When a Nation Engages in Mental Foot Binding

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Believe what makes you feel good. In six simple words, my father brilliantly summed up the reason why our discourse always sunk into ideological gobbledygook for the past several years.

Like my father, many of our fellow Americans take pride in having a routine of lathering themselves with only information that ‘makes you feel good.’ Recalcitrant to facts and evidence, they choose to harness a fixed mindset to mitigate the complexities of life rather than cultivate a growth mindset to navigate the complexities of life.

Forget that humans are naturally curious creatures, because what makes us top the animal kingdom is our ability to exert hubris and uphold entrenched biases, even if doing so may contribute to civilizational decline.

My friends, you are witnessing what I call, mental foot binding.

Photo from: https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/china-history/chinese-foot-binding.htm

Foot binding was a brutal custom of wrapping, and literally crushing, a young girls’ feet to restrict their normal growth and make their feet as small as possible. The Chinese believed that full grown feet would damage a girl’s marriage prospects. Therefore, for several hundred years, millions of Chinese girls were forced into the painful process of binding their feet to fit into three-inch ‘golden lotus’ shoes, even though their toes were broken and left to rot inside.

By the 19th century, it is estimated that “40–50% of all Chinese women had their feet bound, rising to almost 100% in upper-class Han Chinese women.”

Just as foot binding unnaturally curtailed the development of the highly evolved bipedal human, mental foot binding restricts the expansion of our minds that are naturally programmed to learn. When, for example, my mother expressed outrage that the 2020 election was stolen, I directed her to several sources to verify that the electoral college map she showed me was based on the 1980 Reagan election, and not 2020. However, instead of processing the new information detected by her nerve cells, she jammed her neurological potential into a pretty lotus shoe and returned to reading posts from @realpolsleiko on WeChat.

Resorting to illusion or delusion to hold on to beliefs and to prove oneself right come at great costs, especially when practiced collectively as a nation. In China, believing that girls cannot be married without bound feet resulted in generations of women who were, in effect, too crippled to move through the world on their own. Unable to go outside the home, women disappeared from the public sphere.

In the US, people who insist on dabbling in conspiracy theories and misinformation engage in mental foot binding by retreating into smaller spheres of interaction with the real physical world. Many who uphold vaccine myths say they rather leave their jobs than to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, thereby further confining themselves to communities that wall off any new data inputs. By rejecting the scientific method and filtering out pure statistics, such as, that the majority of deaths from COVID 19 are those not vaccinated, they wear their beliefs like lotus shoes.

Feeling endowed with physical and intuitive prowess, those with lotus minds handicap the country from recovering from the pandemic, and, sometimes, tragically destroying their own families from within.

Mental foot binding is a non binary condition that afflicts the population at large. For example, the mission to prove that the U.S is a racist society and that capitalism is inherently racist has become a societal fetish akin to foot binding.

In a market place of ideas, declaring that the existence of racial disparity is ipso facto evidence of racist policy is a big claim that should be subjected to debate. Instead of deep and nuanced policy discussions that should be had on addressing any racial gaps, people make vociferous calls to become an anti-racist as the elixir. To remedy an inborn racist society, one policy proposal has been to establish a Department of Anti-racism (DOA) that can wield disciplinary tools and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas.

The anti-racist ideology has, thus, revealed another motif of mental foot binding — seeing problems through only one lens of analysis often leads to behavior and solutions that befit an authoritarian.

Using a restrictive social framework, mental foot binders present the problem and solution in one perfect lotus shoe. Once, I received a solicitation to sign a petition that called for a notable education organization to fire and screen out teachers who “exhibit racist behavior” because their actions have ‘negatively impacted’ communities of color. I read the petition thrice over and did not see any details on what the accused ‘racist behavior’ entailed or what evidence showed that communities of color were harmed, besides just reporting as so. These claims are just facts that the readers had to accept. Although sympathetic to their cause, I did not sign the petition. Instead, I offered a few points of critique to the petition’s proposed solutions that teetered into the uncomfortable realm of thought control à la Chinese Cultural Revolution.

The petition’s solutions included a demand for the organization’s application to “include direct lines of inquiry on racial justice work and/or reflection on [the candidate’s] actions that contribute to anti-racism.” If these questions are not suitably answered “in a way that shows commitment to being an anti-racist educator,” the applicant should be removed from the application process. Furthermore, the petition proposed to create a ‘database’ that monitors a teachers’ qualification based on their exhibited behaviors and beliefs that met the organization’s standards of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

I questioned the assumptions that underlie these proposals and asked if there was data showing that the academic outcomes of students of color have increased because of DEI-informed teachers and whether a DEI-infused selection process, would in fact, recruit teachers with the best qualifications to teach to academic standards (that is, if meeting academic standards is their goal).

Instead of addressing my points and concerns, anti-racist adherents expressed dismay and disappointment that someone who graduated from ‘BLAH!’ and works at ‘BLAH BLAH!’ could be so “dismissive of systemic racism.” In true mindset-binding orthodoxy, asking clarifying questions was, to them, evidence of me “being blind to racism.” Clearly, according to my pedigree, similar to the class of Chinese Han women who had to bind their feet to conform to the norms of the times, I was supposed to fit my 6.5 size feet into their 3-inch lotus shoe and let my inquiries erode in the process.

By crushing reasoning and debate, mental foot binders espouse illiberal principles and stymie societal progress. All the while, they signal their virtue, and — believe what makes them feel good.

To the Chinese, the practice of foot binding became an expression of Han Chinese identity after the Mongols invaded China in 1279. The notion of cultural superiority drove the Chinese to perpetuate the tradition until it was officially banned in 1912. This notion of identity and superiority that debilitated women from achieving full personhood in China, forms the basis of mental foot binding being practiced in present day US.

Upholding intransigent identities and belief systems impair our minds from flourishing and limits our human potential. During college, at a time when people influenced each other through conversations, and not through tweets, I was having a light social banter that turned into an intense debate with a dear friend. She pointed out biases I was holding that were restricting my ability to see a broader worldview. I continued to push back, for my emotional reaction was surely evidence of the truth and virtue of my beliefs, even as I was becoming more illogical defending them.

That night, I returned to my dorm room and cried. The beliefs that I had thought were immutable facts unraveled beneath my feet. The tears of my assumptions and biased judgements pooled up on the floor. As the filters I used to make conclusions of the world shattered into pieces, the contours of my mind expanded.

Through this cathartic process, I learned that being open to being wrong and striving to always attain a clear and fair mind can remedy the condition of mental foot binding that has afflicted people like my parents. Like them, many Americans have embraced limiting the growth of their minds in lotus shoes by upholding an uncritical allegiance to an identity and tribe.

However, for society to innovate, solve problems, and advance, we should all aim to update our models of the world and beliefs that had once made us feel good based on new inputs from empirical evidence, actual conversations, and honest dialogue (because “Twitter is not a real place”).

That is, unless our aspiration is to compete to become the man with the smallest feet in America.

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