They say that ignorance is bliss. Among the lies we tell ourselves, this is one of the biggest, up there with Sticks and Stones. The problem with ignorance is that our brains fill in the gap in our knowledge with extrapolation, speculation and downright guesswork. We then carry on with our lives in our blissful ignorance until a situation arises where we must make use of the “knowledge” we have stored in that area. Either we carry on regardless, assuming that our guesswork is true fact, or we realise that we are relying on guesswork and start to worry that we will appear to be foolish under public scrutiny. As a rule, people don’t like to appear foolish, and to court the risk of appearing so will lead to fear. Yoda sums up the rest for us in a neat nine seconds.
If I am operating from ignorance, I fear that you will think me a fool, or that you will correct me in public view. Both of these will cause me embarrassment, because nobody (or very few of us) relish the thought of being exposed as being wrong in front of others. If we get the slightest hint that embarrassment might be looming, that fear grows large and bears its shiny white teeth. I then react with anger at the perceived threat to my integrity, which can lead me to hate the person or people I believe are posing the threat.
The threat response is primal: it is an evolutionary trait that meant that we survived, as a species. The people who did not have this strong threat-fear response got eaten by large things with big claws and powerful mouths (Never not be afraid). This causes problems in modern society. There are very few situations in most of our lives where we face the genuine threat of death from wild animals. The worst danger most of us face is the risk that a pigeon will shit on us between the car and the office. I think we can agree that this is usually a survivable situation. The threat/fear response is still there, however, and when it is activated, the higher brain functions shut down and we respond with our own teeth and claws.
So goes the theory.
It is not difficult to find examples of this in practice. To me, some of the scariest are when the person posing the threat is a young child. Over at Raising My Rainbow, Lori found exactly that at her PTA meeting. The PTA had gathered to discuss, amongst other things, school policy and the law regarding children who do not neatly fit into our stereotypes of gender. It wasn’t long before the ignorance started to leak onto the floor, and the epithets started to flow, washed down on a river of bile. The gathered parents had no qualms about conflating gender expression with sexuality (because the boy equivalent of tomboy is gay boy, of course), and neither did they stop for a moment to consider that the people they were demonising were seven-year-old children. From that point, rumours were proclaimed as fact (“There are two of ‘them’ at our school using the girls bathroom! Two!”), as were statements of fear and speculation (“I don’t want a girl in the boys bathroom looking at my son’s penis!”). Lori decided to stay quiet, and I can understand why. The group of parents had ceased to be a group of rational human beings and had turned into a mob.
Had sense prevailed, the presenter would have been able to finish his talk, and pointed out to the parents present that the toilets have doors, and that the children will, typically, go into the cubicle and close the door before exposing any private parts. They are private parts, after all, and are to be kept private. Personally, I cannot comprehend the kind of mental processes that lead a person to say (in front of a crowd) “I don’t want a girl in the boys’ bathroom looking at my son’s penis”. Maybe it’s just that the person speaking was a woman and has not spent much time in boys’ toilets. I have, and I can tell you that the routine is this: go in, find somewhere to wee, wee, wash hands and leave. At no point do we walk around the room with our penises dangling out for all to see. After all, our penises are our private parts, and we keep them private. Yes, even in the toilets. Particularly in the toilets in a primary school, where there are seldom any urinals at all, and all the sit-down toilets are in cubicles with doors. What did that mother think? How is it even possible for her to reach the conclusion that a person-with-vagina (whom she calls “a girl”) will be in there to look at penises in the first place (rather than to use the toilet), or that the boys’ toilet is a room with no privacy? Gaah!
I covered the so-called bathroom bill in North Carolina last week, but I bring it up again because this thing happened. I wonder how we are supposed to tolerate it when a person running for public office, specifically the County Sheriff’s job, uses overt hate-speech during his campaign. This is a man who is supposed to be in charge of protecting people in the county. Yes, even people he doesn’t like very much. He’s supposed to send the police after people who have broken the law, not after people who are simply trying to sit in a stall, with a door, in a public toilet to have a wee. When the person wishing to be elected to run the police department is on the record as wishing to beat a person unconscious just because of his own prejudice, we have a problem. When he gets elected (which he surely will), we have a bigger problem.
Are we not all people? Do we not all deserve respect?