot harder to acknowledge the flaws in those closest to us, those whose virtues we’ve seen. That relative of yours who’s such a stalwart in their community, who nonetheless goes around wearing a MAGA hat and waving a Confederate flag and insisting “I’m not racist because I have Black friends.” (I really, really, really hope I don’t have to explain why the latter is such a jarringly bad argument.) You don’t want to cause conflict. Or maybe you know them so well, know how stubborn they are, and think it’s pointless to argue with them because you’ll never change their minds (again, guilty; Irish genes, n’at). Do it anyway. You might not change their minds, but you’ll let them know where you stand, and maybe, just maybe, be the catalyst for a much-needed perspective shift.


And don’t stop at blatant racism. I remember a conversation I had with a loved one some time ago, talking about the statistical trend that predicts that, in the near future, the majority of Americans won’t be white. For me, the emotional impact was akin to them giving me the wingspan of a Boeing 737—it was a statistic, and nothing more. But to the person I was talking to, judging from their eyes, the tone of their voice, and their body language, it was as if they were warning me of the end of the world. This person is not outwardly bigoted, but a white person who benefits from the status quo and doesn’t really comprehend that racism goes much deeper than whether you’ve ever used the N-word. When someone repeats a popular refrain linking Black people to crime, or suggesting that large gatherings of Black people are unsafe, or associating certain dialects with a lack of intelligence, or anything like that, object to it. You need to realize how much these kinds of statements dehumanize people, even if the facts seem to support them on the surface (usually the result of some missing nuance—remember what I said about using incomplete logic as a bludgeon). And that is one of the root causes of systemic racism. Recall that our forebears literally didn’t see Black people as fully human.


While we’re on this subject, I want to take a moment to call out, for the record, a rare-but-not-unheard-of one that enrages the hell out of me. Now, as I’ve said before, I’m of largely Irish ancestry. Every now and again, I’ll hear some deluded Irish-American arguing that the treatment of Irish immigrants was as bad as, or worse than, that of Black Americans. First of all, this is certified bullshit. Yes, the Irish got shafted, and it was a gross injustice (add it to the list), but that was nothing compared to chattel slavery or Jim Crow or anything else Black people have endured. Secondly, even if it were the case, this is entirely the wrong lesson to take away. If you know that your ancestors suffered injustice, shouldn’t that make you more compassionate, more attuned to the injustices forced upon others? Shouldn’t it give you something of a shared perspective, even if imperfect? If I hear this nonsensical argument again, I’m gonna pee in someone’s Guinness.


Okay, on a related note:


Stop saying “All Lives Matter.” Look, this doesn’t need to be as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. Yes, at face value, I agree with this statement. It’s the seminal value of humanism. I’m pretty sure most everyone, if not everyone, involved with Black Lives Matter agrees with that statement. Pay attention: the phrase is “Black Lives Matter.” It’s not “Black Lives Are The Only Lives That Matter.” No one ever said “White Lives Don’t Matter.” And, if you believe that all lives matter, and you aren’t one of those assholes who thinks that Black people are only a fraction of a human being, then you must necessarily agree that Black lives matter.


The reason everyone keeps saying BLACK LIVES MATTER is because, clearly, that particular fact hasn’t gotten through a lot of people’s heads. Because they’ve clearly forgotten, or don’t accept, that Black lives are part of “all” lives. It’s not a free speech thing. It’s not a Black supremacist thing. It’s a human thing. “All lives matter” is a deliberate diversion from the conversation that we’re trying to have, the one we’re trying to extend. Stop trying to obscure that conversation.


And, if all lives really do matter, can we please start acting like it?


Rid yourself of philosophies and religious beliefs that ennoble suffering. Without trying to sound too hyperbolic, I’ve found myself in a bit of a conundrum apropos of belief lately. For a few years now, I’ve more or less ascribed to Stoicism, a school of Greco-Roman philosophy. Here’s my problem nowadays: Stoicism, like so many religions and philosophical doctrines, generally agrees that to suffer nobly is a great virtue. I do not. Suffering is loathsome, and should never, under any circumstances, be glorified, valorized, or otherwise looked upon with anything but scorn.


It’s probably helpful to note that the Stoics lived more than 1,500 years ago, and that, were Marcus Aurelius alive today, he very well might read The Hedonistic Imperative and nod his head in full agreement. (Probably not.)


In a previous post, I surmised that our religious and philosophical ennobling of suffering is less sincere than it is reactive, that we accept some goodness in it not because of any conviction of said goodness, but because we see it as inevitable and are desperate to make sense of it and/or find (create) meaning in it. I highly doubt that anyone who is actually suffering is thinking, “Hey, this is awesome!” and I’m willing to bet that most, if not all, are probably thinking, “I’d rather not be suffering right now,” even if they’re subscribers to the aforementioned beliefs. I argued that our willful acceptance of suffering, of anything less than unequivocal condemnation of it, is the ultimate perversion.


How is that relevant to an argument about racism? For starters, I think it enables us to rationalize the suffering of those around us, particularly people in marginalized communities. This kind of conditioning might compel us to observe their plight with admiration rather than revulsion. “Look how gallantly those poor Black people bear their societal burden!” Yeah, that’s not helping. It’s pretty damned dehumanizing, for one thing. And there’s nothing in that statement that compels one to act; rather, it seems to reinforce the belief that no action is needed. Most importantly, and it completely ignores the fact that those burdens they bear were largely placed upon them by human constructs and power dynamics, and sometimes, directly by individual humans.


Do I think this way of thinking is prevalent? Well, from listening to some white people talk, yes, I think it is. Not the majority, perhaps, and maybe not so explicitly, but enough to impede progress on issues of equality. “Damn, I could never deal with the things they go through” should be an impetus for compassion and intervention, not a misty-eyed salute to someone’s perceived inner strength. You’ve never been in their shoes, and most likely never will. You’re just adding insult to injury.


I’m not saying everyone has to go full Nihilist. You can keep your religion, philosophy, spirituality, or whatnot. Just think critically about it. The next time your holy book or meditative aphorism tells you to rejoice in suffering, kindly tell it to go fuck itself.


What we can do as a society


Police reform. This one goes without saying. Is there a democracy in the world with such heavy-handed, militaristic policing as the United States? Police departments are armed such that they’re almost a sixth armed force. I’m not going to get too deeply into this one, because you don’t have to browse very far to find arguments on this front far more informed and eloquent than anything I could come up with. Succinctly put, though…I agree.


A little humility, not just in ourselves, but as a nation. Remember when Colin Kaepernick knelt during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and the systemic racism that was costing too many Black Americans their lives unjustly, and everyone kept falsely making it out to be some insult to America, the flag, the military, etc.? Remember trying to explain that it wasn’t about any of those things, and that it was about exactly what Kaepernick said it was about and not what some yokel in a Fox News studio projected overtop his message? Remember how it felt like you were talking to a brick wall?


Yeah. Of course, some of that bullheadedness was because people just didn’t want to hear what Kap had to say, because doing so forced them out of their comfort zone. I remember a few of the conversations I had, which almost always went something like my opponent saying “he should take his protests elsewhere,” and me asking exactly where that should be, and the response being either awkward silence or something that could be summarized as “somewhere I don’t have to hear it.” Which, of course, was the whole damned point, but I digress.


Americans, especially those with conservative-leaning views, like to consider themselves “patriotic.” But American patriotism is a curious beast, and one that often resembles jingoism rather than actual patriotism. It’s more the forced patriotism of a dictatorship, or of a country like Turkey where insulting the state or the eponymous tribal affiliation is constitutionally punishable, than that of a free democracy. Americans claim to love their country, but they seem to be confused by the definition of “love.” When you love someone, you usually want to help them to become the best version of themselves. Right-wing patriotism is less genuine love and more the attitude of an enabler. Instead of helping America cope with its demons, they just hand it another drink.


I think this is one of the reasons we have such a hard time self-reflecting as a nation. It’s basically considered a kind of blasphemy. America was founded on lofty ideals, on this I wholly agree. Has it always lived up to them? Absolutely not. Does it have blood on its hands? Gushing. Is it still failing miserably at enacting the values that the song and strip of fabric that so many hold sacrosanct are supposed to represent? It ought to be a self-evident truth that it is. But mentioning that fact will get you ostracized. Or worse.


And even when Americans do take a critical inward look, they tend to speak of America’s failures in the past tense. They do so in a relativistic sense, or make clumsy attempts to justify them as mere bumps in the long road to progress. Kaepernick tried to remind us that those failures are not dormant, that the iniquity accrued over four hundred years is still as real as ever, that the superficial legislation and reforms meant to correct them had more holes in them than a bathtub in Bastogne in ’44—and that those holes are conveniently located in the part of the ship where all the people of color are sitting.


Was anyone listening? Could they hear that message through their star-spangled earplugs?


America’s wounds can’t heal if we don’t treat them. There’s a lot to love about this country. There’s also a lot to be ashamed of. We can’t talk about those lofty ideals without noting that, before the ink dried on “all men created equal,” our founders were already adding a bunch of asterisks. We can’t talk about our leadership in innovation without acknowledging the sordid underbelly of exploitation and oppression. Most importantly, we can’t talk about all the “bad stuff” as if it’s ancient history. We need to get down from our high horse of moral superiority, because as things stand, it’s a sham. We’ve got to find a way to enhance those lofty ideals, all while reconciling with our collective demons. It can be done. Remember what I said about deviating from the path of least resistance?


A change in our education, and in our ethos. Earlier, I mentioned how most workplaces have some form of anti-discrimination training. It usually takes the form of a single presentation, perhaps conducted annually, perhaps one-time, consisting of a lecturer talking at a group of employees gathered reluctantly around a board room table. I also mentioned that I’d like to see the subject of unconscious bias explored in greater depth than a few slides. Now, I’m not suggesting bombarding a gaggle of laymen, many of whom are probably already zoned out, with a bunch of scientific jargon and reminders that they’re not all that different from their simian evolutionary ancestors (because half of them probably don’t believe in Evolution anyway).


Rather, it should be something more interactive. Let those trainees see how their unconscious biases manifest into something harmful. Offer some kind of community outreach—and not just an optional “community service day” added to their benefit time accrual, but something fully supported by the organization. If companies were sincere when Tweeting about George Floyd and the pestilence of racism, if those black squares they put up on Instagram were anything more than a hollow publicity stunt (which, frankly, is exactly what most of them were), they’ll embrace such opportunities to foster compassion and understanding, rather than simply treating such things as inconvenient formalities.


This is imperative in America, what with our national ethos of hyper-individualism. Now, to be clear, I’m in favor of an ethos that leans toward individualism, but I also think that individualism vs. collectivism is a false dichotomy. Both worldviews have strengths and weaknesses, and ideally, you find the equilibrium point between the two, wherein freethought and individual autonomy are still upheld while maintaining a strong sense of civic responsibility. That last part really seems to be missing in America, and it’s exacerbating inequality and racism. We don’t see marginalized communities as what they are; we see them as competition. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy.


We need to incubate a sense of civic duty and social justice. I’ll leave the nuances to more intelligent people to flesh out. But it’s going to require more than just lip service or tepid gestures. To right the wrongs with our society, we need to be willing to sacrifice. The other day, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ case for reparations in The Atlantic in full, and I found nothing objectionable. I’m all for it. I know most white people will bristle at the suggestion (before even reading or listening, I might add), but if it means a genuine step toward justice, count me in.


Universal basic income. Let’s be clear here: UBI will not solve racism. But implemented correctly, it will attack the matter of poverty, which prior socioeconomic measures have failed to adequately address. I’m no expert on poverty, but I know enough to know that its suffering is not shared evenly among the races. One of the most damaging stereotypes about Black people is their association with crime. While it’s true that crime does disproportionately affect communities of color, it’s fallacious to assume that crime is a byproduct of race. Marcus Aurelius wrote that “poverty is the mother of crime.” More than a millennium and a half later, that still holds true. The statistics on wealth distribution apropos of race in America are sobering.


It stands to reason that an equalizing agent—UBI, in this case—in the poverty equation will necessarily translate to less crime. Less crime, logically speaking, should alleviate the heavy-handed policing of Black communities. Less militant policing, therefore, means fewer Black people being killed by cops. And, yes, I understand that the keyword here is logically, and this trait is seldom applied in human activities.


COVID-19 laid bare the utter failure of our socioeconomic milieu of ruthless survivalist capitalism. Couple that with the previously mentioned uber-libertarianism and the resulting pathetic excuse for a social safety net, and America got its ass kicked by this thing. Privileged white righties learned the hard way that survival of the fittest loses its luster when you realize you’re not the fittest. (Oh, who am I kidding? They didn’t learn a damned thing; they just showed up with their assault rifles and demanded that Cracker Barrel be reopened or else.) UBI could’ve been the safety net that we lack—and a better one, at that. Especially for marginalized communities, who, once again, bore the brunt of the suffering.


The reason I advocate universal basic income is that I believe human dignity is universal, and therefore, not contingent upon one’s employment status or societal standing. People should work to better themselves, not to survive. If we truly believe that all human life has value, then how can we justify commoditizing it by necessitating employment—especially in a socioeconomic system that effectively relies on a certain level of unemployment and poverty? Besides, as another UBI advocate Tweeted a while back, a free market can’t work if all the customers are dead.


There are a ton of other arguments for UBI, especially as increasing automation will inevitably lead to greater unemployment, which, if the prevailing socioeconomic climate is left unaltered, will surely affect marginalized communities the most. Many of those arguments are not germane to this particular discussion, so I won’t drag this post out any more than it already is. So, I’ll leave the matter with my firm conviction that, if done right, universal basic income is the first step toward universal human dignity.


Endgame


Okay, this is the part where, if you’ve managed to read this far, I’m probably going to lose you. Because I’m about to get into some crazy hypotheticals here. This is where I start talking about transhumanism. (For the uninitiated, transhumanism is a broad, heterogenous worldview based on the radical use of technology and science to enhance the human condition and to push the human organism beyond its biological limitations.)


If we do all the things I’ve just described, and we listen to the pleas of our Black compatriots, take their ideas onboard (prioritize these over mine, please), and we do all the other things to make a more perfect and just society, there’s still one major problem that threatens to undermine all of it. For this to work, everyone has to buy in. And they won’t. As long as we all have free will (and I’m not touching the free will vs. determinism debate with a ten-foot pole, leastwise not outside the confines of fiction), there will be those who resist. They don’t want to better themselves. They don’t want to admit their own follies, they don’t want to appear weak…they don’t want to change.


The fact that there’s an orange one in the Oval Office right now ought to be a testament to that.


But what if we could give those people a little nudge in the right direction? What if—and I really need you to take a leap of faith with me here—we could cure the disease of racism, not simply suppress the symptoms? As I see it, there are two ways of going about this. One is violent revolution. Kill all the racists. Because, you know, that always works, always sorts itself out in the end. The victors always beat their swords into ploughshares after the killing. They never turn puritanical or anything.


Then, there’s my idea. In a few posts now, I’ve argued for a Moral Singularity—or, as I’ve taken to calling it in my current work in progress, the Singularity of Conscience. What is this? Okay, get ready to rip your hair out and scream, “I’ve just spent all this time reading the writings of a madman!”


I define the Singularity of Conscience as the point at which human nature catches up to human morality, the point at which living by the lofty ideals and virtues to which we pay lip service becomes the path of least resistance. Basically, I’m calling for a radical technological interference to effectively rewire the brain. Brainwashing? Sure, call it that. I prefer moral augmentation. A means of clearing out all that junk, all those flawed algorithms that have us set up for conflict.


This sounds like science fiction, I know. But technology is advancing at an exponential rate. Some of the tools we might use already exist. Brain-computer interfaces are already used for therapeutic means. It’s not inconceivable that such technology could be repurposed to not just suppress our more primal tribalistic urges but to remove them altogether. What I’m asking you to consider is: what if we could eradicate racism, literally, with the flip of a switch?


I expect there’d be a great deal of resistance. We’d be impinging on people’s liberties, after all, putting chips in their heads. Yeah, we’d probably have to force it on a few of them. But consider the alternative (maintaining the status quo). Legislation, reform, protest, engagement, individual commitments, those can only do so much. And when they do, they take time. It’s odd to me that so many opponents of things like biotech use the argument that “nature took eons to get this stuff right; you can’t just go playing around with it” but then expect us to override our human instincts that nature also took eons to get…wrong.


Regardless of whether this comes across as insane or not, I really would like to see more people of color in transhumanism. It’s hard to quantify how many are involved with so broad and nebulously defined a worldview (I hesitate to even call it a “movement”), but in the larger picture, it does seem to be diversifying. This is good. Technology is an unstoppable force, and we need a panoply of voices and experiences to vector it in the most equitable and altruistic direction. Best to do this while some of these ideas remain firmly in the purview of bearded white guys with too much time on their hands who like to make up stories. So much of transhumanist thought has been focused on things like radical life extension, cognitive enhancement, etc. But what’s the point, if we’re not first building a world worth living a thousand years in? Where’s the accomplishment if our work is amplifying the cancers of racism and injustice rather than eradicating them?


Something to think about.



© 2019 Sean E. Kellly