Because the problem of systemic racism has been receiving deserved attention, a mention of system caught my ear today on an episode of the podcast Armchair Expert. The host, Dax Shepard, expressed the thought that systems are better than people. This was his way of saying that some things are better left to systems than individuals. His used the example of hooks for car seats that are built into all new cars, by law, as a means of strong attachment. He feels certain that if it cost $200 extra to add hooks to a car (a made-up cost) that many parents and caregivers wouldn’t do it. I find it easy to agree. So that’s a case where he (and I) would choose a system over people. The same could be said about seat belts, of course, and other safety features on cars and other items. For that matter, highways operate with a system. These are choices made by consensus by The State and they supersede individual wishes. Even in a country as dedicated to individual freedom as the United States, there are plenty of systems established for the good of all. Some, of course, would say there are too many. But some of these systems (like driving) have become invisible, as if they were established by nature. Heck, I was struck to learn that even time had to be standardized, for the sake of railroads and other commercial enterprises, and it was corporations that lobbied governments at various levels to put a system over the wishes of individuals.
There are also systems that arise organically, and we also come to operate within these. Yesterday I came across a devastating video that illustrates this with children, as a wise and imaginative teacher creates an arbitrary system of discrimination and prejudice that instantly altered the behavior and experience of both sides of the division. Many of the children who were deemed superior due to eye color quickly became cruel, and many of the children were doubtlessly stung by losing a basis for connection with classmates. The “inferior” segment quickly become sad and bitter, and rightfully so. Some are reduced to tears. Their classroom performance suffers. This is is a case where the system is worse than the people.
The question that has once again intensified is: Can’t we find better ways that will help all act from our better natures and enjoy life? Systems exist that have the opposite effect. They might be invisible to the privileged segment, but they are unbearable to the oppressed segment. Can we not listen to these pleas and reengineer society for the sake of all of us?
There is no system that discriminates by hair color. That would be absurd: Certain rights reserved only to Brown Hairs, for example. We’d have to create that, and it would be hard to do and painful if ever established. And yet painful discriminatory systems already exist based on the color of skin.
The relevance to my current research is: I have never paid attention to the hair color of Scrooge, or only glancingly. The aged Scrooge has little hair or much, and it is white or gray or turning white or gray, and young Scrooge could have any hair color whatsoever. I would think nothing of it. And yet skin color–yes, I would notice. Why is that so? It traces back to decisions as arbitrary as the favoring of blue eyes over brown in a classroom.