Certain stories make the rounds about wild animals that get mistaken for pets. It can be someone from another country trying to pick up a skunk because it looks like a cat, a coyote or bear cub thought to be a stray dog, or a feral dog left alone with a house cat. The stories never end well. Once of the worse I heard (and some of these are true) was a young woman who found a badger cub and thought it a lost kitten so she took it home and put it in the basket with her kittens. Whether true or not, it makes a good model for a multicultural society that has scrapped the idea of a common culture, particularly when that culture ignores the differences between classes and ethnic groups for the simplistic broad groupings of race and sex. Whether you realize it or not, there are badgers in the basket.
All the above work off the idea that something you think you understand from your world doesn’t extrapolate to an outsider. It works both ways. If you read any of Rudy Payne’s work on poverty, many of the traits associated with generational poverty do not help one escape from it. Similarly many of the traits that make a middle class city dweller successful do not help them break into the upper class, survive in the lower class, or even be accepted in a rural middle class environment. Stories from the cities in the South with a large Yankee population during the aftermath of storms and hurricanes really highlighted this. One coworker commented that while his Yankee neighbors did their share during recovery from the storm, they did no more. They didn’t act as part of the community, they didn’t socialize, and they will be wondering for years why they don’t fit in. Similarly, despite the belief of most people, the signals aren’t money. I know one fellow who was told he’s got to be at least middle class because he “makes more coin than I do.” It’s not true – he’s pure working class who just got lucky in his skill set. His home life isn’t close but he’s smart enough to hide it. What do matter are the traits and patterns developed in your raising and, to a large extend, in college. The danger comes when these are misread: it can cost a promotion, a job, or your life depending on how and where you misread things. We see the social cost of misreading how people’s worldviews differ with the failure rates of certain groups at elite universities, in the government programs to extend home ownership, and in the inability of our political elite to understand the whole Middle East mess. Whether it’s not seeing the lack of certain skills you assume everyone has, the misunderstanding of a result for the traits that cause that result, or assuming all people really want to be liberal bobos, this mistake can be fatal.
Let’s look at some real life examples as we jump the fence and walk outside of the normal world most readers probably live in. All the names are made up but the stories are true. Some are amusing – others less so. Sometimes the kitten ends up among the badgers: for example, a young upper middle class woman was dating a biker type. They meet at a bar near college and ended up in the sack. He, let’s call him Bob, starts letting her, say Sharon, come with him when he hangs out with his bros. At one party, Bob is spending all his time talking to some old guy and Sharon is getting a little attention starved. First, she wanders over and tries to get his attention. She’s ignored. After trying a few things and being rebuffed, Sharon gets angry and tries to pick a verbal fight publically in front of the fellows he runs with. Bob first ignores her and then in no uncertain terms to, he tells her to act her age and shut up. Sharon loses her temper and slaps him. Without any hesitation, in fact you never even see his hand moved, Bob slaps her back hard enough she’s flipped over the back of the couch and lands on someone’s lap. Bob returns to his conversation without comment and the rest of the room does the same.
Sharon is shocked – she was always told you don’t hit ladies – and looking at the guys she landed on, says in shock “he hit me.” One of the guys guzzled some beer and replied: “you hit him first.” Sharon was horrified to find out not only did no one care, but they all thought she got what she deserved.
A few observations can be made: the old rule about striking a lady is very class specific and even there assumed certain conduct on both parts. If the whole concept of striking a woman is pushing your buttons, we have just defined your class. In other classes, letting your woman act like that to you means you’re a weakling. Note the possessive: it is intentional. There is a youtube video that shows an assault that starts with the assailant asking “whose bitch is this?” This is even stronger in other places where a woman’s value is a reflection of her man’s or her families. Over reacting would be the same if opposite error. The negligent slap makes it a statement. Negligent in that she’s just not that valuable. Striking with an open hand – how you discipline a dog or a child instead of a real opponents who require weapons – shows she’s not a serious problem. It was a nuisance: nothing to get upset when serious matters are on the table. Longer term implications depend on her response: accept of the correction or continuing to be a “problem” where her boyfriend washes his hands of her.
Another example of assuming your worldview is the only one can be seen with the “rape activists” on campus. Despite the claims of rape culture and oppression on campus, most activists have no idea of what a society that considers women lesser beings is really like. Most of them are smart enough not to go to Saudi to hold their “slut walks” or “take back the night.” There is a very definite belief system at work –these women are sure no one is coming out to beat them or pick them off one by one. That’s not the case in societies with actual rape cultures or where rape is used as a means of educational beat-down instead of killing her. Similarly a whole set of assumptions on rape and rapists can be seen in false rape narratives at Columbia and the University of Virginia. The advocates and academics know why all this happens and why women never lie about rape because they know better than we and are better people. The implications of their worldview that women are such delicate flowers they can’t deal with men or with making a decision seems to be invisible to them. This is inside their safe little yard. Outside the picket fence, rape can be motivated by lots of reasons and some of them involve an attitude toward women these people don’t or can’t imagine. In certain cultures, it is a survival trait to shut up and not tell anyone. In others, it’s a death sentence to end up in that situation at all. In many, rape can be a fact of life. Supposedly that why Mark Twain’s last Huck Finn novel was never finished: what happened to women captured by the Comanche was well known.
Another young lady, say Alexis, was studying martial arts to learn to defend herself. Having done the Woman’s Center self-defense class, she realized she enjoyed it and moved to a more traditional school – traditional as taught classically and not really neither a self-defense school nor a Mc Dojo. A petite and athletic woman, she soon enjoyed herself but was frustrated that often size and strength meant techniques didn’t always work. So one day she addresses these concerns with her instructor. They had the normal discussion about the multiple reasons for practicing a marital art and the multiple dimension of the whole concept of self-defense. Alexis still had concerns and asked “How do I defend myself physically from a rape?” This launched a discussion of rational preventive behavior and since Alexis wasn’t a feminist or a liberal art student, he was not accused of victim blaming. She was, however, concerned about a physical assault.
Alexis: So, if I was going to fight back, what do I need to do
Instructor: Well, it depends… How are you attacked?
Alexis: I dunno. How would you rape me?
Instructor: I don’t rape people. Sex with the unwilling would be boring
Alexis: Well, if you were going to rape me, what would you do?
Instructor: I guess I’d nail you across the back of the head with a sap, carry you off to wherever, and tell anyone we met you got drunk and passed out again.
Alexis: Couldn’t that kill me?
Instructor: “Maybe. But why would I care?”
Alexis left the school shortly after that. As extreme as that might sound, one has to realize the assumption human life has value is a cultural value, both in the value it as and what the culture says is permissible. Anyone following the news currently should be aware from both ISIS’s action with captured women and the actions of the refugees in German and Sweden that the Middle East is not a feminist place. Another example is what a female reporter was told in Saudi when interviewing a bunch of young men about for an article on Saudi life. A friend of hers brought her and while she didn’t realize it, she was considered “his” and under his protection. So everyone was very friendly and shared the homemade hooch, and she finished her interview. Somehow on the end the topic of women came up and she asked what would have happened if she came alone. She was told she would have been raped and probably murdered as there was lot of desert to hide the body in. This probably explains why feminists don’t go and protest in Saudi.
Consequently most people living within their own picket fence circumscribed by an agenda or social ideology don’t seem to understand is the myriad frameworks and social mores within their own country or with their carefully circumscribed world view. This is seen today in the US in the disconnection between the cultural elite and political class and the folks living in fly-over country among others. Comments about “NY City values” may get mocked but they reflect an understanding of different sets of rules in different places. (One could similarly draw from the other side of the political debate.) Sadly this belief that everyone really thinks the same has international implications too. Our policy in the Middle East has been seriously screwed up by the belief the people there think like we do. Some of this is being driven home in Europe with the crime problems caused by refugees – a situation to some degree predicted in “Camp of the Saints.” Historically, people have realized the clash of cultures bring the potential for violence, assault and death. We’ve lost that. Even within our country, there is NOT one homogenized culture as is currently believed. Our grandparents knew better. Similarly the world is not made of people who want to be little bobos or tolerant social justice warriors. It’s big outside the yard.
This essay is part of a book by Marc Mac Young: Beyond The Picket Fence: Life Outside the Middle-Class Bubble
Rules, traditions of the past, and assumptions… all have been swept away by rapid social change. Instead of freeing people this has left us stressed, confused, unprepared, and unable to navigate different environments and situations that can be more than just hostile. Environments outside suburbia can become dangerous — especially for teens and young adults.
“Beyond the Picket Fence” isn’t a self-defense book, but it is very much about what will get you into trouble with people.
Arrests, violence, and rapes often befall young people when they go ‘out to party.’ Originally this book was — literally — about how not to get killed while outside suburbia and in places where it is easy to cross unspoken lines. Yet the best meaning prohibitions usually fall on deaf ears. This book takes a different approach. We’re not telling young people, “Don’t go.” We know they’ll go. Instead we’ll them what they need to look out for when they wander outside their home’s picket fence. We’ll help them stay out of jail or the emergency room.
At the same time, this book is about a whole lot more…
To the young reader:
Giving you the knowledge to remain safe is still the primary purpose of this book. But it grew beyond just that. It turned into a primer on how to read unspoken rules in environments, recognize what is important in different places, and how not to shoot yourself in the foot in the adult world. There are many ways to destroy your education, career, and relationships when you don’t understand local rules.
This book isn’t a list of do’s, don’ts, and platitudes from times past. It’s about deep structures that underlie both spoken and unspoken rules. Mostly it’s about how to figure them out before you get into trouble by breaking them. When we talk about how to get along in foreign countries, we also show you how to get along here at home. Due to ‘normalcy bias,’ seeing the different rules at home is actually a lot harder. These rules also can change after just walking through a door, crossing an imaginary line, signing a piece of paper, or not knowing exactly whom you’re talking to. It’s a frustrating and confusing mess, but you have to figure out how it works. This book will help you do that.
This book isn’t just useful when you send a son or daughter off to college. It’s for you and the kids still at home. Life has taught you some things are very important and others less so. Often this knowledge is subconscious — including why doing something is a good idea or a really bad one. It’s difficult and frustrating to try to consciously explain something you know subconsciously to young people — especially the ‘why.’ Again, this book makes it easier.
To those who have an abusive and dysfunctional background:
Have you ever felt there was a ‘rulebook’ given to everyone else but you? This book will help you figure out those rules.