Thursday, January 21, 2010

Keeping It Simple Is Not Stupid

Recently I have been giving much thought to why Progressives and Democrats can't seem to accomplish more than the bare minimum regarding desperately needed reform measures, even when they have the luxury of substantial majorities in both public favor and legislative representation. The answer may lie in the prevalence of pointless, unwieldy levels of stratification. With these comes an isolating sense of separation---individual elements of the base often have a problem pulling together with one voice, and, for that matter, do all who would deign to fit underneath the big tent.

To many liberals, life must be overly complicated: specialized committees, committees within committees, identity groups, splinter identity groups from larger ones, rules for the sake of rules, rules set in place when one unforeseen problem creates friction with anyone for whatever reason, exacting policies based on good intentions that soon become headaches for all, and many other examples. It doesn't have to be this way. Overlap is sometimes a good thing.

As such, the true failing lies in the absolutely ridiculous complexity of how structure ourselves and how we have in many ways forgotten how to communicate with each other. For too long, information and strategies that could be used for the benefit of all have been isolated within specific single-issue oriented groups, each with its own nomenclature and particular phraseology. For too long, so-called experts carrying a briefcase, a PowerPoint slide, and a hefty speaking fee have been employed to enlighten other people of an unknown universe, when with major modification, we could easily understand the intersections and common ground which links us together, not the great unknown that keeps us at arm's length from each other.

This sort of set up directly reflects the nature of academia, since the merits, weaknesses, and structure of pertinent concepts are hatched there and exhaustively vetted. Just as I have recently discovered that the health care system available to low-income and disabled residents of Washington, DC, was written to be understood and effectively managed by policy wonks and the highly educated, not the poor and under-educated, so do I realize that so many of our grand goals are thwarted when they are neither designed, nor framed so that all might easily comprehend them.

To cite a related example, when I am speaking within Feminist circles, I know that there are certain terms, overarching concepts, and abstract notions that one needs a thorough education, keen mind, and a willingness to research on one's own time to grasp sufficiently. Much emphasis is given to an everlasting critique of Patriarchy and cultural practices which place women in a subordinate role, and from these comes a thousand deep conversations and leitmotifs. I can speak this language competently, with much practice, I might add, but I often can't help but wonder if any of these worthwhile ideas and highly involved strategies ever get out to the working class battered housewife or to the sex worker standing on the corner of a bus terminal, prepared for another night of a dangerous way to make a living.

In my own life, part of the reason I have been able to keep my health from being as debilitating as it could be is that I had access through education and relative affluence to know how and where I could do my own research about the condition. Now, years later, I can hold my own with any psychiatrist because I know and understand terms like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, titration, GABA, dopamine agonist, and efficacy. However, these terms mean absolutely nothing to the average person, who must trust fully in a psychiatrist who then must translate their needs, their symptoms, and their expectations for treatment into a regimen of medications that is inexact even in the best of circumstances.

The likely outcome with anyone diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder is a tremendous amount of constant modifications, some slight, some major, and frequently a need to try an altogether new combination of medications, all of this in the hopes that one will stumble across the proper drugs in the proper proportion, eventually.

We humans are a peculiar breed. In the animal kingdom, one could argue that the average mammal attends to its own more readily and with less reservations than we do. Without romanticizing the primitive, it would seem that no other species on Earth usually has such profound reservations about reaching out to assist others. Though certainly other animals fight within themselves for food, mates, and resources, I often wonder if we are perhaps the most self-absorbed creatures the world has ever known.

We are given the gift, by God or by whichever belief or unbelief you espouse, to have the gift of a very complex, and very advanced organ at our disposal known as the brain. Yet, it seems to me sometimes that this supposed great gift can dispense evil and great suffering as easily as it gives rise to good and with it great gain for all.

As a person of faith, I sometimes wonder if this basic concept is a credible interpretation of the beginning of time as expressed in the Book of Genesis. So long as man and woman weren't aware of the greater complexity of all things, they lived nakedly, blissfully in paradise. But once temptation arrived in serpent form, suddenly they recognized that reality was not nearly so simplistic and easy to swallow. Christianity and other religions teach that humanity was created in God's image, and if that is the case, perhaps we are caught in some still unresolved eternal polar tension between our ability to sense and structure things in advanced shades of grey versus our relatively straightforward mammalian biological imperatives and compulsions. Some have even implied that the human condition is imperfect particularly because we have divine elements seeking to function within imperfect organs, namely our brain.

While on the subject, I am reminded St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church. It seems that the church had fallen prey to smooth talk, false teachings, and a distortion of the faith itself. Much of the passage I am about to cite, as you will see, is written quite sarcastically, its target primarily those who deceive others, not those who had been unwittingly deceived.

However, I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by its tricks, so your minds may somehow be lured away from sincere and pure devotion to the Messiah. When someone comes to you telling about another Jesus whom we didn't tell you about, you're willing to put up with it. When you receive a spirit that is different from the Spirit you received earlier, you're also willing to put up with that. When someone tells you good news that is different from the Good News you already accepted, you're willing to put up with that too.

I do not think I'm inferior in any way to those "super-apostles." Even though I may be untrained as an orator, I am not so in the field of knowledge. We have made this clear to all of you in every possible way. Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? (Italics mine) I took money from other churches as payment for my work, so that I might be your servant [at no cost to you]. And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!

Even those who do not believe in a higher power or in Christian terminology can understand the general message here. To get down to the heart of the matter, our own selfish goals, ego, and pride are largely responsible for the complications that separate us from others. When we throw up barriers for whatever reason, we cause others who might use our knowledge and insight as a helpful resource to stumble or to fail outright. The intent initially may not be to isolate information inside very specific spheres of influence or schools of thought, but very soon this is its inevitable end result.

If we were speaking of a purely Christian point of view, we would concede that no believer should be discouraged from taking an active role in the faith, nor turned away from membership in the body as a whole based on any perceived deficiency or lacking of any kind. Sometimes putting walls up is an unconscious decision made out of a desire for protection, sometimes it is a response to feeling unappreciated and discounted by society as a whole, and often it is a reactive measure that replicates itself a thousand times once established. Like some untreated cancerous cell, walls and barriers become duplicated a thousand times over, leading to factionalism within factionalism, specificity within specificity, and minutia within minutia.

The Left has adopted this formula time and time again under the pretense of being sensitive and accommodating to every possible group with a semi-unifying basic agenda. But what this ends up doing is placing the individual concern first, and ignoring the basic humanity that draws us together. The current generation in power embraced post-modernism with open arms, not recognizing that simply denoting a specific circle of influence means also that one ought to get to take the time to understand its core philosophy as part of the bargain.

We can advance LGBT rights, for example, but if we don't really make an attempt to listen, really listen to LGBT citizens and to their reflections and concerns, we are wasting our time. Recently, a controversy has sprung up within Feminist spaces that criticizes men who make very ill-informed, very glib pronouncements of what the greater movement (and women themselves) needs to do. These forceful pronouncements are almost always set out in condescending fashion, without, of course, truly understanding where women are coming from and without much specific understanding their particular grievances. Some have denoted this as "mansplaining".

I do know the resolution of this issue ought be a two-way street, since any exchange of information needs both a talker and a hearer. Though some may disagree with me, I also assert that Feminist circles would be wise to modify, but not water-down, nor soften their message to reach maximum exposure with the world outside of it. This might be accomplished by consciously seeking to move away from the complications of heady terminology and abstract discussions. This doesn't mean voices should be silenced for any reason or that women ought not speak first and speak often in so doing. Nor does this mean that the dialogue must be dumbed down. What it does mean, however, is that that communication requires an equal sense of that which must be said and that which must be comprehended.

I sincerely believe that women's rights have a relevance and a pertinence which needs to be added to the daily discourse, but I do also know that doing so requires that it keep the extensive cerebration within itself and the cut-and-dry to those outside. But lest one feel like I am picking on Feminists (which I am honestly not), this goes for every single-issue, shared identity, or niche group with liberal sensibilities. Just because we seem to enjoy making things complicated for perverse reasons as yet unknown, doesn't mean that we should.

The true failing in all of these cases lies in the absolutely ridiculous complexity of how we structure ourselves. To reiterate once more, for too long, information and strategies that could be to the benefit of all has been isolated within specific issue-oriented groups, each with its own nomenclature and particular phraseology. This directly reflects the nature of academia, since these concepts are hatched there and exhaustively vetted. In that profession, segregated subject areas and ultra-specific foci are considered necessities within a field of study to encourage subsequent analysis. However, this particular structure is anathema to greater progress beyond the world of professors, scholars, and students.

No comments: