Gated communities of the mind

Many years ago, I was walking through New London, Conn. late on a summer day and spotted a dog trotting along the sidewalk, obviously on some doggish errand, and paying no attention to anyone around. I remember him turning a corner very decisively & vanishing from sight.

The scene struck me as odd, but it took me a second to realize that I never thought of dogs as having self-motivation. I’d lived with dogs my whole life, but they were usually asleep or reacting to some human; going for a walk in the woods with me, eating their supper, chasing a car, or something similar.

I was recently thinking about my reaction to the dog, and what it said about my human chauvinism. I was 19 and had just realized that the world doesn’t revolve around humans. Thinking about that realization lead me to intuit that a lot of people probably see other humans through a similar filter. For instance, there are doubtlessly guys to whom it never occurs that women have any life outside of reacting to guys. (See: ‘Bechdel Test’ for more on this idea.)

It’s an interesting exercise to consider members of a range of other chauvinistic groups where the person barely ascribes personhood to people outside their group.

I’ve no idea if it’s possible to trigger a revelation in those people like mine on that long-ago summer day… but without that breakthrough of seeing others as free & self-motivated humans, not dependent on, nor even concerned with, the viewer, I’m not sure any real progress is possible for those shut in the gated communities of their minds.