Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Moses and Baltimore Reconsidered

History, whether told through myth, manuscript or word of mouth, often contains one or more grains of useful insight, but you have to look carefully for them. The hidden bits of wisdom, applicable to what's happening in our world today, may provide a new appreciation of our culture or even guidance for all.

Thinking about the recent disturbances in Baltimore led me to wonder how our culture here in the United States or the rest of the world needs to change. Intolerance for the beliefs of others, discrimination against anyone who doesn't fit the currently acceptable ethnic standard and bias in general is abhorrent. Not everyone will agree because some will cling to the belief that they are superior to others and in keeping this one-up, one-down status quo, they will insure their importance if only in their own minds or those who share their beliefs.

As a family elder once told us, "They go to church on Sunday and talk disparaging about their neighbors on Mondays." A well-connected lawyer uttered a similar bit of wisdom to me. "I don't go to church because I'm religious. It's more of a business arrangement for me so it's important for me to be seen and to meet others who might be useful to me." Now the latter statement says it all.

When will there be meaningful change that will make the ugliness of Baltimore and Ferguson be bits of dishonorable history in the textbooks of the future? How will we achieve what everyone wants here in terms of equality in education, work opportunities, civil rights and the chance to live and prosper with their families? It didn't seem to be something that could be easily achieved. Perhaps Freud had the answer, in a way, if only people had read books other than his tracts on patient defense mechanisms.

Religion is quite interesting and religion and certain cultural history was something which latched onto the famous man's imagination. He wanted to answer one question for himself in "Moses and Monotheism" and it was why did the Jews wander for 40 years in the desert? Wasn't Moses familiar enough with the desert environment (he had lived there for a number of years) to lead his people directly to the Promised Land? Then, why would he deliberately, and it must have been deliberate, keep them in the desert before they finally came to the desired destination? One answer might lie in the fact that Moses may be more myth than reality. Was he a Jew or an Egyptian? Arguments exist on both sides of that question.

For Freud the answer lay in the experiences, the beliefs and even the biases of the people he was leading. Depending on what you read and how you are willing to interpret it, Moses either felt his charges were unworthy of the designated land or there was another, more important objective. The older generation, who held beliefs about others and themselves which were ill-suited for the new nation, had to be permitted to die off. The new place they would inhabit would be free of this psychological baggage and would start anew with a fresh perspective.

Do we have to wait for several generations to pass and for young ones to come along who will truly believe in equality and fairness for all? Remember that famous song about how bias and hate is spread? You put it into "their dear little ear" and they carry on the tradition. Hope in a younger generation may be misplaced. They may carry on what they have been taught. Salvation from the inequity, therefore, won't be so easily achieved.

Social media may provide a new means to achieve equality for all and it is here that the seeds of freedom may be sown if it is used with the best of intentions. The medium, however, is a supermarket of thought where hatred and goodness sit side-by-side. Teasing out what each bit of instant information has as its intent requires more than the short attention spans we've been led to believe are characteristic of our younger generation. Again, the problem area is apparent even here.  After all, it is available for everyone even those who would spew hatred and incite people to act irrationally against others.

Will we still have a new generation where people will refer to Native Americans as "filthy Indians?" Not if we work to remediate it.