Posted by: HAT | March 20, 2012

The Problem With Being Informed

view of the surface of Venus

A beautiful depiction of the surface of Venus, a planet whose atmosphere would be instantly lethal to humans, assuming we could travel there.

Hi, Gang

I have decided to try harder not to have opinions about things I don’t know much about, and to do some basic research before I develop opinions. This might make me a lot quieter, since there is so much I don’t know, and since it takes time and energy to acquire that kind of information, and I was already busy. However, because it seems to me that it is more responsible, and because I am supposed to be committed to teaching my students “critical thinking,” and because it seems hypocritical to do that without practicing it, I am trying to live up to this new, higher standard.

So, before I solidified my opposition to Rick Santorum, I thought I ought to check out his official website.

Which I did. Anyone can do that. He is not trying to hide his positions on various issues, like his support for the Defense of Marriage Act, his opposition to out homosexuality in the armed forces, his opposition to abortion, his role in the creation of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, his desire to reduce many taxes, leaving the federal income tax code with just two tax brackets, top bracket 28%, reducing capital gains taxes, corporate taxes on manufacturing, repatriated foreign earnings, his interest both in “securing the border” and developing a guest-worker program that “works” for American agricultural employers (because God knows, when we’re exploiting people, we want to be doing it legally!) . . . he is proud of his stand on these issues. He has a couple of thousand friends on Facebook, so some other people are happy about his stand on these issues as well.

Since I was just at my county’s Government Center picking up a tax receipt to turn in with my income tax documents to the accountant, and saw a car with a tea party sticker on it, I know that some of my neighbors are probably Santorum supporters. I live in a “red state” — although we all need to remember that all the states are in reality some shade of violet.

So now I understand better why I am not going to be voting for Rick Santorum for anything. Unless my options get much, much worse than they are now. (“Never say never,” and all that.)

But I understand something else, too, and I find that a lot more troubling and harder to figure out what to do about. Rick Santorum is not an isolated phenomenon; he is articulating opinions and positions that are shared by lots – a couple of hundred thousand, at least, but presumably more – of people, Americans, neighbors of mine, people I live in the same country with. People like my students, at least some of the time, for instance. Or people I might be going to church with, although, knowing my church, probably not so much. Or, for sure, shopping at Jay C with, or sending Number One Daughter to swim team with, or TO SCHOOL with.

What I understand is that it can’t work, really, to keep thinking of “those people” as abstract, disembodied images on television unconnected with real lives, human experiences, beliefs, values, commitments, aspirations and visions. Political community, sustainable political community, depends on being able to – ? – engineer, construct, weave, create, find a verb that works here – a shared public life. That, it seems, depends on being able to encounter one another, even in these large numbers, as real human beings with real problems for which solutions need to be found and with real promise for which space needs to be opened for fulfillment.

But I am clearly at a loss for understanding, really, what those human experiences, beliefs, values, commitments, aspirations, and visions are. They are in at least some cases inimimical inimical to my continued existence – when Rick Santorum talks about America’s strength lying in strong families, it’s clear he’s NOT talking about families like mine. A family like mine is not even supposed to exist; it’s not clear it would even count as a family. My brain started to shut down trying to imagine the communication that would need to happen to make this understanding possible for me, or that might make understanding of me possible for the other side.

Our utopias are from different planets.

The kind of work, and the amount of work, needed to transform the world seems this morning much different, and vastly more, than I had even already imagined.


[edited for spelling 4.16.14]


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