A crisp breeze bit at my neck as I walked down the empty street. All life seemed to have been pushed indoors besides the various groups of law enforcement that dotted each corner. I couldn’t tell how normalized this scene was as I hadn’t been to the city for almost two years. Was this consistent with the last couple of months due to Coronavirus, or was it a new sense of authoritarianism brought on by the “insurrection” at the capital a couple of weeks previously. From what I knew, I leaned towards the latter choice, but I couldn’t say for sure. My information had all come through third parties and therefore gone through the inevitable game of telephone distorting the true picture.
A grey haze covered the sky, only adding to the somber atmosphere. It seemed as if the mother nature had sensed the tension society was going through and had responded with weather that fit accordingly. I was strangely thankful for the mask mandate. Normally, I would be caught unprepared for wind like this but today I had a mask to wear and warm my face. Isn’t funny how positivity can be found in the most unlikely places? I have disliked wearing masks for this past year even though I saw the necessity. Today though, I was thankful.
Closer to the capital, the police started to thin out and be replaced by the National Guard. Road blocks started to appear at every corner, blocking all traffic from preceding further. I couldn’t help but think about if all of this was necessary. The media had been portraying a narrative that far right provocateurs were planning on creating more chaos at both the federal and local capitals. This was the justification used to induce fear in anyone that would want to come to DC this day. But was any of that fear based in reality?
Over the past two years, I have ended up in many situations in rural America where I have been a fish out of water, seemingly surrounded by people I had thought I had no connection to a few years ago. “Trump Country” had become a reality around me and I started to see another side of a picture that I had been ignoring. From what I thought I knew, these communities were filled with angst and hate for their fellow American. What I started to learn though, is that hate was the last thing on everyones mind. It seemed as if people simply wanted to be concerned about their communities opposed to the broader picture of America as a whole.
Their views seemed to have nothing to do with hate. The majority of people acknowledged the fact that the other “sides” issues existed. They didn’t try to deny that equity was a problem in many areas or that massive disparities between different classes existed. They just believed that the solutions that were being pushed for would hinder their lives because the solutions had been crafted for a reality that was completely different than the one they lived in. Based off of my conversations, it didn’t seem like they were against helping people or solving problems, just that they thought large scale solutions were the wrong way to go.
Now I’m not trying to downplay the fact that extremists exist or that violence hasn’t been recently used to push for an agenda. I am trying to highlight that the gap between us is not as huge as we think it is. Often, it is us that creates this illusion of aggression against the other, letting tribalism dictate our feelings and deciding that if one fits the stereotype, then they must have the view that we associate with that stereotype. There is no longer a sense of heterodoxy that can bring us together to try to understand one another.
As I pushed along the (mostly) empty streets, I started to see a bit more life. Street corners were decorated with tables of Biden/Harris shirts waiting to be sold to the nonexistent crowd. Members of the press walked freely throughout the streets, each decorated with microphones and cameras. Random protesters from each side of the aisle rode bikes while waving flags. Even though they were few in number, they existed and they were there.
That’s when I decided that this entire scene was a facade detached from reality, much like most of our views of the world. Even though fences and guards blocked off most of the governmental elite, if one wanted to cause chaos they would have had an easy time doing it. The only purpose of this show was to induce a feeling on the people watching. One group would use it as evidence to argue their point of view that since there was no turmoil, the presence was needed and successful. The other group will argue the exact opposite, that the lack of protesters proved that no one was going to come.
Which point of view is correct? Probably both. And at the same time, probably neither. It really makes me question how much of my world view is based on an objective reality and not simply a reinforcement of my current beliefs. If I’m going to be honest with myself, probably not much of it. And if we are going to be honest with ourselves as a people, that is a fact that we will have to get comfortable with. We are probably wrong in most cases simply because subjectivity is so engrained in our evolution as a species.
So how can try to make sure that their view is objective? I think the only way is by constantly trying to prove ourselves wrong. A consistent humility is needed to show that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do and admitting that will help push us forward because we will be willing to be wrong.
I often think to myself about our understanding of consciousness, or lack of. We can’t define what we even our on a conscious level. Are we even real? Is what we perceive ourselves to be an illusion? No one knows yet its answer is what we base the majority of our moral judgments on. Maybe a healthy dose of admitting our ignorance is the only way forward.
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