Friday, November 2, 2018

The what color is this dress meme was the canary in a coal mine for how Americans are no longer on the same page about anything.

Do you remember that online viral picture asking whether the dress was blue and black or if it was white and gold? It sparked a heated debate that seemingly overnight had people (from coast to coast) weighing in with vastly different opinions on the color of a dress. I saw white and gold; my friend saw blue and black. At the time, this was a funny phenomenon, and it made people aware (perhaps for the first time) that when someone looks at a thing, that they may not see the same thing that another person sees. Looking back on it, I think it's the perfect allegory for what's happening today in our country. None of us are on the same page about anything; we're all seeing different things.

The problem is that most people have a cognitive bias that applies what one "sees" as an experience and it makes that person think that others near them are experiencing it the same way. In my daily life, I interact with a huge and diverse group of people, and I know that most do not share this same kind of experience. So, I'm in a kind of privileged position to see it. For example, in the span of a single day I literally heard the following from very adult persons that I engaged with:

1) "I believe that, in the future, everyone will have vaginas and that's how my politics work." Mmm...okay...there was no context to this statement but its scientifically and factually wrong. Imagine how this person must see the world...do they even see the same color of blue that I see? Why would everyone have vaginas in the first place? Is this person mentally ill?

2) "Finding common ground is a useless endeavor." Again...no context. Just a statement made to me in passing. But on this one, I actually responded with, "That's kind of cowardly, right? I mean...what are you really trying to say? The way you've worded this allows you to avoid responsibility. What's the alternative to common ground? I'll answer that for you. It's having nothing in common, which means violence and war, right? Are you ready to start killing? Are you ready to say, 'I want to give up compromise and just eliminate those who disagree with me?' No? Hmm, then I guess things aren't as dire as you think they are. I guess you'd probably start trying to find some common ground. Just sayin'." Imagine how this person views the world...are they afraid every hour of every day?

3) "Racism is as plain as two eggs, one white and one brown. Crack them both and you get the same insides. It's that simple." Only...it isn't that simple because some people see green where I see blue. Everyone is getting educated differently. Some people believe in science while others believe in magic. Some people think that leprechauns and the devil are real things. Some people believe that curses thrown by a witch are actual magic. Some people believe that haunted houses are real. So when it comes to racism, there's what science has to say between races (which does resemble the egg metaphor) and then there's all kinds of other stuff that people believe is just as true as what science has to say about the matter. When you try to tell them different, they say, "Fake news." So it's been my observation that it doesn't matter whether a thing that someone believes is true or not. It is the "belief" itself that is responsible for ALL THE DAMAGE,  and it's oftentimes the thing that you can't correct with education because the idea is set in concrete.

4) "Virginity is a myth and a social construct." Hmm...okay...only it isn't. It's a word that describes a person who hasn't had sex yet. So...sure...it's a social construct, however, so is language in general. We need to communicate, right? And as for a myth? Nope...it's real. You're a virgin until you have sex. Seems pretty cut and dried to me. Anyway...here we have a person who can't even agree that the definition of a word that I can look up in a dictionary does not (in fact) have that definition. Okay...this is a "I see blue" and the other person goes, "What a brilliant shade of orange." Yup...not on the same page.

5) "Ellen DeGeneres is giving away $500 million...a million dollars to 500 people chosen randomly on Facebook. All you have to do is hit 'Like,' hit 'Share,' and type 'OMG' in the comments." Skeptical of "if it's too good to be true it probably is" I looked at the person's Facebook. Right off the bat, it was spelled "Ellenn DeGenrees," which is a gross misspelling. And the video attached to it had nothing to do with any of this giveaway. The pictures of fancy cars and stacks of cash also had nothing to do with anything. They looked like stock photos. I said, "This is fake. You are sharing something that's fake and trying to get other people to do the same." The reply, "I'm such a fool." And then there were tears. I didn't expect this. What is going on in this person's head that my merely pointing something out like that caused tears and for her to say, "I'm such a fool." Why couldn't she see what I saw?

All of this reminds me of the story of the Tower of Babel. I think that homogeneity for a long time allowed people to be on the same page for a lot of ideas and it was easier for us to find common goals to work toward. But none of that exists anymore. I'm not here to say that this is good or bad. Rather, I'm here to say that I see all of us marching toward a future where agreement on anything is going to become increasingly difficult. It's like we were all building something and then we got cursed and none of us speak the same language anymore. Or here's another analogy: everyone suddenly decided they wanted to "supervise" and there's no one left to do the actual work. So now everyone is just wandering away from all of the previously established goals (and there aren't really any goals to begin with because no one is capable of making new ones), and we're all frustrated because we cannot even communicate because words don't even have the same definition anymore.

It's strange, don't you think? Well...at least it's strange to me. Who even knows what you're thinking.

6 comments:

  1. I don't know when people ever did agree on things. About a third of the colonists didn't want to break away from England back in 1776. We fought a bloody civil war over slavery. Disagreement over a dress is the least of our problems.

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    1. BTW, I'm glad you don't follow me on social media anymore so you can't yell at me about whatever you get grumpy about. lol

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    2. LOL. I'm terrible at following social media in general. Too many good books to read. Man, been reading a real page turner called "Leviathan Wakes." Have a good weekend.

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  2. Oh, that stupid dress. I was in a 12th grade English class on that day, and I remember the whole brouhaha vividly. People got into such arguments! I saw the "wrong" color. When what had happened was explained to me, I was over it. Okay. I get it. Moving on. But, they didn't.

    People choose how they perceive the world. No amount of argument will change some minds. I have to put this in the "things I can do nothing about" box and move on to things I can do something about.

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  3. Excellent post, Mike. First off, that "everyone will have a vagina" person is super weird, and I'm glad you responded so eloquently to the person who didn't believe in common ground. But overall the fact that you encounter so many people who sound as if they are in their own, off-balanced little worlds make me glad I don't meet that many new people.

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