Political Consciousness

There’s a big difference between #1 studying the world and knowing current events, and #2 knowing about the frames one uses to get informed about the world. And blind spots that come with the frames.

Leading up to the 2016 presidential election, I did not notice the difference between these two.

I want to say I was operating much more in the first category than the second. Subsequently, I was shocked by the results of the election.

Whenever I get hit with this kind of shock and loss (it’s happened before), my reptile brain ends up shouting something like “HEY — you thought you had a handle on this situation, but you didn’t. It’s time to understand this problem more deeply, or else you’re going to suffer again.”

The reptile brain is a good motivator.

Last time, this was the impetus that led me to deeply investigate, and ultimately dismantle, my Christian faith. That may sound tragic to some who are reading this, but for Ian’s brain it has been healthy and relieving.

This time, it’s leading me into a big, challenging world of culture and political philosophy.

Before the election, I thought the situation was something like: Trump is clearly an idiot and a con man, so it’s a good thing the polls show that practically everybody in the country hates him! And hey, wouldn’t a “third term” of the Obama years be pretty fine by comparison, even for conservatives?

Turns out, this was the situation only in (very roughly) about half of the country. Which is way different than “practically everybody”. Ah, the naivête of October 2016. The good old days.

But the socio-media bubble that I inhabit made this very difficult to detect. Well, maybe only sort of. I discovered that I know several people who ended up voting for Trump, but none of them felt permitted to share that opinion because it was deemed unacceptable. Gotta say I can’t blame them for keeping it quiet.

So in a sense, the anti-Trump bubble could have known the truth. We didn’t want to know it though. We couldn’t have handled it. Er, not most of us at least. I guess Michael Moore handled himself pretty well.

Where to go next? Well, the big questions I’m interested in have seemed to unfold easily from there:

1) The obvious one: why did people vote for Trump?
Obvious to ask, but complex to resolve. Don’t fall for glib answers here.

2A) The output from #1 points to a very different lived reality than my own. What’s that like?

2B) Also important: how was I able to be “well-informed” but still thoroughly unaware of this different lived reality? Whatever the answer, it will point to major blind spots that deserve coverage.

3) As the answers to 1 and 2 gradually get filled in, then the big follow-up: Does any of this new information change my beliefs or sense of the world and my place in it? Our place in it?
It should. If so, how so?

This third question is the real prime-time, because it is a bottomless well of meaning and discovery; it never ends. Because look, by trying to interrogate the thoughts of the Trump-half of the country, I am forced also to interrogate my home turf.

This is not just an exercise in moving toward the center so I can be friends with the right — the point is to become more sure of what our world is really like, who our leaders really are, where the truth lies, and what goodness and justice actually look like.

You don’t just happen upon these things by sheltering in the bubble of your adolescence.

So this leads us into a thing I stole from Ta-Nehisi Coates: political consciousness. He says it is:

“… as much a series of actions as a state of being, a constant questioning — questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty.”

Eventually, this leads into a richer awareness of self within a myriad whole.

That for instance, I am not simply a unique and remarkable snowflake, but I have also been demarcated by a race, and a class, and a gender, and a socioeconomic niche in our civilization; and that perhaps, many of my experiences and my worldview are inherited from my spot in the regimented order of things.

This is not about class warfare — it’s about self-knowledge. Because look, most of the time we get stuck thinking our own worldview and experiences are basically sound, even unassailable. But what if Ian’s opinions are largely a product of his station in society? What if Ian’s worldview is not actually well-considered, but is just “one of those things” that gets handed down through the years?

If any of it’s true, it means I get to reconsider all of my natural convictions with a lot more care. Because they were probably never so careful in the first place. And, I get to revise my categories of people. And pay more attention to the ones who are saying things I don’t agree with.

So that’s what’s going on right now.

I’ll probably be doing this stuff a lot more here. And in a podcast. And more.

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