Yesterday we had a beautiful drive from Santa Fe to Flagstaff. The high desert is gorgeous, even though it threatened to blow us off the road at times. We listened to lots of pop hits from the ‘70s. Not least among them was Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.” We sang “music and passion were always the fashion at the Copa….” at the top of our lungs.
In other news, a nice story appeared in our hometown newspaper this morning. In the interview I said some things about my cousin, Larry, who surprised me when we spent time together in Newton, Kansas a week or so ago. In the past, we had exchanged some critical remarks on Facebook, and he said he had unfollowed me, because some of my posts made his blood pressure spike. But when we walked and talked in Kansas, he seemed far more open and progressive in his views than I anticipated. In response to my characterization of him in the article, Larry said, “Interesting that Brett thinks I ‘lean conservative.’ I’m way more liberal than Hillary or Barack Obama. I may even be more liberal than Brett. Stereotypes are often wrong. What I’m not is a Woodrow Wilson ‘progressive.’”
I accept responsibility for the mistake. I got it wrong. I made assumptions about him that were unfair and unhelpful. I wish I had listened better. I wish I had paid more attention to my relationship with Larry through the years.
Why did I make the assumption that he was a conservative, and maybe a Trump supporter? First, because I was stupid and too quick on the trigger. Plain and simple. However, there may be a deeper explanation than my cognitive deficits and premature exclamations. We live in a meme-driven, fake-news-loving, 24-hour-newscycling, click-baiting, opponent-hating media complex where binaries and conflict generate more attention and revenue than understanding and dialogue. Even when we recognize it and work to critique it, we can fall prey to it.
I have been conditioned to believe that when someone disagrees with me, they must be on the other side – the con to my pro, the negative to my affirmative, the conservative to my liberal – instead of, maybe, the pro-er, affirmative-er, liberal-er version of my position. Notice the preoccupation with “me?” This obsession with polarization breeds a form of narcissism that casts all opposition as other, as a commentary on us.
I suspect this isn’t the first time this is going to happen. People are almost always more interesting and complicated than the illusions and false narratives created by the conflict industries. Not always, but most of the time.
This project is part social discovery and part memoir. We hope to learn some big things about our country, but I also hope to learn some important things about myself. In this case, I thought I had learned something about stereotypes, but the lesson was even bigger. I’m sorry, Larry. I’m going to try to get better at this.