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What Lies Beneath

September 15, 2010

I’ve been trying to keep up with current events.  I am reminded of my high school social studies teachers’ urgings, “just watch the evening news with your parents.”  This was before cable TV and the all-news-but-no-news-all the time scourge, so watching the news was a reasonable request.  My parents get three newspapers: The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Miami Herald; however, they did not watch the evening news.  I didn’t read the newspaper except for the funnies and Ann Landers, and I failed current events.

Recently, I asked my mother about this.  “It was the eighties in Miami, and the evening news was always full of drug related murders and we did not want you growing up thinking that was normal.”  Meanwhile, the kids down the street from us were being raised  by grandparents because their mother and father were both in prison for drug-related crimes.  It was a very nice house; this was before The Man began confiscating bank accounts, houses, cars etc. that were suspected of being tainted with drug money.  I like to say that Miami is the one  place in the country that really is exactly like the movies make it out to be.

My obsession with current events began after college, starting with the horrific events in the early 1990s in the former Yugoslavia.  Shortly thereafter, I moved inside the Beltway where the shenanigans on Capital Hill  are as surreal and fascinating as seeing your neighbors led out of their house in handcuffs and overhearing your parents discussing it when they think you can’t hear.  It was with the same watching-a-train-wreck feeling that I watched in Washington as Newt Gingrich and his cohorts in the 104th Congress shut down the government for a few days to prove a point — the point being, as far as I could tell, that you can shut down the government for a few days without much effect but lots of sound and fury.

Fast forward fifteen years.  Maureen Dowd’s column in this morning’s NY Times brought back those good ‘ol days of my early adulthood, reading the op-ed page of the paper with a schadenfreude not found elsewhere.

Last weekend, some friends of whom we are extremely fond came over for pizza.  We were discussing politics — it’s not rude to do that here, it seems.  In Texas, everyone assumes that everyone else has the same right-wing beliefs and opinions, so here, a discussion of politics is more like a chorus of an alternative-universe Kumbaya around the campfire, where Kumbaya translates to “if poor people worked harder, they would not be poor.”

My friend, who knows me well, said, “I’m surprised you call yourself a liberal.  You seem very thoughtful and rational about your opinions.  I’d call you a moderate conservative.”

Chris, my husband said, “Whenever I hear that Sarah Palin has opinion that I share, I revisit my opinion to see where I went wrong,” and my friend’s husband said “I feel the same way whenever I agree with anything I read in The New York Times.”

I was reminded of a study I read a year ago, falling in the category of “Well, d’uh” that newspapers will focus their editorial slant to agree with the majority of their subscribers in order to maximize circulation, because most people enjoy reading a newspaper more when they agree with the editors.

It’s easy to go along with the status quo.  To assume that everything is fine, that bad things are not going to happen to you, but not to question your beliefs, and not to seek out new opinions for fear that you might not like the answer. To assume the lump in your breast is a normal part of breastfeeding. To not seek out a second opinion, but to believe your doctor when she tells you your cancer is easily cured.

I’m lucky I’m not that kind of person. If I were, I’d be dead.

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One Comment
  1. Mary Knapp permalink

    I think this is a clear indication of the tendency to categorize, even demonize, people of different political beliefs, ie Red vs Blue America.

    There is a great benefit in listening to, delving into, and understanding differing viewpoints held by people we respect, admire, or even love. And even if we don’t respect or like the individuals, we still become richer by hearing their thought process (yes, I do think people who disagree with me have a thought process also).

    Yay for having people with differing politics over for dinner! Yay for saying “Hmmm…tell me more about that.” Keep on!!

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