Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The more you know...

This might surprise some that have read my earlier blog posts without knowing me very well personally; I am married. I've been married for about 4 months now and it suits me just fine. Prior to our marriage my wife and I had known each other, been friends, been dating, living together, broken up, friends again, dating again, etc, over the course of about ten years. We decided to get married in a less traditional fashion by running away to Maui for a week and sealing the deal on the beach at sunset. This of course paints an image of all manner of romantic as well as terrifically irresponsible behavior most typically attributed to newlyweds and/or the average human astride the derailed train of crazy called love. It was, however fun and interesting, a largely relaxed and even somewhat restrained week. We were not two people diving head-first into untested waters; we were two people that knew quite well what we were getting into and were well prepared for it. Or so we thought.

Any time that you learn something new about a close friend it can be disconcerting, and moreover the question becomes, 'why didn't I know this before?' Sadly, the answer to that question isn't simple. It has roots in everything from the psychological phenomenon of projection, to the most basic instincts we have to avoid possible confrontation. My wife and I had almost never broached the topic of politics as anything more than passing commentary. We had never discussed our reasoning or judgment regarding specific political ideologies or even that we had an interest in political debate. What we found is that while our comparative opinions and ideologies were very similar, the paths of reasoning we took to formulate those positions were quite distinct.

This brings me to the segue I was intending all along. Which is the topic of our discussion today, and is also an expansion on the theme of an earlier post. Every person is imbued with specific prejudices that inform our ability to be objective or to formulate well-reasoned opinions. The current presidential primary race provides a perfect example of this.

In the example of Barrack Obama we see a figure that exemplifies an almost diametric opposite of our current President. President Bush is often bumbling, finds it difficult to express himself without feeding his critics with more and more sound bytes to ridicule, is the product of a rich dynastic family, was barely able to make it through school, and was a failed business man even with significant financial support from outside sources. Barrack Obama is the product of a broken home, raised with a strong multicultural background, an African father, a mother from the midwest, and a step-father from Indonesia, he graduated with honors from Harvard Law, was made the first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review, and he is a powerfully evocative and eloquent speaker. But, while these things, if looked at objectively, paint a picture of an intelligent, well-rounded, and competent person, many are so unaware of their innate prejudice, or are so willing to operate purely based on that context, that they find ways to view these things in a negative light.

Those with xenophobic tendencies see him as a threat to their 'pure' view of America. Cynics, like myself, find his speeches and oratory grating or believe him to be intellectually dishonest because he sounds too good to be true. Many try to characterize his academic accomplishments as nothing more than affirmative action or luck.

Then there are those that base their positive judgments not on an objective view of his personal, political, or legislative record, but based purely on a projected image of their hopes and desires for a mirror opposite of the last 50-100 years of United States politics. They're willing to forgo all reason purely on the basis that since he portrays himself as different, that he must then automatically be better.

I, myself, am not immune to these prejudices. I too long for someone different. I too desire to hope and to see my vision of this country become a reality. I too, also, want to see the rancor and division of Washington politics dissolve into an informed discussion regarding realistic solutions. The issue at hand, however, is whether or not Barrack Obama is actually the best person to make that happen, or if he's simply the easiest to project that hope upon.

The only way that we will ever be able to operate on anything other than faith when it comes time to step into the voting booth, is if we take steps to divorce ourselves from our prejudices. The only way that we'll ever move past the venom and bile that can be found in any ideological discussion is if we reduce the factors regarding these types of choices to the most fundamental. And the only way that we'll ever see our vision of our future come to be, is if we all work together , not to visualize it, not to expound on the virtues of our dreams, but to sit down, and determine in an objective manner, what those dreams are going to cost, and what compromises will need to be made to see them come about.

That is something that I would dearly love to see happen. My words are the only weapons I have to fight this war against reason. And for all of my hope, and emotional projection, I see only an endless horizon of people willing to ignore my words because they don't already fit their predetermined world-view. The only correlation that I've been able to draw regarding a person's ability to operate objectively is this; the more well-rounded an education a person receives, the more likely they are to be able to demonstrate the ability to formulate an opinion that is based on the basic principles or fundamental facts regarding any topic, and eschew value judgments based largely, or even purely, on their spiritual or emotional prejudices. The first step of course is to recognize that you have these affixed influences, and to actually acknowledge them as part of who you are.

And that is why, the more you know...


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