Everyone Knows Best and Everyone Knows All

by Jun 1, 2013Culture, Piety

These comments have come back to my mind many times since I read them. The author lays out an incredibly difficult vision to live up to. I honestly quail in the face of it. But love for my neighbor demands it, and I seek by God’s grace to do it.

I tried to shorten this, but I couldn’t. Each of the major paragraphs contains necessary gold.

Look at any U.S. map charted along measures of education, collar, and (increasingly) marriage and family wellbeing and we are officially polka-dotted. The achievers flock to the dense bubbles and everyone else floats around them, unable to penetrate their networks, their values, or their rewards. Poll after poll shows only a hardening of political worldviews reinforced by the social topography of our routines. Information overload has given way to selective digital diets that drive us into tunnels of opinion, sequestering perspective if not knowledge itself. We self-select and we ignore, we open ourselves up to new voices and then funnel them through biases we already hold. Last year the Pew Research Center looked at the values shaping Republican versus Democratic loyalties from 1987-2012 and found the gap between them had doubled. How to project your perspective over such a space? It’s no wonder there’s so much shouting on the punditry circuit.

One of the more disheartening (if fascinating) responsibilities of my day job is to moderate the online comments responding to the blogs of two deeply thoughtful, “conservative” columnists at a national newspaper. It is amazing how many commenters either don’t read carefully or completely dismiss the columnists’ arguments with rants about how idiotic and out of touch they are with “mainstream” will (most of the readers hail from the coasts and the major cities). The tone is ruthless as it defends the righteousness of the commenters’ own cultural sensibilities, hypersensitive to any public argument that might sting their moral rectitude. Questions like, “hey, how do you make a case for gun control without alienating a third of the population, some of whose values reflect as much pride in the second amendment as they do a textured heritage bequeathed from the frontier generations?” or, “hey, how do you characterize the rights of an illegal immigrant knowing that he’s resented as a job-robber by legal residents?” aren’t being asked by the vocal masses, although they involve the most basic dilemmas presented by all political choices. For all of our toleration and well-readness and talk of “global citizenry,” there is an astounding lack of curiosity about the why’s behind others’ perspectives, on both sides of the political aisle. Everyone knows best and everyone knows all.

Notre Dame’s President, John I. Jenkins, recently wrote:

“If I am trying to persuade others, I first have to understand their position, which means I have to listen to them. I have to appeal to their values, which means I have to show them respect. I have to find the best arguments for my position, which means I have to think about my values in the context of their concerns. I have to answer their objections, which means I have to work honestly with their ideas. I have to ask them to listen to me, which means I can’t insult them.”

Read the whole thing.

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