Contrast and comparison. We describe, define, and divide the world around us using both. Boys are tougher than girls. Girls are more emotional. Democrats care more about people than Republicans. Republicans are more responsible and realistic than Democrats. My dogma attributed to God is better than yours. This culture is better or worse than that culture because of this attribute. People who drive Priuses are better than people who drive Humvees. People who only ride bicycles are even better. Vegetarians and Vegans are ethically superior. Omnivores are more true to their biological nature. My team is better than your team. Contrast is scary. Contrast is attractive. Brown men and women are exotic and sexy. Don’t you love that accent? What interesting and beautiful clothing!
We identify ourselves in contrast to other people and then cluster together with those we perceive to be like us, building walls, gates, rules, and laws to keep the contrast away. You must have a keycode to enter this neighborhood, you must hide your car in the garage. You may only paint your house in this limited palette in order to avoid contrast. We go to the restaurants, bars, gyms, and supermarkets where the other customers contrast least with our norm. Then, once a year, some of us are so starved for contrast that we travel halfway around the world to find it. We dive in to another culture, marvel at the difference, document our immersion with selfies, and then, because deep down we are terrified, we go to McDonalds with the other people like us to escape the contrast.
You may think I am denigrating the people I describe above because they are different from me. You would be correct, to a point. I despise HOAs, I seek out contrast and exotica. I never go to McDonalds even in this country, and certainly not in one with far superior cuisine (any country in the world). But I am guilty of avoiding contrast as well. When I travel, I by and large avoid Americans and the places they most frequent. I don’t socialize at home with people who are frightened of contrast. I avoid Republicans, especially now, and I consider anyone who supports Trump for any reason to be morally inferior, or at least delusional.
Sometimes I can’t avoid these people, or I accidentally encounter them. I might be in a conversation with someone in a coffee shop about the latest movie or TV show, or I might ask to pet their dog, because I can’t resist a canine. I might be sharing stories of grandchildren with another grandparent. In those moments we are all the same tribe. Then something will happen, a comment, maybe, that outs them as different. I spent a year being friends with a guy I met here where I am writing right now. He was fascinating, friendly, smart, and seemed like a decent sort. He had been in the tech industry as had I, had made some money, and decided to leave it all behind for a nomadic life on his bicycle. He had a cool website about his journeys, and lots of stories. Then this past year, he passed through town again. About a month later, the subject of Central American refugees came up. He made some incredibly insensitive and downright racist statements. When I called him on it, he made jokes. Our friendship ended on the spot.
I have friends who maintain relationships with Trump supporters because they are family members, or because they have other things in common that override the racism somehow. I can’t do it. They tell me that, deep down, we are all the same, and that such reprehensible beliefs, words, and actions are a result of life experience and trauma. Everything tastes like chicken, in other words. The thing is, everything does not taste like chicken. In fact, I have never had anything except chicken which tastes like chicken.
I took the photo above across the street from a house I’m working on. I boosted the contrast all the way up on my phone to get the image you see. This is what we do when we generalize about a group. There are still nuanced differences in evidence, whether it be the little bit of color in the prickly pear, or the higher resolution of the shadows on the sidewalk. My grandchildren’s other grandparents voted for Trump. They are some of the sweetest, kindest people I know.
Nothing but chicken tastes like chicken, but chicken can have a lot of different characteristics and flavors.