Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Us Versus Them Mentality

A friend of Cog Dis pointed out three articles that are rather telling in the problems that we are facing as a state and a nation.

The first article is from NPR and shows why Milwaukee is the most segregated urban area in the nation:
The University of Wisconsin researchers say their analysis was truly eye-opening. They found that Wisconsin's incarceration rate for black men — 13 percent — was nearly double the country's rate. "We were so far above everybody else. That just sort of stunned us when we saw that," says Professor John Pawasarat, who studied two decades of Wisconsin's prison and employment data. Pawasarat found that nearly 1 in 8 black men of working age in Milwaukee County had served some time in the state's correctional facilities. At 13 percent, the rate was about 3 percentage points above Oklahoma's — the state with the second highest rate of incarceration for black males. (Gene Demby wrote about this same topic and noted that Wisconsin also has the highest rate of Native American men who are behind bars. One in 13 Indian men are incarcerated.) 
"The explosion really took place in the year 2000 to 2008 where mandatory sentencing, three strikes was put in place and it more than tripled the population in just a few years, which meant about half of the black men in their 30s or early 40s in Milwaukee County would have spent time in the state's correctional facilities. And two-thirds of the men come from the six poorest zip codes in Milwaukee," says Pawasarat.
In case one was living in a cave for the past two decades, the truth in sentencing and other similar laws were spearheaded by a then state legislator named Scott Walker.

Another thing that Walker and the other Teapublicans have excelled at was building up a deep-seated resentment, based on misconception, against areas like Milwaukee and Madison. This bears out in a recent study done by UW-Madison:
Kathy Cramer, a UW-Madison political scientist who describes herself as a lifelong Wisconsinite, said that over the last six years, she has been talking to people in communities around the state about how they view politics. She said that one theme she has heard is resentment in rural areas and small towns toward the state’s largest cities, especially Madison. 
“A lot of what I hear is, ‘You folks down in Madison just don’t get it. You don’t understand what rural life is like, how hard we work,'" she said. 
Cramer said that people often wrap the state government, the university and a perceived liberal community in Madison in one bundle -- and see condescension and elitism. A common perception is that “decision-makers in Madison ignore us, they don’t pay attention to what people in rural areas of Wisconsin want or think. And they make decisions and expect us to abide by them and don’t take the time to come out here and listen," she said. 
Cramer said the divide shapes political conflict and makes it hard for both sides to communicate with one another, much less get along. She said this was especially apparent during contentious times, like the state Capitol protests following the Act 10 legislation banning many forms of collective bargaining for most public employees in the state. 
She said she loves the state’s tradition of civil politics, and hopes that we can return to that. 
“There are things that people can connect on, but unfortunately once the venom of ‘us versus them’ gets inserted, it’s really hard to overcome that," she said.
That's a pretty impressive scam they have going. The Republicans trash the state and then point fingers at the liberals in Madison, ignoring the fact that they have been the ones in control for the past two years. It's like a mass Stockholm Syndrome where large groups of people are sympathizing with their oppressors.

The disconnect among the haves and have nots has been shown to be the fact that rich and powerful just don't give a fig about anyone but themselves:
A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker. 
In politics, readily dismissing inconvenient people can easily extend to dismissing inconvenient truths about them. The insistence by some House Republicans in Congress on cutting financing for food stamps and impeding the implementation of Obamacare, which would allow patients, including those with pre-existing health conditions, to obtain and pay for insurance coverage, may stem in part from the empathy gap. 
As political scientists have noted, redistricting and gerrymandering have led to the creation of more and more safe districts, in which elected officials don’t even have to encounter many voters from the rival party, much less empathize with them. Social distance makes it all the easier to focus on small differences between groups and to put a negative spin on the ways of others and a positive spin on our own. 
Freud called this “the narcissism of minor differences,” a theme repeated by Vamik D. Volkan, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia, who was born in Cyprus to Turkish parents. Dr. Volkan remembers hearing as a small boy awful things about the hated Greek Cypriots — who, he points out, actually share many similarities with Turkish Cypriots. Yet for decades their modest-size island has been politically divided, which exacerbates the problem by letting prejudicial myths flourish.
The author goes on to note what many of already innately know - that these barriers to communication fall if we let ourselves get to know people from the other side as individuals instead of just part of "them."  It's more difficult to hate someone that you know personally.

By keeping the citizenry separate from them, the ruling class feels no inhibition about inflicting the pains that they have on the average person - whether it's the tantrum by Republicans in Washington to the multitude of atrocities committed by Walker and his ilk or Chris Abele's attempts to profiteer off of the mentally ill and county workers.  If they actually knew who they were harming by their actions, they would be less likely to take those actions.

That's something to think about when you're contemplating which political candidate you're going to vote for.  Are they someone who sees you and understands what you're going through or they someone who sees through you as if you're not there?

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