Put ‘em down!

We love a good put-down.  Movies and TV have developed elaborate fantasy cultures of the grand put-down.  Our hero humiliates the guy in the black hat;  grinds his face into the mud.  The cop smashes his club into the bad guy’s face.  The schmuck shows the schlemiel and the schnook where to get off, and we all laugh till our sides hurt.
      But all we gulls know that  sometimes we end up on the wrong end of the schtick.
      Humble is one thing; humiliation is something else.  We should feel humble when we discover that the “lowly” bee sees  the ultraviolet that we don’t perceive until too late and it has given us a sunburn. 
     The bee humbles us with her perception of polarization she uses to navigate by the sun on a largely cloudy day.  Our brain is humbled by a bird’s brain, a brain that knows a kind of color (with 6-D rank ordering) for which we need some of our most advanced mathematics before we can ask even the simplest questions about it.  But we are not humiliated by such discoveries.
     When we watched Richard Feynman work his magic and miracles with mathematical physics we were awed, humbled...but not humiliated.  Steve Frautchi, a good theoretical physicist in his own right, was once asked how he felt about the fact that if Feynman turned his attention to the problems Frautchi was working on, Feynman might come up in minutes with answers that Frautchi might take months to uncover. Frautchi said that  didn’t bother him because he saw theoretical physics not as a competition, like a foot race, but as an activity done for the sake of doing it.  You wouldn’t stop climbing mountains because some highly conditioned distance runner runs past you as you near the summit of Long’s peak (elev 14,255) having started (elev. 10,000) an hour ago while it took you six hours to get there.  Your are humbled; you are not humiliated.

 
 
 

 Humiliation, the dictionary tells us, is a “lowering of status.”  The swifts of the world realize that this is a logic-blind concept.  Not only is it ethically wrong, it’s logically wrong, a simpleminded ploy that’s for the birds (the tensor-dodo).  It’s a scalar reduction of a many-componented (like a tensor) reality.
     “Lower status” vs “higher status” is a concept out of a restricted perception that sees only the simplest shadow of the social universe.  It is a concept of bigotry.  Of prejudice.  Of irrational stereotyping.  Of "profiling."
     When the shapers of our myths and role models, through their TV programming and movies, depict addiction to humiliating others as acceptable, even admirable, they inject an addictive poison into society more toxic than those chemical drugs we so abhor.
     Recognition of multicomponent ranking is an antidote to this poison.  Recognition of multi-element intricacy is a first step to recognizing relevance and irrelevance.  What could be less relevant to a person’s value within society than skin color or ethnicity?  What could be more relevant than tolerance of difference?   What could be more valuable than diversity of skills, perceptions, and intellects, especially to a species that specializes in adaptability?
     “Status” is a totally colorblind view of a richly colorful world.  Our social vision is a lot like our color vision.  Today, we realize that our three-factor color is a profoundly colorblind perception of an infinity of dimensions, and that the spectrum extends a quasi-infinite distance in both directions from our all too human vision.
     The birds do a lot better and in ways we can barely comprehend.  Be humble.
     Forget humiliation.  It’s really dumb.

 

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