Saturday, September 11, 2010

Group Dehumanization

Our society is becoming increasingly divided.  Many of us fit into groups of various labels;  we each make use of these labels to a greater or lesser degree.   I, for instance, am a white Christian woman; I am a homeschool, stay-at-home mom; I am within the income level some call "below the poverty".  All these things combined are not really who I am; and certainly no single one of them expresses accurately even a fraction of who I am.

Along with this grouping into various factions of society, comes a constantly increasing amount of group identity.  What starts as a way to help one or another group, ends up diminishing the individual member of the group.  This group identity, then, leads to perpetually decreasing individual humanity.  Gradually none of us is seen as his or her self, a unique individual person, given life by a loving heavenly Father.  Instead  we are mere shells; a mythical sum of our various group identities.

Society has undergone many changes throughout time that are for the good.  Even as recently as the last fifty years, for instance, we have made cultural changes that allow people of color to participate fully in our society.

We eschew labeling anyone by his or her color or gender or religion or occupation, or whatever label you might choose, but at the same time we are increasingly dependent upon those various labels for one purpose or another.  Sometimes it is for political clout.  Sometimes it is to get something from the government or from a non-government charitable organization.  Sometimes for some other reason.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was filling out the application for the reduced price lunches for those of my children who are attending the local public schools.  Yes, these free lunches for which my kids qualify certainly are a financial boon for us.  But is it a necessary thing?  No.  I have been providing healthful meals for my kids here at home for many years and I could certainly continue to do so even with them attending public school.  I could provide sack lunches for them with the occasional luxury of a cafeteria meal.  Yes, I could do this.

But, somehow, income level has become tied together with learning difficulties.  This labeling equates poor people with individuals who have learning challenges to overcome.  I'm not exactly sure how this works and it's a stereotype I despise.  But there we have it; the amount of money the school gets for Special Ed programs, if I understand correctly, is based on the number of children who qualify for free lunches.

One sees the same thing in the Head Start program that is specifically aimed at people of the lower income levels.  Do all mothers who live below the poverty line provide poor educational preparedness for their children?  Conversely do all higher income level mothers provide needed preparedness?  Vain labels, indeed.

Here is another example of this labeling that made me especially frustrated a few years back.  I received in the mail a supposedly voluntary survey.  It was from some state organization, I believe that in conjunction with the University of Minnesota was researching the relationship of timely pre-natal care to low birth weight babies.

On the surface, this seems like a benign enough study.  But the questions in the survey were anything but neutral.  The assumption seemed to be that anyone who did not get to her pre-natal appointments was an under-educated, smoking, drunken, poverty level woman who uses drugs and whose husband beats her.  And I ask then, with all these other factors they seemed to quite obviously be anticipating, how could they even make a connection that the lack of pre-natal care was the primary factor in any low birth weight baby.  Or did they anticipate not having enough respondents within the pre-natal care parameters they were exploring, who were also without other risk factors, which would thereby make them unable to get a true correlation between the pre-natal care and the birth weight?  Either way, the group identity prevails.

At the time I received this survey, I had recently borne, I think, my eighth child.  The pregnancy was an especially fatiguing one.  I hadn't gone to all my pre-natal appointments.  If I recall correctly, I did not get to one until I was about six months along, so that by the time I missed a few more appointments, I think I may have had only four or five prenatal appointments as opposed to the recommended fifteen or sixteen.  Since I don't fit into any of the groups the survey seemed to be attempting to lump together, I really ought to have filled it out.  I would have broken their stereotypes. And even if they were merely trying to identify other risk factor in order to streamline the results, my ten pound healthy baby girl would certainly not have drawn any correlation between low birth weight and timely pre-natal care.

The above examples all exhibit a lack of personal identity.  People are labeled by group and identified by group and treated as a member of said group instead of as individual persons.

I don't know how far this trend toward group identity and ensuing lack of personal identity will continue.  With the passage of the new health care bill into law, it seems as though it can only go down hill.  How is a bureaucracy to analyze anyone's medical needs if not by some statistical actuarial interpretation of group data?

Or worse yet, is it happening already.  Are there in any number of public policy meetings or think tanks or what have you, "experts" discussing what to do with various ones of us; how to control us, or get the most out of us.   A morbid thought, but I don't know that it is far fetched.

This all makes more sense in my head, but trying to get it in writing was somewhat difficult today.  Feel free to leave any comments that might help clarify my thought processes.

I originally thought of all this today while reading The Old Curiosity Shop,
     Supper was not yet over, when there arrived at the Jolly Sandboys two more travellers bound for the same haven as the rest, who had been walking in the rain for some hours, and came in shining and heavy with water. One of these was the proprietor of a giant, and a little lady without legs or arms,...
     'How's the Giant?' said Short, when they all sat smoking round the fire.
     'Rather weak upon his legs,' returned Mr Vuffin. 'I begin to be afraid he's going at the knees.'
     'That's a bad look-out,' said Short.
     'Aye! Bad indeed,' replied Mr Vuffin, contemplating the fire with a sigh. 'Once get a giant shaky on his legs, and the public care no more about him than they do for a dead cabbage stalk.'
     'What becomes of old giants?' said Short, turning to him again after little reflection.
     'They're usually kept in carawans to wait upon the dwarfs,' said Mr. Vuffin.
     'The maintaining of 'em must come expensive, when they can't be shown, eh?' remarked Short, eyeing him doubtfully.
     'It's better that, than letting 'em go upon the parish or about the streets,' said Mr Vuffin. 'Once make a giant common and giants will never draw again. Look at wooden legs. If there was only one man with a wooden leg what a property he'd be!'
     'So he would!' observed the landlord and Short both together. 'That's very true.'
     'Instead of which,' pursued Mr Vuffin, 'if you was to advertise Shakespeare played entirely by wooden legs,' it's my belief you wouldn't draw a sixpence.'
     'I don't suppose you would,' said Short. And the landlord said so too.
     'This shows, you see,' said Mr Vuffin, waving his pipe with an argumentative air, 'this shows the policy of keeping the used-up giants still in the carawans, where they get food and lodging for nothing, all their lives, and in general very glad they are to stop there. There was one giant--a black 'un--as left his carawan some year ago and took to carrying coach-bills about London, making himself as cheap as crossing-sweepers. He died. I make no insinuation against anybody in particular,' said Mr Vuffin, looking solemnly round, 'but he was ruining the trade;--and he died.'
     The landlord drew his breath hard, and looked at the owner of the dogs, who nodded and said gruffly that he remembered.
     'I know you do, Jerry,' said Mr Vuffin with profound meaning. 'I know you remember it, Jerry, and the universal opinion was, that it served him right....
     'What about the dwarfs when they get old?' inquired the landlord.
     'The older a dwarf is, the better worth he is,' returned Mr Vuffin; 'a grey-headed dwarf, well wrinkled, is beyond all suspicion. But a giant weak in the legs and not standing upright!--keep him in the carawan, but never show him, never show him, for any persuasion that can be offered.'
From this preserve us heavenly Father!

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