How Perspective Distorts What We See

Like many of us, I was horrified to see day after day another young black man being shot by police in what can only described for what it was: murder. What for me, an older white male, would be a routine traffic stop during which I would be treated with courtesy and respect, could be a fatal event if my color was different. Indeed, it seems systemic racism is a part of police culture that must be changed.

But what about all the times a black man is stopped by police and treated well? What about the times when police act skilfully to defuse a dangerous situation? We don’t see those. Never. Instead the terrible images are played on our tv screens over and over and over and over.

The point of this post goes far beyond the problem of racism. The media, using the “if it bleeds, it leads” ethos, causes us to have a very distorted impression of the world we live in. Take the various terrorist shootings that occur. Those incidents are also replayed and replayed and given a large portion of airtime. We see the effect of this in polls that show that many folks vastly overestimate the danger of terrorism to themselves. But the fact remains that at present the risk of dying by terrorist attack is miniscule compared to most other causes of death.

I am going to build on this post and expand it in the coming days, but where I’m going with this is that we are mislead into exaggerating the relatively unimportant while ignoring, indeed being unaware of, much more serious threats to our existence and that of our descendants.

…to be continued…

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The “good guys” vs. “bad guys” Fallacy

An argument often used in defense of promoting gun proliferation is that the “good guys” will be armed and will reduce the mayhem done by the “bad guys.” This kind of thinking is so simplistic that I find it remarkable that it requires refuting. Would that the world be so simple that we could just divide humans into good and bad. Maybe we could issue a driver’s license style card to all the “good guys” and then arm them all – problem solved!

Of course I understand that many people believe that there are good and bad people, but I also understand that people can behave well or poorly given different circumstances. Someone who suffers from, let’s say, road rage might use a gun on “that jerk” in a fit of rage with a gun handy. Minutes later, that person would probably be horrified at what he/she had just done. The availability of a gun can, under the “right” circumstances lead to injury or death while otherwise there would just have been cursing and shaking of fists.

Another problem with the concept of good and bad people is that those who commit the greatest atrocities often are completely convinced of their goodness. Witness all the destruction done in the name of religion by people who are convinced that their interpretation of God and faith is the only right one and those who disagree deserve what they get.

There is also the issue of perspective. The same action will appear good to some people and bad to others. I have found that I behave better and have a more integrated ethical stance if I throw out absolutist good vs bad thinking.