Demystification Guru

Just because we don't understand something, doesn't mean it isn't understandable.

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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Monday, October 24, 2005

on cultural clashes

Here is the column to which I was reacting:

Here is the letter I sent to the paper but they didn't print:

Dear Editor,

I found it interesting that in his column “When cultures collide” (October 16, 2005), David Warren thought it necessary to include the information that Muslims had refused to shake the female Dutch Minister’s hand not out of disrespect but because they didn’t want to take the liberty of touching her. What nonsense. For any action, one can concoct positive and negative reasons why the action was taken. If someone yells at me when I cut them off in traffic, one could equally say they were merely trying to warn me of the hazardous consequences of my actions.

To be fair, Muslims aren’t the only culture that thinks women are “unclean” at certain times of the month. But there certainly seems to be a lot of bending over backwards to be politically correct around them. I think we owe it to ourselves to speak the truth and not tiptoe about for fear of offending people whose values are different from ours. When you think about it, they do not seem to be concerned with offending our values.

Friday, October 14, 2005

on litter

There is a popular theory in crime control called the “broken windows” theory, in which it is postulated that one broken window in a neighbourhood building prompts people to break other windows, vandalize and commit petty crimes. The theory has its critics but there is an intuitive correctness about it. If people don’t care about something, they won’t look after it. Home ownership is a prime example of this as people who own their homes tend to put more into them than people who rent. Litter is a manifestation of how people do not feel connected to public spaces.

It is a rare person who drops garbage on the floor of his own home. But somehow, the same person doesn’t think twice about letting the wrapper from his candy bar or cigarette pack fall to the ground as he walks along a public sidewalk. People seem to be unaware that our home isn’t just the building where we live.

Perhaps in addition to lacking a sense of ownership, people also lack respect for public places. Think of the teenager whose room is a wreck and who refuses to participate in basic maintenance like taking out the garbage. When that child becomes an adult and moves into her own apartment, she realizes that she is the only person around who will care enough to do her laundry and wash the dishes. Hopefully, she will learn that it is self-respect that motivates a clean environment. Unfortunately, people seem to get stuck on the notion that picking up after themselves is just something that has to be done, instead of understanding that we are fortunate to be living in this house or this city and that we show our respect to the environment which sustains us by looking after it in the ways that we can.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

on connecting

I have read opinions that people are isolating themselves with computers, that they stay at home and look at the world through their computers instead of getting out and seeing real people. I think this opinion mixes up cause and effect. I think people have become more isolated than they used to be, even in large cities, but I think this happened before personal computers and easy access to the internet. Even in 1995 when I was studying abroad and some of us were using laptops, the internet was just getting to be an interesting place and email wasn’t even a big thing. It really wasn’t until shortly before 2000 that “virtual communities” started showing up on the internet and people have been isolated long before that.

I think people became isolated because it has become “not politically correct” to interfere in other people’s business. In small towns, everybody knew everybody else’s comings and goings and not only was this accepted and considered to be the norm, it was seen as part of the fabric of society. In large cities, there were microcosms, neighbourhoods where people created communities that were just a block long. Gradually and probably starting in the 1960s with the rise of the cult of the individual (the “me generation”), it became less and less acceptable to be a nosy neighbour and to inquire into the health and circumstances of the people around you, even including family members.

Now however, I think that people are reaching out online and creating virtual communities to replace that which was lost. People have a biological or primitive need for connectiveness and community. I do NOT mean that we should live in communes or that socialism should be imposed on us politically. I still believe that the individual is the working unit of society. But individuals need to be connected to other individuals on their own terms, whether that is through a large family or a network of volunteers or at work or just playing chess in the park (which also doesn’t happen much any more).

For the last five or at most ten years, people have been creating communities through their computers. There were bulletin board services, email groups, chat rooms. Now there are large communities like “43 Things” which boasts over 90,000 members. Even in this large group, small groups form when people with similar goals start connecting with each other. So, while I think that virtual communities are a good thing because they are reconnecting people to care about each other (even total strangers who never meet), I still think that people need to get out and connect in person, as they did before the 60s. I just think that computers have encouraged this to start up again, not that they were the cause of the isolation in the first place.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

on prejudice

In case you haven’t heard, a city council in Britain is banning all representations of pigs due to the complaint of a Muslim worker that she was offended by pigs. The story is here,,2-2005450600,00.html
and Mark Steyn commented about it at somewhere but the URL went crazy so you'll have to find it yourself.

A key quote is: “Councillor Mahbubur Rahman, a practising Muslim, backed the ban. He said: “It’s a tolerance of people’s beliefs.””
Steyn said this about that: “And isn't an ability to turn a blind eye to animated piglets the very least the West is entitled to expect from its Muslim citizens? If Islam cannot "co-exist" even with Pooh or the abstract swirl on a Burger King ice-cream, how likely is it that it can co-exist with the more basic principles of a pluralist society?”

I would be interested to know what the reaction would be if I said I worshipped pigs and I had to have a representation of a pig around me at all times. What about tolerating my beliefs?
And then I thought I’d post what I wrote about prejudice back in 1996, just because I read it again recently and I still think it’s good.

On prejudice (1996)
I have always asked "WHY" when I read about "man's inhumanity to man" and I think the answer is POWER. Because to me, the prime motivator for humans is FEAR. People will of course do things motivated by love and beauty and goodness. But the reason people will do things against their nature, and therefore the reason that is strongest, is fear. It is very primal and comes from being an ignorant, bicameral savage lost in the wilderness where everything was a mystery. One person in the group who had a little more savvy than the rest AND a desire for power would offer an explanation for the mysteries and provide "escape routes" for the ignorant which were really behaviour modifications designed to provide that one person with the power craved. It also comes from the way our brain works, on patterns and models (stereotypes). If we are faced with three different ways to proceed and we try one and it is a failure, we don't try it again. However, if we try the second method and it's a moderate success, it is not in our nature to try the third, even if it might prove to be a greater success. We stick with the tried and true model. The same goes with making judgments about things and other people. We like what is familiar, to the exclusion and even hatred of anything that is different. When we have grown up with the people in our tribe, they are familiar to us. When we meet someone different, BECAUSE they are different, we don't like them. It's simple fear of the unknown. There are new things that come into our lives from time to time and we just have to cope with them. However, this doesn't mean we're going to like them. Furthermore, we base our judgment of these new things on how familiar we are with them. If we once met a person of a race different from ours, and we liked that person because of some social reasons that made them attractive to us (i.e. made us not fear them or something that made them seem similar to another thing we knew already), then the next person of that race we meet, we are going to be predisposed to like. The vice is the versa. Thus prejudice (pro and con) is born.