We like to see things as black and white. Pedophiles are emotionless land-monster predators (basically the equivalent of sharks, except they can’t breathe underwater (and also they want to have sex with children, sharks probably don’t do that)); we can all agree on that, right? Women who abandon their newborn babies are hardly women at all. Politicians who misbehave should lose their jobs. Or should they? Is being a politician just a ridiculous, thankless job? Is being a new mother one of the most stressful things a woman is likely to go through? Is the life of a pedophile already a terrible one, except for the millionaire DJ ones? We’ve all avoided nuance at one time or another, and I want to examine the reasons for it.
One reason is because there’s a perception that people believe things are black and white (I’ll be talking a lot about perception in future blog posts; please try not to pee yourself in excitement, otherwise when people see you they’ll get a certain perception of you because of the wet spot on your trousers). This doesn’t mean that people genuinely believe that everything is black and white, only that they believe that other people will express that opinion, that other people have that perception about still other people. That belief keeps us from publicly examining the shades of grey, because we cannot expect support from others. If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry, it only barely made sense to me as a wrote it.
If we admit that other people can be good as well as bad (for example, did you know that Hitler also did some not very good landscape paintings?), then we also must admit to ourselves that we can be bad as well as good. That’s a dangerous thing to admit publicly because nobody else would be willing to admit the same thing. It’s also an uncomfortable thing to admit even privately, because nobody wants to think of themselves as bad. If we think about it, though, we all have the capacity for an incredible range of thoughts and actions. There, but for the grace of God, go we all.
Probably the main reason, I think, is just due to the architecture of our brains. You’ve probably heard of the idea that our brain is made of separate parts, with the highest part sometimes referred to as the mammalian brain and the lower parts as the reptile brain, etc. (I just can’t remember the others, so the etc. has to stand in for them.)
The lower parts of the brain are more easily activated than the higher parts. You don’t have to think about something to be afraid of it or angry at it. You have to think pretty hard to get yourself to stop feeling angry or afraid, though. When someone punches you in the face, you’re angry, upset, defensive. You don’t stop to think that maybe it was an accident. The lower parts of your brain can also easily override the higher, thinking parts.
Those lower parts are being activated all the time, partly because it’s so easy. All forms of media are activating the lower parts of our brain constantly, activating our fear and our anger and our judgement and our sexuality. Thus, those parts get practice, and we don’t even have to do anything about it. The thinking parts need practice too, but it has to be an active thing, we have to make ourselves think about something or we’ll just think about nothing or let other people do that thinking for us.