Those who know me understand I am fairly politically-oriented.
One of the things I believe plagues our politics, however, is the inability to see the human on the other side of the politics. Some of the kindest people I know have vastly different political persuasions than myself.
So, as a small exercise in empathy, I will devote my first two columns in the Collegiate Times to issues that do not directly involve left or right political distinctions.
In this way I hope readers come to see me as more than a megaphone for an ideology.
One of the aspects of the contemporary age that troubles me most is the success of those with a disdain for complexity. The world is globalizing and is no longer dominated by any single force, culture or nation, and yet we continue to be preached the doctrine of ideological purity.
People can see this anywhere they look. In the media, the ascent of Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck on MSNBC and Fox News as opposing spokesmen for their dogmas can be seen as emblematic of this. They shout past each other into homes across America, never engaging those with opposing views in open discussion.
They do not deserve our time, and the fact that they often direct political discourse is alarming. We should vote with our TV time and choose not to watch those unable or unwilling to consider multiple points of view.
In education, we are taught to specialize early and never look back. There are, of course, exceptions to this. The Virginia Tech Curriculum for Liberal Education is a good start. Though it peeves some of my friends pursuing a degree in engineering, just as many have found a new interest or passion through the curriculum.
Nevertheless, we are often encouraged to focus on only one area of our studies. This robs us of the full richness of our humanity, which should be explored with enthusiasm and curiosity.
As Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” I believe the privilege of attending college demands a journey, at least of the mind if not the body, in order to shake free of the shackles of our lethargic beliefs. An attitude that values complexity, that does the work — and it can certainly be work — to consider and reflect upon a variety of perspectives, seems bound to succeed in a multi-faceted world. And yet, this does not seem to be happening.
In a world of astonishing complexity we seem to crave single-minded fervor and ideological piety. We are still slaves to confirmation bias, the tendency of humans to favor information that supports their beliefs and disregard that which does not.
We should demand not ideological purity, but ideological flexibility from those in charge. We should have more Republicans who favor gay marriage and more Democrats open to altering the tax system. Pure ideologies inevitably fail. Those which are more malleable, not simple, persist.
Perhaps one of the most personally vexing examples of the simplifying tendency is the trend in art toward division by genre. Whenever I am asked what kind of books, movies or music I like, what I am really being asked is to pigeonhole myself into a particular genre for the person asking the question.
But that just isn’t how my brain works. I like good movies and I really don’t care whether they are called westerns, musicals, comedies or dramas. I like good music, and I don’t care whether it’s by The Notorious B.I.G. or Nirvana.
The same should be true of all facets of our lives. We should not limit ourselves, whether it be through stereotypes, courses of study, genres or ideologies that only attempt to simplify our complex world. Life is full of ambiguities. This is not to say one should not develop opinions and convictions. On the contrary, we should learn as much as we can about issues and develop opinions sturdy enough to withstand debate.
But we should listen and be flexible, considering the contradictions of humanity -- of which there are many. As the author William T. Vollmann notes, even Hitler was kind to his secretaries.