I know that what I’m about to say is not innovative or new and I am certainly not the first person to recognize this everyday phenomenon. But how is it with more students than ever attending higher education, access to information on a global scale and an ever-diversifying society, we insist on retaining vestiges of a short-sighted and limited culture? I’m talking about our seeming national ability to judge a particular group based on the worst 2%. I picked 2% at random even though it’s probably more accurately 0.2% (especially when talking about religion) and allowing those “bad” members to justify our portrayal of the rest.
In the ’60s I hear the phrase became “Why can’t we all just get along?” I’m proposing we change it to “Why can’t we all just grow up?”
It does not seem to make a difference if its race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or even profession. We define a group by the worst elements in the group and stereotype accordingly. I’m not saying that I don’t. I’m sure I have engrained biases that are more or less noticeable depending on what the issue is, but I know I try to fight any feelings like that with common sense and the objective observations I have made over the years.
I used to get really fired up about this when it came to religion because it felt like Jews, Catholics, evangelical Christians, Muslims, Mormons and so many others were all being held to vary standards based on how socially acceptable the religion was at that moment. All Christians are backward simpletons. All Muslims are terrorists. All Republicans are heartless bigots. All Democrats are socialists. We love doing this.
What I can figure out is whether we’re on the right track and it just takes longer than many of us would like. Or whether this is just an instinctual human behavior that will continue well beyond my lifetime. (If neither of those are true, I’m perfectly content blaming the media.)
The incentive for the media (viewers), politicians (donations/voters), religious leaders (converts), and many others (self-esteem) is reinforcing a culture of fear, division and misplaced anger.
There are so many examples that I don’t know where to begin – the Tea Party, the whole Mosque at Ground Zero debacle, Glenn Beck and 24/7 media cycle that celebrates scandal. Look, I’m not about to try to write 600 words on why the media should stop under-reporting and over-blowing celebrity/political gossip. But I don’t think we’re going to make the kind of political and social progress that we’re capable of and finding solutions to some of America’s biggest problems until we start giving other people credit for their values, beliefs and ideas.
I actually think there’s a big different between ridiculing Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin for being wrong and ridiculing them for not-being-allowed to hold the beliefs that they do. Many people might not see a distinction. In my opinion, there is a distinction between disagreeing with someone while respecting their right to a certain worldview and disagreeing with someone while undermining and sabotaging their credibility as a person capable of reasoned thought.
I know I’m probably beginning to mix-up my thoughts here and instead of using this post to try to begin a series on what a diversifying political spectrum (read, the Tea Partiers) means to American politics, I’m starting to just rant about the incredible bitterness it seems many political groups have for each other.
Getting back to my original point.
This realization occurred to me while listing to This American Life this week where Ira Glass and the team did a story about the problem of police corruption and deceit in a particular Precinct in Brooklyn. Those of you who know me know that I love This American Life and truly consider it one of the most valuable projects still alive today (and it’s FREE, people). You may or may not also be aware that I worked as a intern at the NYPD Legal Bureau this past summer. So, I don’t think I’m being overly subjective here, but you be the judge.
The story attempted to balance the courageous position of the Brooklyn patrolman who uncovered a lot of the wrongdoing in his Precinct against the reputations of the leadership at the NYPD. I personally don’t think the story did a great job only because it left me with the impression that there is pervasive corruption and deceit at all levels of the NYPD and very few redeeming characteristics. We all know that’s not true and in any organization of 35,000 there are bound to be a percentage (2%?) that don’t live up to the organization’s standards. But its socially acceptable and even “cool” to portray the police as an anti-black, anti-freedom, anti-common sense organization that is merely out to ruin everyone’s day. So that got me thinking about why this goes on in every aspect of our world.
And I’m not entirely sure. I doubt anyone reading this is thinking to themselves, “Nope I’m perfectly comfortable in my stereotypes and I’m going to continue refusing to believe that _____ (insert group here) does not have the right to behave the way they want too.” Of course, as a law student, I’m quick to point out that freedom to behave/believe/etc. does not extend to infringing on your neighbor’s right. But that’s not where we are today. There are not rampant violations of civil rights and civil liberties. There are, however, specific and intentional campaigns to exclude certain people from having legitimate social or political beliefs (and, I will say, that some of those campaigns may create violation of civil liberties). But on the whole, it’s more an issue of not wanting to allow others the right to disagree with us.
Just like Sunday’s This American Life story shows the incredible complexities and gray area in trying to characterize or judge an organization the size of the NYPD. The media and many people have a hard time trying to counter an opposing group’s ideas without resorting to character attacks.
Wow, I just looked down at the word count – 1,008. It took me 1,008, now 1,017, words to say- I think politics, religion and the public square, in general, would be much healthier and more productive segments of society if we could elevate the conversation between all parties involved. I know that’s asking for a lot. And I believe America is moving in the right direction (albeit slowly) on this issue. One of the many reasons that I think both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are good for this country.
We’re being forced to face each other and decide how we truly feel about ourselves. The combination of the Internet, President Obama, and this now global recession is an environment where cannot comfortable coast along avoiding major problems because we’re all making money. We’re being forced to address different segments of society – from religious groups of all kinds to voters who organize under the Tea Party banner and beyond. Does this mean that I agree with Glenn Beck or that I think no one should be allowed to have strong convictions?
No. Just the opposite.
I’m hoping for a national conversation where opposing groups address the fallacy in each other’s message not the characteristics of the person delivering the message.
A quick illustration – can you think of several reasons why Sarah Palin’s vision of America would not work well in today’s world? I think our tenancy is to address why we don’t like Sarah Palin, the person, or why we don’t want her to represent America. While those are valid points when choosing whether or not to vote for someone, it does not address what about her message is unsettling.
It’s way too easy to simple dismiss the Tea Partiers as illegitimate players in the political game. Throughout this year and as we approach November I’m learning that not only are the Tea Partiers legit but they are good for us.
America is definitely not easy. The type of citizenship I’m describing is tough. I know I’m not going to win over any moderates, political agnostics, or non-voters by telling them that it requires hard work to fulfill their civic duty. But it is worth it.
In the coming days and weeks, I’m going to try to figure out for myself and share my thoughts on The Pickle about what the Tea Party means for America and how we can move forward constructively when the political spectrum has been so dramatically splintered.
So, I apologize for the length of this particular post. I know it was (unnecessarily) long and future posts will not be as long. Especially now that I’ve gotten that off my chest. But I still want to embrace these outside-the-box political ideologies so that we can:
1. Determine what it means for America
2. Determine how we can build solutions in an extremely diverse political climate that appears to only be getting more diverse
That’s my goal over the next few months. Let’s see what happens.