Chapter Seven: The Conditioned Mind is a Dangerous Mind
What are the Effects of Our Prejudice?
We are what we think. All that we are arise from our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.
How Far Have We Come?
When we look back over the violent history of our race and then hear or read in the news of some horrible thing that someone has done to another, we often ask ourselves, "How far have we come?" and the answer just as often is, "Not far at all." Every day, in at least several parts of the world, there seems to be two opposing sides that cannot come to an agreement and as a result lives are lost. Our scientific minds ask:
- Can there ever be agreement when there are always "sides"?
- Can there be agreement when tribe-like groups still believe and act according to traditions and customs handed down to them?
- If no one identified with either side, wouldn't conflict and violence end? Can it be as simple as that?
Or are people simply far too conditioned, too programmed to see this simple solution?
Here's a summary of the progress you and I have made so far:
- We've begun to notice the difference between opinion and fact, between assuming and getting information firsthand, and between prejudging and finding facts.
- We've looked at our mechanical brains and seen how they've been programmed to create images, many that aren't real or true.
- We've seen how these images can be formed when we're asleep, under the hypnotic spell of conditioned thinking.
- We've become aware of how repetition, obedience to authority, and reinforcement work to create false images in our brains, and how we view the world incorrectly through our identification with various groups, stereotyping others, and projecting our wrong images onto them.
- We've seen how fear creates negative images that get stuck in our brains, and how conditioning takes hold on to these images, forever unless we find a way to wake up.
- We've discovered, to our amazement, that the hate we feel, passed on to us by our ancestors, is our own invention.
- We've learned that prejudice is an automatic reaction, and that if we want to act rather than react, we have to think for ourselves,
We have become aware of a lot on our journey of discovery, haven't we? We've learned a great deal about what prejudice is, and how we become prejudiced.
Now we're going to look at the effects of prejudice — what happens inside us, outside us, and all around us — when prejudice exists. It's not a pretty picture, but we're determined to learn rather than protect ourselves from the truth, right?
The Words We Use
Most of us can think of at least ten major words that disrespect and dehumanize other people. Many of them are used to put down other racial or ethnic groups. Because these words produce such strong reactions in us, we're not going to use them here. Instead, we'll leave some blank spaces. These spaces signify words that symbolize hatred and prejudice. As you think of the words you know, take a moment — what we might call a Stop! Think! moment to consider the fear and hatred these words can carry.
A feeling such as hate, or a thought such as ''You are my enemy," is triggered by conditioned thinking. When we "feel" that what we think is "right," the thought is enhanced by the feeling. It's so easy to get caught up in this self-protecting treadmill of prejudice.
Thought + Reinforced by Feelings + Words = Action
It is said that "Actions speak louder than words." If someone walks up and punches you, you need no words to realize that this person is angry with you. But what thought, reinforced by feelings and words, led to that action? In everyday conversations, hurtful words are often used. The people who use them are either unaware of the pain they are causing, or fully aware and using them on purpose. Either way, they cause conflict.
Some people think it's fun to use words like these, but if you're ever tempted to use them, it's good to stand in someone else's shoes and ask yourself how you'd feel being called these names.
Here's a game that can help you get firsthand experience of how names can just "pop" into our heads without our even being aware of them. It's called "The Association Game." As you play, let your prejudices just pop out. That way, you'll learn what they are, and you'll be on the path of discovery about what you can do to understand them.
The Association Game
This game tests our ability to observe prejudice in the making. There are many associations that we make every day without thinking. Some of these illustrate our conditioned prejudices by demonstrating our automatic, unconscious reactions to certain words or ideas.
With a friend or family member, take turns calling out the following list of words. The other person must quickly respond with the first word that comes to his or her mind.
For example, if your friend calls out the word "red," what's the first word that comes to your mind? Is it "rose"? Is it "Native American"? "Russian"? Some other word? What do these words tell you about your conditioned brain?
It's a simple game, and it shows the kinds of associations we all make and how deeply ingrained in our thinking these associations exist. You can also play it alone, on paper, using the list below. Ready to give it a try? Write the first word that enters your mind when you see each word. No stopping to think!
White person ___________
Black person ___________
What others can you think of? The object of the game is to uncover our conditioned thoughts (and feelings that go along with the thoughts), so we can become more aware of thoughts that muddy our brains.
Words Become Attitudes
Using hurtful words is one way we let our prejudices show. Another is thinking in a lazy, sleepy way, and making generalizations about people without taking the time to find out about who they really are.
A stereotype is a standardized mental picture held by members of a group that represents and oversimplified opinion, attitude or judgment.
Very often it is an oversimplified view of what members of another group are like. This is the result of lazy thinking — it's easier to have a single opinion of a group than opinions about each of its many members — but we will see below how lazy thinking so easily becomes prejudicial thinking.
Below is a list of stereotypes that you can fill in. v\?hen you finish, you will probably notice that many of the stereotypes you have in your brain are not flattering. In fact, don't they mostly work to "put down" other groups? Aren't they all based on prejudice — "prejudging" — rather than personal experience? Many people imagine such stereotypes to be true, but are they really? What do you think? By becoming familiar with them, hopefully we can recognize them in time to stop them before they start.
What are your prejudices? How would you describe the following groups?
Chinese are ___________
French are ___________
Foreigners are ___________
Asians are ___________
Americans are ___________
Germans are ___________
Irish are ___________
Native Americans are ___________
Blacks are ___________
Southerners are ___________
Mexicans are ___________
Jews are ___________
Hindus are ___________
Russians are ___________
Whites are ___________
Arabs are ___________
Are there others you have strong stereotypical images of? What are they? Stereotyping creates a simple, general image in the brain. When that stereotyped person or group is encountered, then — click! — the projected image — cheap, dangerous, warlike, greedy — automatically jumps into our minds. Do we stop to question our reaction? No, we usually just assume it is correct and act on it.
Bigotry is based on the word "bigot, " which refers to one who values only his or her own group, beliefs, race, or political views, and is intolerant of those who differ.
A bigot has a fixed mind set, an immovable way of thinking that divides completely members of his group from members of another. Bigots think in terms of "my group" vs. "your group." As soon as we have "my" vs. "your" any thing, we have conflict. Sectioning the human race into "different" parts is an effect of prejudice that creates separation and conflict.
Discrimination is the act of seeing the difference between one thing or person and another, and making choices based on those differences.
We do this every day. We may choose orange juice over apple juice, a blue pen instead of black, a sitcom instead of the news. You've probably also heard people described as having "discriminating tastes." This means that they care a great deal about their choices, whether in the food they eat, the clothing they wear or the way they live their lives. This kind of discrimination involves making decisions about likes and dislikes and, for the most part, is positive and harms no one.
But what if we discriminate on the basis of opinions that arc not true? This is the use of discrimination that creates conflict. In this case, discrimination means making choices based on the wrong stereotypes we carry in our brains. When we have an image in our brains of a certain group as "cheap" or "lazy," and then decide not to make friends with someone or call someone a bad name because he or she belongs to that group, we are practicing discrimination — we are reacting to an individual based on a stereotype of a group that we've been conditioned to believe. The result is easy to predict — conflict inside us that pro motes conflict outside us — hostility and discord that can lead to violence.
Scapegoating is making someone bear the blame of others. When a mistake is made or a prob/,em happens, our brain finds someone to blame, to find fault with.
For example, let's say that our Group Y has been conditioned to think that all Group X people are lazy. If we think they are lazy, it is a natural next step to blame them for being lazy, and then to dislike them for this supposed fault. Perhaps we think that because Group X people are lazy, we'll have to do more of the work in the office or factory to make up for them. And if Group X people are lazy, they probably don't even look for work, so they get money from the government, our tax money that we have worked hard to earn. In this case, it is natural for us to be hostile to, or at least disrespectful to, any Group X members. So any member of Group X we run into, we automatically react to negatively — blaming him or her because we have to work harder than we want and don't have as much money as we would like.
Can you see the prejudice in this belief? Can you see how it began as a tiny ant hill and became a mountain? Can you see the effect of this prejudice? It can start with a single, simple "harmless" thought — Group X people are lazy and escalate into a huge problem for society. This thought, which is certainly not true, can become promoted and professed throughout a country and around the world. The irrational fear that this prejudice can lead to — People of Group X are destroying our economy! — can even lead to the death of millions! Hard to believe? Here's one example:
Throughout the course of history, many groups have blamed Jews for problems in the world and the world's economy. Oddly enough, this has been based on a stereotype of Jews not as being lazy but too "clever with money." In the 1930s, the citizens of Nazi Germany were miserable their self — respect had been beaten down by the devastation of war and a failed national economy. Their leader, Adolph Hitler, looked for a "scapegoat" — someone they could blame for their own frustration and anger. Adolph Hitler pointed to the Jews and said, "These are the people who are responsible." And the desperate Germans, whose weary brains were very open to conditioning at that time, believed him. Six million Jews were killed.
Just as prejudice provides the targets for scapegoating, scapegoating feeds prejudice. It allows us get a problem away from ourselves buy placing it "out there" onto another person or group. This leads us to believe that the solution to the problem is "out there" too, instead of "in here" — within ourselves.
Are the real roots of prejudice "out there"?
Or are they right here — inside our thoughts?
Our Shadows Continue to Follow Us
The title of this chapter is "The Conditioned Mind is a Dangerous Mind." Can you see how all of these forms of prejudice — stereotyping, bigotry, discrimination, and scapegoating — are dangerous? They all make use of fixed images, conditioned into our brains by those who have gone before us.
We came into a world where many prejudgments already existed. Without questioning them, our parents, teachers, and friends taught us to think in "old ways," not because they are bad people, but because they were taught these ways by their parents — who didn't question them either. We've inherited a huge number of these "names," these "false identities" that really don't match reality. It's as if our brain is full of an encyclopedia of information that is completely wrong. And with wrong information, we make wrong decisions, bad choices.
These old ways are like shadows that follow us. They stay with us and relentlessly cause us to hurt and be hurt, over and over again. At their roots, all forms of prejudice — stereotyping, bigotry, discrimination, and scapegoating — are the same. They're automatic reactions in our brain that result in hurt, anger, and despair. But it is within our power to stop our programmed thinking, and this leads us to our newest discovery.
Prejudice ends when we can observe it in the making. Once we observe it, we can stop it in ourselves.
When we see our prejudice, as it's happening, we are engaged in a "Stop! Think!" moment. Our awareness of the prejudice stops it, allowing us to pause so that we may examine it in this moment of clear awareness, we can be free of prejudice.
What follows are more forms of prejudice that are cruel and destructive. As you read about them, allow your awareness of them to help you take a "Stop! Think!" moment to consider what could possibly cause anyone to inflict such harm on other people. While simply knowing about these forms of prejudice cannot right the terrible wrongs they cause, it can help us prevent them from happening in our own lives. If the people involved in these wrongs had under stood prejudice better, these things would not have happened.
Racism is the belief that the race we belong to is what defines our character and abilities — who we are and what we can do.
The study of "race" was originally meant to define people in a useful way — to classify us by who we and our ancestors were. To do this scientists study physical characteristics — the color of our hair or eyes, the size and shape of our nose or mouth, bone structure — that make people from one race different from people of another.
"Racism," however, uses that information in a negative way. Racism is when we judge others based only on their race, and especially on our stereotyped image on that race. Most often, it is used by one group of people who believe that they are superior to another group. Believing they're better than others allows the self — proclaimed "superior" group to make fun of, or hurt the "inferior" group. In an extreme form, such prejudice can have catastrophic effects.
Why would someone need to feel better than someone else? What would I gain by feeling superior to another person?
Slavery is a system whereby one person actually "owns" another person, and can demand from that person labor or other services.
In this system a human being is considered property and can be bought and sold. History books tell us that slavery emerged as an "economic necessity of convenience" when people began to establish permanent communities that relied heavily on agriculture. Slavery has been practiced by both primitive and advanced people all over the world, and is thought by many to have ended a hundred and fifty years ago after the American Civil War. In fact, it has been around for many centuries and is still practiced in some parts of the world.
Do you think slavery emerged simply as an "economic necessity of convenience"? Or do you think it might have been a good excuse for people to do what they wanted to those they disliked?
In the second century slavery was accepted as legal, despite its being considered contrary to natural law. It existed throughout the ancient world, from the Mediterranean regions to China. In Greek cities, a freed slave could not be a citizen, because citizenship was inherited. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, European exploration of the African coasts led to a slave trade carried out by the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese. African slaves were in demand on the big farms of the newly discovered .Americas, and were brought to Virginia during the seventeenth century.
A movement to abolish slavery for economic and humanitarian reasons began in the eighteenth century. Britain outlawed the slave trade, and Latin American nations abolished slavery when they became independent from Spain in the nineteenth century. Slavery continued, however, in many places, even though it outraged many people's sense of justice.
In the United States, slavery had disappeared in the North by the early nineteenth century, but remained important on the large farms of the South called plantations. The election in 1860 of Abraham Lincoln of the Republican Party with its anti-slavery platform, led to the secession of Southern states and to the Civil War. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and victory by the army of the North ended slavery in the U.S.
If America was settled by people seeking religious and personal freedom, why was the U.S. one of the last civilized nations to have legal slavery?
The end of the slavery in America, of course, did not mean the end of discrimination against African-Americans in America. A century later, community activist Rosa Parks refused to leave a bus seat to move to the rear of the bus which African-Americans were lawfully required to do then in Montgomery, Alabama. By forcing the police to remove, arrest, and imprison her, she helped instigate a strong movement in Montgomery that attracted worldwide attention. Activists, teachers, and speakers such as Dr. Martin Luther King.Jr., came to help millions of people to understand the damage that prejudiced minds can cause.
People who break the law are considered criminals. Was Rosa Parks a criminal?
Although outlawed today in most countries, various forms of slavery still exist. Steps have been taken by international organizations such as the United Nations to curb such practices, but millions of people worldwide still live or work in conditions of slavery.
Genocide is the deliberate and systematic wiping out of a race, culture, or religious group.
The word comes from the Greek geno, meaning "related to," and the Latin cida, meaning a "killing." Genocide is a crime against a group. Individuals are victims simply because they belong to the group. In this way, individual members are dehumanized, reduced to numerical statistics.
Although we would like to think of such horrific practices as something that could happen only long ago and far away, in fact, never in the history of the world have so many millions of people been deliberately destroyed as during the twentieth century, and mostly in and by so-called "civilized" governments. Societies that have suffered genocide have had at least one significant minority group that was "different" from the majority, usually ethnically, religiously, or politically. Most notorious was Nazi genocide discussed before — the killing of more than six million Jews from all over Europe. The Nazis also killed another six million non — Jews, targeting Gypsies, homosexuals, and Slavs.
Today we ask: How could so many people agree to wiping out another group? The answer is: In the act of genocide, all normal constraints against killing are set aside in the name of a so — called "higher" aim. The reported aim of Adolph Hitler was the "racial purity" of the German people.
What is "racial purity"? How could anyone see it as a "higher aim"?
For Stalin in the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong in China, the "higher aim" was economic millions were killed in order "to build socialism." Other groups of people targeted have been Gypsies and homosexuals, because they were considered "sinful." In Latin America and in the Caribbean areas settled by Spain, millions of Native Indians died in what was regarded as the "march of progress and civilization" led by European Christians. The weaker were displaced in favor of the stronger.
Over the course of the twentieth century, many groups have been in continual opposition: Armenians and Turks, Hindus and Muslims, Serbs and Croats, Irish Protestants and Catholics, Republican and Communist Chinese. In the four years of World ,,Var I, more than ten million people were killed.
Millions more were lost in the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971 and the Indochina war ending in 1975. In Cambodia, almost three million people were destroyed by the new Khmer Rouge government for reasons of "economic revitalization."
While it is difficult to even admit that this kind of human behavior has taken place in modern times, our hope is that by looking at these examples, our knowledge and understanding of its causes can help prevent it from happening again.
Is there any excuse possible for genocide, for the desire to wipe out an entire group?
Ethnic cleansing is just a polite word for genocide.
Such a term is called a "euphemism," a word that sounds normal and acceptable, but in fact hides a meaning that is really terrible. "Ethnic cleansing" is a term used to describe Serbian treatment of Muslim and Croat minorities (and possible treatment of Serbs by Croats and Muslims). This terrible program was initially undertaken by Serbian forces trying to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The violence was aimed at Muslims, thousands of whom fled the country, while uncounted thousands who remained were killed.
Consider the phrases "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide." Which term sounds worse? Which term seems more honest? Which is more dangerous?
What Prejudice Has Created
What questions can we ask about genocide and ethnic cleansing that can help us understand these inhuman acts? Can we understand why such injustices were able to occur? As human beings who feel this terrible suffering, we want to know:
- What would cause a group of people to purposely create the deliberate and organized destruction of another group of people?
- Is it easier to hate, and want to kill, individuals or groups? Which seems less personal?
- What do you think of these so — called "higher aims" of genocide mentioned? Are any of them good reasons?
- Do you recall seeing news reports of people fleeing their homeland? Was ethnic cleansing or genocide involved?
- Were most of these people fleeing guilty of doing something wrong? Or were they innocent?
- If two factions in one part of the world have been battling for centuries, why do you think they haven't been able to resolve their differences?
Society and Minorities in History
Throughout history we have had minorities. In ancient Greece and Rome, the bulk of work was done by slaves, who were most often from other ethnic groups. Although ethnic groups are probably the most common type of minority group, other minority groups might be based on religion or occupation. During the Middle Ages, there were craft and trade "guilds" that passed their skills from one generation to the next and kept outsiders from getting in. Religious leaders, kings, queens, and nobles had great power those who raised the food and made the goods everyone needed were at the bottom of society.
India is a country in which some people believe in previous existences. They believe that how we live today depends on how we lived in a previous life. India is also a country with a caste system. A caste is a hereditary group whose members intermarry only among themselves. Each has its own occupations, its own rules relating to kinship, behavior, and even diet. Castes are graded in a social hierarchy in which each expects respect from "inferior" groups and gives respect to "superior" ones.
According to generally accepted beliefs, the caste into which one is born depends on one's karma — one's accumulated "good" and "bad" deeds in a previous existence. The way to achieve higher status in future incarnations is to accept one's station in life and live accordingly. There are many castes, but the lowest are the Shudras, who today constitute most of India's artisans and laborers. Below the Shudras are castes with no designations — regarded as "Untouchables" because of their association ·with unclean occupations. Some scavenge and some clean public toilets with their bare hands. These groups have always been subject to considerable prejudice. The great Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi tried to ensure that they were treated humanely and bestowed on them the name Harijan, or children of God, by which they are now popularly known.
while the Indian constitution outlaws "untouchability," and provides each state ·with special benefits for these people, the Untouchables still exist and continue to do the work of their ancestors. Although having one's life dictated by hereditary differences seems obviously unjust, the caste system is regarded by most Hindus as a fair and sensible system. They believe it because that's what they've been conditioned to believe.
Is it necessary that some group need he at the bottom of society?
The Pecking Order
Have you ever heard of the term "pecking order"? It's a way of life natural to the animal kingdom in which the strongest survive by dominating the weaker. The stronger traits are genetically passed on, to ensure the survival of the species.
In the same way, if one of our tribal ancestors were sick, injured, or too old to work, he or she might be sent away to ensure the safety and comfort of the tribe. Sometimes the weak member was simply sent out to die — a cruel act, but one the tribe deemed necessary for its survival. Survival for our ancestors meant that everyone had to be fit and able to do their job.
Human beings have carried this thinking into modern times, even though the world is vastly different than it was thousands of years ago. Even though they live in security and safety, many people continue to look at the world in terms of a pecking order. They act like members of the primitive tribes, still trying to prove who is most correct, strongest, and best. But today, that way of thinking is more likely to cause trouble than achieve safety. Today, strongly identifying with a "tribe" gets us the opposite of what we want, which is to live together in peace.
Today, fighting to be the most powerful group works against our security. It creates conflict between people and keeps us from acting as a single species.
Minorities today are usually dealt with by the majority in one of two ways: they either become part of the mainstream culture, or they are persecuted. In the process of becoming part of the culture, values and ways of thinking are exchanged and shared between a minority and the majority. Persecution and oppression, on the other hand, separate people and have led to such miserable results as segregation, slavery, and genocide.
What are the potential dangers of prejudice? As we now know, it can lead to the most deadly outcomes imaginable, including the annihilation of millions of people. Think about this the next time you feel like calling someone a bad name.
- When we hear words that offend us, it helps to watch our brain for prejudgments and reactions.
- In understanding prejudice, it's important to be aware of what words we use and how we use them.
- Using hurtful words is one way we let our prejudices show.
- Stereotyping is applying a standardized mental picture, held in common by members of a group, that represents an oversimplified opinion, attitude, or judgment.
- Bigotry is based on the word "bigot," which refers to those strongly partial to their own group, beliefs, race, or political views, and is intolerant of those who differ.
- Discrimination is the act of seeing the difference between one thing or person and another, and making choices based on those differences.
- Scapegoating is making someone take the blame for problems caused by others or ourselves.
- Slavery is a system whereby one person owns another and can demand from that person labor or other services. The laborer is considered property, and can bought and sold like merchandise.
- Ethnic cleansing is a polite word used to hide a real act of terror — killing people because they are different.
- Societies that have suffered genocide have had at least one significant minority group that was "different" from the majority, and easily used as a "scapegoat."
- Prejudice ends when we can observe it in the making in ourselves.
Thinking for Yourself
- To understand prejudice, do you think it's important to be aware of what words we use in everyday conversation? Why?
- Can you see·how some thoughts and feelings can lead to words and acts, and therefore lead to conflict?
- Can you think of an example of stereotyping that you have done? Is the stereotype shared by your friends or members of your group? Can you see how it is not really true?
- Where have you seen signs of bigotry? Do you know someone who's strongly partial to his or her own group and intolerant of anyone who thinks differently? Why do you think bigots are so sure of themselves?
- Have you ever discriminated against someone, or some group? What happened? Have you been discriminated against? What was the situation?
- When was the last time you made someone a scapegoat? How do you think that made the "scapegoat" feel?
- Does it amaze you to know the incredible damage that prejudice can do? Were you aware of this before?'
- Which form(s) of prejudice have you experienced in your life?
- Do you recognize that the real roots of prejudice are exactly where we wish they weren't — inside us all?