Friday, March 6, 2009

What Communism Feels Like

I get a weird feeling in my gut when people around me start placing their rules and principles ahead of their humanity.

In the professional word there is so little wiggle room with what you can get away with. Maybe this is why I don't function properly working for a business with an HR department. Because everything I say might come under scrutiny, it has to be filtered through a long list of rules. You have to ask, "Could this be considered sexist? Prejudice? Racist? Inappropriate for the 'work environment'?" Call me a rebel if you like, I just get this weird feeling when people adhere to the type of mentality that disallows them to act naturally.

Don't get me wrong. I agree that racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice are terrible things and should be punished when it is found that someone is maliciously and publicly displaying these ignorant patterns of thought. There is no excuse and no place for it. Idiots should be treated as idiots. If acting naturally means demeaning women, then you shouldn't be allowed to act naturally. But how many good people with good intentions have been sued, fired, transferred, mistaken... their names dragged through the mud?

What I mean by 'acting naturally' is being able to talk through things in a natural way. This idea that we have to protect people so thoroughly from things that society deems inappropriate is a huge discredit to the intelligence of humanity. What happened to good-old telling someone they've offended you, having a conversation and working it out, learning from each other? Can't people help provide their own boundaries without some corporate watch-dog breathing down their neck? These principles that put certain topics so completely off limits help to breed prejudice. If nobody can talk, then how can we progress? The rules are teaching that color, sex and sexual orientation are things to look out for, things to focus on so that you don't make a mistake. Isn't that the opposite of the idea of "color-blindness"? Aren't we supposed to see each other as equals? Instead, certain topics are off limits, separating some groups from the mainstream and in turn, marginalizing them... highlighting them. There is no progress, because progress requires conversations, and conversations aren't allowed to happen because that would be 'inappropriate behavior for the work environment.'

The fact is, we are all human. We want to laugh and joke and celebrate our differences. We also want to talk and learn and celebrate the things we have in common. We want barriers to go down, we want people to open up, we want deeper relationships with those around us. The rules keep us from that.

Everybody has a watchful eye in the workplace, looking for those who might not be adhering to the rules. In some weird twist of irony, they choose to call the department that dehumanizes people Human Resources. HR, very inhumanly, follows a book of do's and don'ts. We've all watched the videos, the ones teaching us how to react in certain situations, how to avoid them... how to avoid people. Employees are suddenly all potential threats to the code of law. Potential law suits. Potential liabilities. You're probably best not even to look at a minority, lest they or someone watching might take offense.

This must be on some small scale what communism feels like.

Why do you think people go home and flip on Comedy Central to watch comedians of every race, gender, and ethnic background making fun of each other? They're saying what nobody is allowed to say, and thats attractive. It's also hilarious, culturally bridge building, and educational on a really shallow level. It's sad that we have to bridge the gap with comedians. Perhaps they wouldn't be so funny if it was common place that culturally different people spoke to each other, had each other over for dinner, learned from each other, etc.

In communist Romania everyone was a spy for the government. Students were not allowed to go to church, because church was for old people, apparently. Teachers were forced to attend church for the sole purpose of seeing if any students were there. If they saw a student at church, they had to report it to the government, and that student would be punished. Everyone was to have a watchful eye on their neighbor, jotting down the intricacies of what they said and did. People were forced into policing each other out of fear. They were all following the rules of the Romanian Communist Party. A joke was no longer a joke, a passing comment no longer a comment... everything was a potential threat to the regime. This disrupted any freedom of speech they might have at one point enjoyed.

This legalism, this 'off-limits' type mentality not only impedes on freedoms, it sections people off, dividing them into class and culture, keeping the familiar together so that no one can grow. It creates prejudice, because there is a disconnect between cultures. Suddenly, its 'us' and 'them.'

Have you ever been ridiculed? Ever been made to look like a racist or an animal because of something you've said? Have you been sat down and grilled because of a passing comment or a harmless joke? Have you been punished because you innocently and ignorantly broke the code of conduct?

Then you probably have felt what communism must feel like.

The problem is that the system breeds ignorance. Instead of demonizing ignorance, why don't we erase it. Let everyone talk to each other, let everyone learn from each other. There will be bumps in the road, but let everyone work out the kinks. People are intelligent, they can develop their own social guidelines through conversation and understanding. We don't need a Human Resource Department draining humans of their natural social abilities, their true human resources. If allowed to have open and honest conversation, humans might be able bridge the gap that corporate rules and ignorance have helped create.


  1. I've always hated political correctness, but never thought of it that way. I think this blog is the most thought provoking thing I've heard since I last read C. S. Lewis. Kudos, Matt!

  2. Good stuff. I agree with the first comment. I never thought of it this way. This also fits in nicely with a class I am currently enrolled in at college. Actually, a lot of your latest post have been appropriate and relevant to this class. I enjoy your point of view. God bless


  3. In class, we were talking about the "unspoken rules" at school-- it was a bit ironic, because nobody wanted to talk about them. I agree with you and I've had this debate before with friends-- we've become too sensitive about everything; as you said, even one has to watch out for the jokes that they make nowadays in case one might be "offended". And as you said, I think the best way for people to overcome this cautiousness is by talking. If someone doesn't appreciate a joke or a phrase, they should straight out tell it.
    Keep up the good work : )

  4. It's frustrating when someone makes an observation about someone's personality or says something about someone, and it's construed as racist or sexist even though if it was said to someone the same race or sex as the person saying it, it would have been fine.

    I agree that we should be striving toward equality (of course) but I don't think that's how people of different races (or females, necessarily, in the workplace) are being treated now - special focus is being put on minorities - which makes them special, not equal. Because of affirmative action, people are being hired or promoted because of their race or sex, not because they are the most qualified candidate. If we really want to treat everyone equally, we should hold everyone to the same standard instead of creating special standards for minorities.

  5. Good point Julianne.

    I agree that Affirmative Action does in fact make race and ethnicity the most important thing on an application. Whenever you have to put your race down on the dotted line, whenever the color of your skin is a factor, then true equality goes out the window. However 'unfair,' I don't think the supreme court ruling should be repealed because I believe that minority communities in our country need the most help. They are generally the most poverty stricken, and if anyone needs a boost they do. It also gives them no excuse not to succeed, as they are given more opportunities by the government to do so. The problem with a world without Affirmative Action is that nothing changes. The minorities would stay ranking at the top in poverty, gang violence and crime, and we all agree that those things are bad.

    There's always those middle class minorities who get school paid for just because of their ethnicity, and I understand how their peers might respond with comments of them "milking the system." But what can you do, there's people on welfare who don't need it, but you can't take away welfare or kids starve.

    On a much lighter side note, I can sympathize with your statements. Sometimes, I wish I was a little bit of something ethnic. If I was, I would have went to Harvard for free and I'd be filthy rich. Alas, I'm a poor white scoundrel with student loan debt. Can't win em all!

  6. Many minority groups certainly are poverty stricken, but they are not the only ones, and they all need help. Should all of these people be given a boost? Sure, absolutely, but nobody gets everything on a silver platter (except, one might argue, the elite). There are countless scholarships and programs out there designated specifically for people in need that go unclaimed every year…people just have to seek them out. They need to want to work toward improving their situation and to get somewhere (which many do), just as everyone else does, and if they want it enough and work hard enough, I believe they can achieve it (even without affirmative action, I would argue, since people are always looking for students or workers with a strong drive and good work ethic). If we focus on helping those in poverty and (inadvertently) suppressing those who happened to be born into a more influential situation so everyone ends up on an even footing, then we would find ourselves in a communist nation. We can’t help where we come from, we just have to work with what we’ve been given.

    Has affirmative action itself directly made the poverty and/or gang rate among minorities go down? (I don’t know the answer to that)

    At most interviews I go to for medical school, it is not unusual for 2/3 – 3/4 of the people there to be minorities. Of course it is possible that those people truly were best qualified, but when schools tell you they strive to accept students in a proportion that accurately reflects the diversity of the world, you start to wonder. Everyone who applies had to work hard to get to where they are, so shouldn’t everyone be given an equal shot, regardless of where they happened to grow up? I say pick the people who are most qualified, and then if someone from a less influential background needs financial help, work that out with them and give them a boost there. (This is just my experience, though I have heard similar situations elsewhere)

    True equality would be everyone working to build up their qualifications, and then be judged based on that, rather than having the possibility of being able to slide by on mediocrity because affirmative action got their foot in the door first as a result of their ethnicity. I would agree that the goals of affirmative action are sound, but there has got to be a better way that would achieve true equality.

  7. Again I agree. Affirmative Action is not only creating a race-based system of qualifications, it is not a solid solution. You can't give all folks tenacity, fortitude and persistence. But then again the system is helping a tremendous amount of poverty-stricken folks get educations they other-wise couldn't have dreamed of. The program sees to it that there is a break in the cycle of crime and poverty... there is a way out of the ghetto. That's really all it is, a glimmer of hope for people who have none.

    I'm haven't checked and I could be wrong, but my guess that you're probably white, maybe middle class, and that you've been born with a decent set of circumstances like I have. Poverty, crime, drugs, gangs... all of those are things I rarely have to face. I mean, I say I'm poor, but I get three meals a day and I have a roof over my head. Nobody is trying to shoot me and I have had a great public school education. I was given plenty opportunity to succeed. So why shouldn't those less fortunate? Sure, a few undeserving folks might slip through the cracks, but think of the many who make something of themselves, who break out of that cycle. Not only that, but think of what a beacon of hope it is, that as long as they graduate high school with decent grades, they can apply anywhere and get grants and make something of themselves.

    My post was to encourage conversation and human decency as opposed to implementing policy, so in that way I disagree with Affirmative Action... it does mimic some communist principles. But at the same time I see it as a way out for people. I never had to escape a ghetto, but if my circumstances were such, I know I would really appreciate the opportunity.

  8. I guess I would like to think that there is not the same stigma against minorities that there once was, and that people would help them and provide opportunities to succeed even if they weren’t required to. I may be wrong on both counts, though, since it is not something I experience. If people would not continue reaching across ethnic lines and giving people a boost if the requirement was lifted, then I would probably agree with affirmative action's necessity. Anyway, thanks for the discussion…it's something good to think about.

  9. small-scale communism is all over. it's called political correctness.

    i was born in south africa, but raised in the states, in a pretty normal, white, middle class (albeit bilingual) family... all our family still lives in south africa and most of my cousins are in university there now. in the midst of all the racial division and the consequences of apartheid etc etc, my cousins (because they're white) now have to work so much harder in both work and school; their classes are graded more harshly, to the point where the boundary between pass/fail is something like 20% higher than that of a black student. people often hire less capable, competent workers just because they're black. and this is what gets called equality.

    though on a smaller scale, it's here too. it's everywhere. i agree with what juliane says: as much as i agree racism is bad, homophobia is bad, sexism is bad, all that- as has been said- highlighting the differences by treating it special does nearly as much harm as the former.

    conversation is good. :) less complication.