Fear and milkshakes in Central Dunedin: thoughts on discrimination and why I hope everyone has an inner child

Here’s a good way to give yourself a migraine: try spending just over a week categorising, reading and writing about all the different kinds of discrimination you can find in history and leading up to now (some future ones also; I admittedly spent far too long trying to come up with anti-cyborg slurs, just for a laugh. Later in the day, I’m reading Astro Boy and berating myself for thinking like a robophobic BITCH). Really! It works! Think of the ills and -isms created by focusing on our differences in a negative way and you’ll be reaching for the blister-pack in no time. You’re welcome, Nurofen; you can have that one for free.

Nonsense aside though, I’ve spent a few days feeling torn between a few different frames of thought, including:
• Disappointment in people and their fear of the unfamiliar
• Happiness at the fact that a lot of things are more socially acceptable now
• A gnawing type of ennui that tells me I shouldn’t care because it can’t change anything and that I should just keep my head down and fend for myself and I’ll be fine.
I’ve been trying really hard to ignore that last one, because I think that type of thinking isn’t very useful, at least not when it comes to the concept of ‘the greater good’, which is something I happen to care about.

I think I’m that annoying type of person that feels if they don’t care about something, if I think something is truly ineffectual, then you should feel the same way. Like, say, if I lean towards ‘rational apatheism’, then if someone asks if I believe in God, I’d be all up in their shit with something like “Well, what is God? How can we discuss such an ill-defined concept? Why’d you bring that up and why are you wasting my time?”
Upon further thought, I’m sure the correct ‘apatheistic’ response would be… nothing. Or maybe something like, “I do not have the wherewithal to discuss that. Let’s go get milkshakes.”

Basically, I’m starting to think I’m bad at not caring. Anyway, I’d make a crappy ‘apatheist’ because I’d still care enough to try and win people over to my side of the discussion. Let’s all not care! Together! Yeah! What do you think? Not that I care! Seems like a mental dead-end, that’s all. Reminds me of someone making jokes about the Anarchist Collective and how it’s totally a thing.

And why shouldn’t I care about discrimination and what it entails? Every person who has ever lived has dealt with it in one way or another, whether it’s about colour, gender, political beliefs, what kind(s) of sex you enjoy, existential beliefs, level of perceived intelligence, et al. I truly believe that. Every single one of us has come under fire in one way or another because someone or a group of people has decided who we are due to some kind of hazy and ill-defined impression and that it makes us bad enough to be rejected in some way.

I can’t claim to be smart enough to know why we do that to each other. But I can try and remember the times I’ve been the discriminatory bad guy (thankfully mostly during childhood, followed by explanations as to why closed-mindedness is something to be ashamed of) and dig into those memories to find possible motivations. And the usual suspects are all there:
• fear of change
• immature jealousy
• tit for tat (because railing against someone keeps you from being marginalised, right? Wrong.)
• beliefs impressed upon me from past generations.
Things like that. Lots of fear and feelings of being threatened by the presence of something thought of as ‘other’. After the cringing is done and I’ve at least attempted to forgive myself, I’ve realised that I think the concept of discrimination is in itself kinda ill-defined. But only kinda.

I mean, is all discrimination bad? I remember reading somewhere that a teacher in the United States had some serious shit coming at them from the parents of their students for commending the young ones on their discriminatory abilities. Or maybe it was just one kid. Anyway, upon further reading, I felt it was obvious, though maybe not at first, that the teacher was meaning they were pleased that the kid(s) was (or were) picky and uncompromising about something they knew to be important. I think it was grammar, punctuation and spelling, although I might be wrong. The teacher’s usage of the term falls in with the definition I learned when I was younger, although I once thought it was the opposite of “incriminate”, which made more than a few teachers smile. Bless. But at the base of it all, the primary definition is something like… ‘to discriminate is to distinguish or to differentiate.’

My inner child is not havin’ it (please shush with the ‘multiple personalities’ thing, I prefer to call this ‘identifying with a past self to gain insight’), not for a second. The mental image of myself at five years old with my glorious French braids and forest-green sweatervest trying to start an argument is too precious to ignore. I digress. What I’m trying to say is that a childish voice in my brain is asking, “What’s so bad about knowing the difference between things? Is this word ruined? Why did we ruin it? Can we go get milkshakes now?”

And… well, shit. I think Li’l Weenie has a point. Being ‘discriminatory’ has been relegated to being an undesirable trait, but only in a social context. It’s one thing to have a discriminatory taste in electronics, because that can be construed as someone only wanting the best technology they can get for their money. But it’s another thing to have a discriminatory taste in people.

This is where my brain starts to melt, but that’s never been the kind of thing to stop me. Gotta push on.

So… I know it’s OK to discriminate against certain objects that may not be fit for purpose. You aren’t going to be branded a bad person for thinking a certain guitar pedal isn’t ‘good enough’ or that a certain type of calligraphy pen is inherently shitty for always getting blocked up, just to spew fat globs of ink when you’re nearly finished, destroying what you made. You can resolve never to buy that brand again. You can warn others so they don’t have to deal with the annoyance of that kind of thing, if you’ve got the energy and will to do so.

But another thing I know is that we all discriminate against something. I wonder if discrimination is inherent from the moment anyone decides that something is bad or good, in contrast to something else. Should that be seen as a problem or as a truth? Or am I wrong about that? I’ve been wrong about a lot of things. See? Brain-melt. Blehhhhh. I’m losing patience with myself.

Thankfully, the inner child pipes up again. “Isn’t it obvious? If you treat people like objects it makes you a dick. I don’t wanna grow up to be a dick. Don’t do it.”

That’s fair. To go around telling people not to trust or like a certain type of person because you’ve lined up one of their so-called defining traits or characteristics with being ‘bad’ or ‘worth less than others’ or ‘unfamiliar, therefore hostile’ makes you a dick and people who do that shouldn’t be surprised if a room empties not long after they enter it. That’s a given. People can’t be ‘fit for purpose’ and you can’t define their worth in any way that holds true with everybody. Don’t do that unless you wanna get hit. Got it.

And it’s OK that people use the word “discriminate” in the place of the phrases “discriminate against” and “imply _____ is inferior due to being / having _____”. Actually, it’s not just OK, I think it’s good. I don’t mind if “discriminate” leaves its old word cluster, because we still have the words “differentiate” and “distinguish” and others, which are good in their own ways. So there’s no need for me to get all pedantic and feel like the English language has taken a hit somehow, because it hasn’t (sorry, teacher-person-I-mentioned-before. I hope you either agreed to disagree or simply found another word to describe students’ efforts).

Li’l Weenie pipes up again: “That’s the stuff. Nice! Now think of the stuff you believe in about people and think about it like how you think of English. If something or someone changes or isn’t what you thought it was, remember it’s OK and it doesn’t hurt, that’s if it even has anything to do with you.”

All right, I’m already into that. And I’m sure that the frame of thinking I should go with after all this is one of hope and idealism, mostly. It’s not that important that I’m different to other people, and I don’t intentionally draw attention to my differences in order to feel special. It’s not my business to draw attention to what makes other people different (even though I find myself doing it sometimes… usually to people who discriminate against others, but it’s still not nice for me to do. Two wrongs don’t make a right, dammit) unless it’s in praise or admiration. Also, if someone wants to be vocal about what sets them apart from others, that’s fine too. It’s good to be proud of something you see in yourself, hell yeah. And you can only be afraid of the unfamiliar if it’s… well… not familiar. The more you know, the less scared, defensive, and closed-off you’ll be. Fear should only be real if your survival is at stake.

It’s so hard for me to draw a line somewhere. I guess I’ve just got to make sure that those lines can bend and that the big picture those lines make is something I can appreciate and be comfortable with. I’m a little bit annoyed because I feel like I’m back at square one, like I haven’t uncovered some indefatigable truth in what I’ve been up to. I think I took it just a little too seriously and expected too much. So-called epiphanies aren’t always that easy to come by, whether I like it or not.

Maybe I can just take it as confirmation that I’ve got the right idea, at least for now.

Oh, well. I think a certain know-it-all deserves a milkshake, yo.


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