What does it mean to be human? What makes us different from the beasts? The line between intelligent life and organisms without said intelligence can sometimes be blurred. Famed philosopher B.F. Skinner’s model of behavioral technology, while demonstrating some feasible ideas, is often claimed to be guilty of doing so, an explanation of the world that demeans humanity to be merely dogs engaged in Pavlov’s famous experiments of conditioning.
Yet we are more than animals, far more than animals. We are human. We think. We feel. We laugh. We cry. We love. We hate.
For every act of good that the human being is capable of, there is a reciprocal action that he/she can perform which causes the most dreadful of harm. This, often, is hate.
It’s very odd, given the serious nature of the events that have taken place at the University of Missouri the last few months, that the first thing that comes to my mind is an ugly, green Muppet. That would be Yoda, in the first Star Wars prequel film, explaining the origins and effects of hate.
“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate…leads to suffering.”
So we fear. When we fear, the response often becomes frustration towards the continued prevalence of our fear. The frustration builds until it becomes loathing. And if we wallow long enough in the mire of our loathing, we eventually lash out, in a way that is often the farthest thing from humane.
The chain of events is a descent, a downward spiral from being human to basic, instinctual, inhumane living. At the bottom of that spiral, we lose humanness all together. We become animals.
That world was probably thrown around at Mizzou in the last few months. So too were other words that meant the same thing. Words, as well as actions, meant to degrade, to brutalize, to abuse and to dehumanize.
Dehumanize. Less than human. Like some animal. When and why does it go that far?
It’s fairly easy to understand why Tim Wolfe is no longer president at MU and why others with executive power are nervously looking over their shoulders. Concerned Student 1950 and the Jonathan Butler hunger strike were movements gaining serious movement, but the administration at Mizzou did not have a stirring enough reason to listen to their complaints of racism running rampant on campus.
Then the football players stepped in. Once the majority of black players stepped forward to say they were boycotting all team activities until Wolfe resigned (and head coach Gary Pinkel publicly supported his players’ decision), the university suddenly was compelled into drastic action.
Had the football team not played its game Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City against Brigham Young, the university would have owed BYU more than $1 million to compensate for the contract signed between both schools and other attorney fees.
Whether or not Wolfe had done enough to address the issue of racism at Mizzou was never a question asked by administration. But when the almighty football dollar was at stake, the administration’s actions were never in question. Wolfe’s job, and the moral compass that comes it, was never worth the revenue football generates.
And so the grand demand made by those tired of the racial climate in Columbia has been met. The football team will play again. A victory has been won. All is well.
Tim Wolfe did not do what was necessary to avoid the continued display of blatant hatred at MU. There is too much evidence to dispute that fact. But calling for the man to step down, to lose his job, is an extreme measure. Even someone involved with the cries of change would tell you so.
But extreme times call for extreme measures. And herein lies the central problem of this entire saga, a problem that was not solved despite what occurred today.
Tim Wolfe would not have had so many crying for his head if he had exhausted every avenue possible to combat the hate that was purveying his jurisdiction. Had he been a genuinely useful resource for students who were feeling suppressed in their everyday environment, he would have not become a victim.
Tim Wolfe did not fix the problem. Someone else must now come in and attempt to do so. It is to that person, if I were to speak to him or her, I would say what I am about to say.
In his press conference Tuesday morning, Tim Wolfe said he loves Columbia and he loves MU. I don’t doubt that. But even the most loving parent will admit that their child is not perfect. And if Tim Wolfe loves Missouri the same way I do, he would admit its flaws, which today have become fatal.
I like where I grew up. It’s a nice place. It’s a small farming town called Concordia. The population is probably right around 2,500. The people are friendly, religious, hard-working and stubborn.
Everyone knows everyone. Families, like the buildings on Main Street, stay in the same location from hundreds of years ago when they were first erected by Anglo-Saxon and German immigrants. The weather is unpredictable. The schools are small. There is a great deal of pride in this little community amongst its citizens.
I would happily tell you all these things about where I was born and raised if I was asked. But I like to think that I’m a honest person, so if you asked me to completely describe where I came from, I’d tell you more.
For instance, I’d tell you that about close to ninety percent of the population are white. I’d tell you I have friends I grew up with who proudly display the Confederate flag. I’d tell you about the ugly things I’ve heard said by my elders about how uncomfortable they are with people of a different skin color.
I think I’d especially tell you about the autumn fair the town holds every year. Everyone seems to come back to Concordia for the fair. It’s a marvelous time to reconnect and celebrate with friends and family.
Well, most of the time.
On the Friday evening of the fair, they hold the Concordia Comical Crew parade. Concordia is a German word that loosely translates to “harmony.” In some spellings of the word in German, the word is spelled with a K first instead of a C.
When the tradition of the parade was first conceived, those in charge decided it would a fun play on words to have all three words in the title start with a K. So, every year at the fair, folks would head down to Main Street on Friday night to watch the K-K-K parade.
This seems like a harmless mistake, a simple faux pas in etiquette from a few misguided hillbillies. You might be right. But you should also that it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that the name was changed. People were actually stunned that a change was called for.
But the naming problem is really just the tip of the iceberg. The parade itself is a sight to behold. People design floats that are intended to be humorous. That form of humor happens to be the Blue Collar Comedy Tour on steroids and drunk off its ass. Nothing is off limits. The image that sticks out to me is a float called “Osama bin Laden’s Family Album,” which featured several crude renderings of Arabic people.
I’m not going to go into much detail of it other than that, but I would hope the picture is clear. The notion of being obscene, of displaying other cultures in derogatory terms, is encouraged and celebrated. A night filled with the scent of liquor in the air and loud slurs ringing through the night sky is a proud part of the culture where I come from.
I would imagine this is not different from the many other small towns where so many young people aspire to attend college at Mizzou. These are places very much removed from the world, hovels sheltered away from common thinking. In some ways this benefits a person greatly. But in this particular instance, it has proved to be the source of a disaster.
In these communities, change is often less of an unwelcome guest so much as a reviled enemy. The old joke goes that you’ll never know how many Germans it takes to change a light bulb because they refuse to do so. What is different is unknown, unfamiliar. The general response to people from these communities to the unknown and unfamiliar is uneasiness. People are plain scared of that which they cannot comprehend.
The instant reaction is fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. You know the rest.
When we fear something, we try to belittle it to feel superior. So it has gone throughout human history. But where this fear becomes a tool for destruction is when the act of becoming superior squashes out another human being. Life of all kinds in humanity should be valued of the highest order. This gets lost in a mad scramble to eliminate something that is different for small reasons: skin color, language, culture, etc.
And so it goes as many people leave their little towns to go out into the real world. They discover that nothing is as simple as it once was. They encounter new ways of thinking, new people with new backgrounds and new styles of living. The amount of uniqueness in the world stuns and dizzies them. They suddenly face a choice: embrace the new unknown around them, or be paralyzed with fear and try to fight for a return to simpler times when change was unlawful and people didn’t act in a different manner than their own.
One of these two choices ends poorly, especially when the cost to attain it is the demonization of human life. But sometimes that doesn’t matter to people. They see an animal when they should see a person. It’s a shame, because to claim another person is not worthy of the basic rights of being human is to be the closest thing to being an animal.
And so, when black students could not have their voices heard above the loud cries of a majority terrified at something that is the unholy complex known as “different,” they went to extreme lengths. The plan worked, but as many involved with the movement have noted, the work is not done. I would thinks this is largely because the hope would be that such a measure as having to demand Tim Wolfe be fired would never once be considered.
But because people were so unwilling to embrace something different; because rednecks set in their vile, backwards ways could not do anything but project their fear of something they could not immediately relate to with destructive hate; and because those in a position of power to make changes that created a safer environment for students did not fulfill that duty to the fullest extent, the students at the University of Missouri feeling oppressed by racism had no choice but to make a power play.
They were forced to drastic strategy, and they were not just forced there by Tim Wolfe. They were forced there because of you and me.
You and I are also the reason why the work is not done. Every one of us who does not suffer the burden of being a minority and instead abuses those who are for the sake of calming our own fears is the real problem. The preconceived notions we have put in place about those who aren’t anything like what we grew up understanding have to be put aside. If you are a proud Missouri citizen and you often wonder why the world laughs at us, I encourage you to actually look in to the events that led to Butler’s hunger strike and the formation of Concerned Student 1950. These are words and acts of war, often done under the cover of anonymity, on human life of a different variety simply because it is different.
I said and did terrible things in my younger years against people of different cultures because I was scared like you. Days like today remind me how foolish I was. If it does not do the same for you, I would suggest you go back to your gated communities where you were raised. The rest of us don’t need you and your bile.
However, it was in my little home town where I went to church, two places people try to associate consistently with intolerance. It was in church I learned the Fifth Commandment: “You shall not murder.” While this seems quite straightforward, I learned in church that this statement was not only meant to discourage murder in purely the physical sense. Murder, rather, could be committed simply by saying hateful words, by discriminating against others, by doing anything in word or deed that devalued another human life.
Those who have committed the vile atrocities that led to today’s events have committed murder. Anyone who discriminates is guilty of attempting to harm life, and that is unacceptable, at the University of Missouri or anywhere else.
It’s true that the national attention this story has gained makes it very easy to step in and take a stand against racism. But I hope whoever becomes the next president at Mizzou realizes that he or she is walking into a territory where people are born and raised with a sense of ignorance. The problem is not Mizzou. The problem isn’t even Missouri. The problem is the majority, the people who have given up on the value of humanity’s existence, variety and spontaneity out of fear. Fear has led to anger, anger to hate, hate to suffering.
But out of every nightfall there is a sunrise. There can come healing from the suffering. The first step is to end the fear, to embrace the uniqueness of being human in all facets. I know that where I come from, my Missouri and Ol’ Mizzou, can be a great place that embraces the joy of life. Only when the fear is dealt with can the anger and the hate subside, and the suffering disappear.
We aren’t animals. We are human, black or white, tall or short, from the west or the east. We are all different, we are all special, we are all worth it. We need to own that fact with pride while not stepping on others who vary from us. Only when we see that can we truly call ourselves human.