Thanks to the internet and social media, we all have a voice and thus a more democratic (if virtual) town square than we have ever had before. Our worlds are bigger and more exciting, and our participation makes the world more dynamic and more pluralistic. Each of us mark the world with posts and clicks and and likes. We read, and we react. We comment and we reply to comments. It’s thrilling to be so involved, and it’s also exhausting, overwhelming, alienating. Maybe because of this alienation or maybe because without some kind or organization, the world is too overwhelming to understand, we have, concurrent with making our voice heard, separated our country into us and them. We regularly use the pronoun they as if the other were all one mass of uninformed, homogenous, flab. We call them “Liberals” or “Trump Supporters.” They infuriate us. They are ill-informed, uneducated, bubble-dwellers. If only they knew the facts, they wouldn’t be such small-minded sheep. So we use our voice to inform. We post opinions with numbers and links. We cite reputable sources. We point out their source is fake news. They do the same back in our direction. We respond. They respond but with more vitriol. Unpleasantness ensues. Our attempt to inform ends in more division and confusion. We wonder if we should stop participating in the public discourse about politics and meaning. “I don’t post about politics,” we say. “I unfriended Uncle Ralph because I couldn’t stand his posts,” we say. We watch the extremists from both ends come to blows, engage in violence. We are starting to understand that solving problems by exchanging facts and opinions will never work. It won’t. This is because belief is more powerful than fact.
Isn’t that odd and disorienting to learn? Confirmation bias is stronger than reason. This is true of all socialized humans, not just the unreasonable ones, not just conspiracy theorists. Each of us cares more about our personal views than a shared understanding of the world. How, then, does one engage with a person whose ideas are so different from one’s own? How will we understand them? The essential and radical word here is understand. To affect change, to heal the divide in our country, we must enter relationships with the intent to understand instead of the intent to inform.
I hope you’ll participate in the project!