Is the Man in the Moon a Symbol of Prejudice?

How Apophenia Has Made Diversity Difficult


People are pattern obsessed. We see them everywhere and we want them everywhere. Most humanity’s systems revolve around patterns. They are how we’ve defined ourselves within our societies and it’s even how we relax. Most forms of recreation have their own set of rules, especially when it comes down to puzzles or video games. What are they if not pattern recognition? But this fantastic ability is beneficial for more than just playing games, it’s also the basis for our empathy. We see our own behaviors reflected in the faces around us and we learn to recognize them as patterns. That face means that someone feels that way, or thinks that way. This allows us to be an empathetic species, as well as a social one. Dreaming of not only our own successes, but also of our progress and lives together.

Sometimes patterns aren’t really patterns

However, this ability is not without its faults. We are so fixated on patterns that we even see them where there are none to be found. Apophenia is our tendency to find patterns where there are none. One of the more well-known cases of this is the man on the moon, as well as other cultural variations such as the moon rabbit and an old man with a lantern. There is a more sinister side to this when humanity demands for things to fit into our false patterns. This is most prominently seen with the idea of a standard human. The “standard human” is the false pattern that we pick up from our surroundings, whether it be where we live or the media that we consume, and it is where we build this idea of what is normal and what is unusual.

With this comes the idea that those belonging in majority groups are the normal ones and everyone else is deviant. Or wrong. The worst bit is that our society is built upon these ideas that are inherently exclusionary. It’s designed for the majorities and forces minority groups to work to try and accommodate to it, rather than just attempting to work for all of its people. Within the last century there have been multiple civil rights movements attempting to rectify this system, and there has definitely been progress, but it’s still not fixed. This is clear when looking specifically towards the disability civil rights movement.

Looking back to the early 1900’s, society was both unable and uninterested in finding a place for people with disabilities inside society and so they were forced into institutions, such as insane asylums. Where they faced countless abuses under the guise of trying to “fix” them to be more like what they considered normal. These places were seen as acceptable and didn’t even begin to close until the 1950’s, and this closing itself wasn’t even altogether good, as the institutions were not replaced by a better system.

A more modern example is with the education system, where students are given accommodations under the ADA and Section 504. While this sounds like reasonable ground to start on, the reality is that these accommodations are loosely enforced and students are made to self-advocate through the system alone. And if their disability is one that makes that difficult or impossible? Then they are just seen as the failures, rather than the system which put them in this position in the first place. And as I discussed in my podcast, there are more than just these two points where society has failed to acknowledge all of its people.

The system built upon this common apophenia is truly unable to handle our needs as an entire society, so why do we just keep trying to patch it in a way which makes those outside the system do the work? We, as a society, should be attempting to fix our systems to suit all the individuals within it, instead of the “average” or “normal” human who does not actually exist. While it would be difficult in the short run, one way to do this would be to redesign the school system to smaller class sizes. This would allow for students to be recognized as individuals, and not assumed to be following that false pattern we so love.