Humans react. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t survive. Reacting is the way all living things respond in the face of perceived threat. Most threat manifests in the form of change, and not all change is threatening but, since it can be, we react – self-protectively – to change.
So, what does all this mean, socially?
Society has evolved a way of reacting to changes perceived as a threat, either to stability of groups or to institutions upon which specific groups are founded. If one group changes a societal norm, any associated group which suspects a threat to its own relative perceived value will react. This collective reaction is called backlash.
For their collective lifetime, American social groups have endured many such changes. Given that the social class system was imposed by its founders, and carried out by its earliest settlers, as larger swaths of its endless plains were claimed certain among those pedigreed established and maintained power. First, Caucasians dominated its continental natives; then, the wealthiest among these brought their slave class, largely African, to serve agriculture and family structure. Thusly, racism became the order of not merely the day but the entire mentality of this new society.
But, while racism against the African class by the Caucasian landowners was ubiquitous, within this insidious system there was further suppression, against publicly unacknowledged subgroups. These were identified by their sexual preference. Significantly, since the prevailing religion of the time was Christian, such variance in sexual preference was openly condemned. Being outcasts, those whose preferences did not align with the Christian creed were pushed underground to form secret societies. Given the limits of transportation, the structure of these societies was loose and local, if managed at all by word of mouth or discreet, encoded post. The idea of open backlash likely never entered the mind of any, given that being exposed would bring about certain social abolishment and even death.
A couple centuries hence, social change has heaved its mighty hand. Contrary to the nation’s founding social attitudes, much backlash has ensued. Fiery, life threatening reaction on all fronts has periodically branded the landscape, leaving a continuing wake of destructive waste and fear.
So, what of social survival? Those suppressed by racism have banded together, spoken out, acted out, and moved with collective conviction demanding equal treatment, equal rights, equal status. Those with alternate sexual identity have, as well. This reactivity is felt, in some circles, daily. Gradually, inexplicably, the tide is turning; now, those of alternate sexual preference are publicly acknowledged by an increasing majority, and those of the heretofore subjected races have achieved social recognition, social opportunity and, while much is still unresolved and conflict persists, increasing social status.
But, while the tide turns, the threat of flood is still real.
Because, in the interests of immediate gratification, backlash has become the first order of business. And backlash, being reactive, presumes threat. But, the motive being fear, backlash cannot produce a sustainable symbiosis; rather, it is inherently destructive, further weakening any hope for true reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.
Additionally, of increasing concern is an encroaching variation on public backlash: subversion. Now, the technological revolution has produced a mode of reaction which takes place beneath public political scrutiny, behind the scenes, in unacknowledged behaviors known only to those who populate its groups. Subversive backlash has embodied entire movements, even reaching the professional and economic sector. Now, power is assumed through internal social networking within a corporate structure; indeed, entire commercial enterprises are populated nearly exclusively by members of a particular social group – to the veritable exclusion of those not identified within.
This further threatens social stability. More groups exist, each with their own inherent power, but said power wielded in exclusive interest rather than inclusive. Self-selectivity abounds; the rules of engagement made clear by the prior, suppressive class, now those who “fit” are predetermined by any number of specific criteria. Is this peaceful coexistence? Hardly. Rather, those who seek their own kind are now subject to any number of self- empowered monopolists, pushing and pulling and jostling for rank according to a set of priorities which can never align and which are intrinsically resistant to collective agreement.
Such collective agreement is the essence of a stable society. Without, any subgroup can at any point rise up and confront the other. Revolution from within may serve some, but history has left a flood of casualty in droves as proof of its power to dismantle rather than sustain.
Negotiation is the higher form of conflict resolution, but such dissonance must first be acknowledged at table. Refusal to make plain intent prevents any hope of such resolution. Subversive behavior effectively subverts the possibility!
If we are to ever return to the ideal of a stable society, we must first be open, up front, and fully disclosing with one another. If we must continue to react, let us do so with pause, recognition, confession, and a purpose which seeks the kind of coexistence which is borne of genuine, mutual respect.
What’s your reaction?
© 9/5/2020 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. No copying, in part or whole, including translation permitted without written permission by the author. Thank you for your genuine respect.