Teaching Our Minds to See (and Touch) Anew
The New York Times Magazine article about the lead poisoning of Flynt Michigan’s water supply used a phrase that is shared in medical schools and, in the wake of the 2016 election, it should hit home hard. The Times cites Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s wisdom, “The eyes don’t see what the mind doesn’t know.”
In this post-fact environment, Americans must wrestle with the inability of different peoples’ eyes to see what their neighbors’ eyes see. We must also ask how our minds learn about diverse worlds.
Fortunately we’re being offered a full range of journalistic enquiries into why Americans are talking past each other. The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell inventories the absurd claims that the majority of Trump supporters see as true. Even after a North Carolina man, armed with an assault-style rifle, charged into a D.C. pizza joint which was supposedly the site of a child sex ring which Hillary Clinton helped run, nearly half of Trump supporters continued to see Mrs. Clinton as guilty as charged.
Rampell further describes other incredible charges that are believed by about half or more of Trump supporters, as well as urban myths that are accepted by significant numbers of Clinton voters.
Texas journalist Bill Bishop anticipated today’s crisis in The Big Sort. Bishop described this new form of segregation by choice, as well as economics. It is social fragmentation created by consumerism and personal tastes, where Americans divide themselves into discrete, like-minded enclaves. “The Big Sort” fosters separation based on lifestyle, personalities, and income. It also creates homogenized environments where it is all too easy to see only what other like-minded people see, and it reinforces alienation on a large scale.
To understand the deeper question of how our minds can wrap themselves around today’s diverse and complex worlds, we must take a longer historical and philosophical view. We should recall the climax of Jacob Bronowski’s magnificent The Ascent of Man. He displayed an curved ancient stone sharpened into a blade and concluded, “The hand in the cutting edge of the mind.”
Too many young people have grown up in a completely post-industrial, digital world and many of them struggle to understand Bronowski’s wisdom. Many of today’s realities are grounded by no more than bursts of electricity darting through computer server systems. These technologies can foster a primitive mind-body dualism. And too many parents have failed to teach their children digital ethics and media literacy. In fact, polling data indicates that in the recent election, it was older voters who became the most divorced from the real world and trusted the fake news that was circulated across social media.
We live in a post-modern world where too many of the physical rites of passage into society are gone. There was a lot wrong with the 20th century’s blue collar economy where young adults were introduced to physics by swinging a hammer, slingin iron, hauling hay, and/or hiking and fishing. But, those physical activities provided an Teaching Our Minds to See (and Touch) Anew | The Huffington Post: