Belenen (belenen) wrote,

memes as microbes, compassion+education as cure / the worst is 'inherent/inevitable difference' meme

Memes are like microbes. They can survive the most hostile environments, they reproduce endlessly with the slightest encouragement, and they transfer from person to person without the person even noticing. A meme can reproduce simply by indirectly mentioning it: for instance, asking someone to put their name on a test can reinforce the impact of gender stereotyping (if, like most names, it is gender-specific). That is ALL it takes.

As someone who is invested in social justice, my main focus is stopping the reproduction of oppressive memes. It's about as hard as hunting microbes one by one. They reproduce faster than anyone could ever wipe them out; people have to develop individual immunities to them. But there is only one kind of immunity that I have found, and that is compassion followed by many rounds of education. In order to resist oppression, you have to understand it, and to do that you first have to give a shit about people different from yourself. Education is never the first step; a person has to care before they can be educated. Compassion alone is also useless: owning a machine will do you no good if you do not know how to turn it on.

Maybe some people have learned about the suffering of others and THEN started caring, but I haven't seen it. What I have seen is instances like a white person becoming friends with a black person and then caring about racism, or a man loving a woman who ceaselessly, patiently explains how his behavior is a problem and because he cares about her he reconsiders his actions, or a cis person seeing their trans friend suffer and starting to care about how transphobia harms people. In all these cases, if they didn't care about the person experiencing it, they would not even notice/acknowledge the oppression much less care (and doing something about it is completely out of the question). Love for an individual does not always create compassion, nor is it always necessary, but for most it is the quickest route to learning compassion that extends beyond one's own group.

The only way to begin inoculation is by teaching people to relate. This will not happen when differences are held up as innate or inevitable: if a man thinks that he is inherently different from a woman, he will not empathize with suffering from sexism, any more than he would empathize with or even notice an ant getting stepped on. Instead he will rationalize it as 'not that bad' and thus not worth effort. Intellectual understanding of the indirect effects of oppression is not a strong motivator because privilege is an excellent shield from those effects. There are countless strains of oppressive memes, but the deepest and most powerful meme of oppression is the idea of inherent and/or inevitable difference. If I had a choice to eradicate only one meme from all of humanity, the fallacious concept of inherent and/or inevitable difference would be ruthlessly eviscerated.
Tags: compassion, social justice / feminism, writing prompts

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