Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Not Looking

Reviewing other times of great turmoil and change in history, such as the peace movement during the Vietnam war and Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, it is alarming how the average American who wants to be decent but clings to their privilege and tries not to think about the harm inherent in the status quo seems to have become more hardened to information that should be transformative than was true in the past.

When the television brought the atrocities going on in Vietnam into American living rooms, it made comfortable people uncomfortable and eroded support for the war.  When television brought images of African American children being tear gassed and attacked with hoses in the streets, it made comfortable people uncomfortable and support for segregation and voter suppression eroded. The really monstrous people were unchanged, but large majorities of Americans started to change. The humanity of the protesters and the inhumanity of those attacking them shamed people into trying to do better, not that those efforts are simple or fast or complete.

For a long time, in many different situations of bigotry, the remedy was so often exposure.  Most people who had accepted a bigoted narrative could not hold on to it so harshly once they personally knew someone who was hurt by it and could see that the person was a human just like them.  Separation of races and classes and gender roles promoted bigotry, but integration and exposure promoted progress.

Today, that seems to have changed. 

People watch videos of polite and compliant African Americans getting gunned down by police during a traffic stop with children in the backseat and convince themselves that they see something else and exonerate the police officer.  People watch news footage of disabled Americans risking their lives to protest bills that will take them back to the days when their survival was threatened and their ability to work and be independent in the community was non-existent - they watch a senator have those peaceful protesters dragged out out of their wheelchairs and improperly transported to jail with no care for their respirators or feeding tubes and they claim it is fake news.  People ignore the evidence of their own eyes and are only made uncomfortable by those who keep insisting that they see - not by seeing, which they seem to have figured out a way not to do.

I think it may have to do with the vast amount of media with which everyone is saturated today and the way many people no longer really take in credible news anymore because the right wing has become so good at convincing people that spin is facts - a combination of information overload and a lack of critical thinking skills, however willful.  Certainly this Age of the Web is a new era for humanity and it is understandable that we have been a bit destroyed by the pace of change, but we are going to have to find a way to hold on to our humanity within its onslaught.  So far, we are not doing that.

When exposure does not help anymore, and only really results in the vilification of those who say "look!", we are entering more dangerous territory than I think we have yet seen.

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