[iDC] The Politics of Perception

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Mon Sep 22 17:27:57 UTC 2008

This is a very interesting article.  I kind of think that skepticism
is the default setting for people.  It might not always be a
principled skepticism or the kind of critical skepticism that
intellectuals tend to value, but I think that people's curiosity is
balanced by trepidation for pretty good reasons.  Maybe it is a
product of natural selection or maybe it is something that we learn...
 but depending on the context there is a great deal of utility in
being cautious (eating the wrong berries or picking up the wrong snake
or trusting the wrong people can be a bad thing).

I think that learning to trust the larger community, becoming
socialized to accept "the city" or "socialism" is work.  People tend
to trust what they know and see on a regular basis.  Yet, the more
isolated you feel, the more vulnerable you feel.  If you accept that
"the city" is a good place and you learn to trust it, chances are you
are going to be less fearful of it.  Images of violence and crime,
while they might be "realistic," can be more easily contextualized
once you know the scope of the city.

I think that suspicious cultures do tend to focus on a smaller, more
narrow conception of community, one which revolves specifically around
the family and tight social networks.  Whereas, the alternative
worldview does seem to have a bit more confidence in the general
capacity of large numbers of people to do good things...  even if they
don't know each other.  (Hence the common complaint that liberals are
"naive" or "utopians.")

I think the solution is to show that, on the whole, society is not
something that needs to be feared.  I think there isn't a "magic
bullet" that can solve these problems.  Rather, I think it happens on
a micro scale.  It sounds hokey, but I think actual acts of kindness
are the only way to fight this impulse.  You know, helping people when
they drop things, returning lost items, pulling over to help people
when you see them broken down at the side of the road, responding to
violence with peace, etc.  And, on the larger scale, being able to
demonstrate that society works by implementing successful programs and
building institutions would reaffirm the idea that people are worth
it.  I currently live in a small town in rural Michigan, and it is not
a surprise to me that people turn inwards to church or family to find
security.  Small cities in states like Michigan just do not have the
resources to prove that government works.  Here, if you are broke,
there's not much help.  While, say, in Chicago, there are certain "big
city" problems...  but there are also these immensely successful
public services which help cultivate relationships (parks, libraries,
community centers, museums, clinics).  And if you compare the
situation to the US to the situation in Canada, the differences are
even more pronounced.  Both at the macro and micro scale, Canadians
seem much less cynical about their community.

I cannot blame people for being suspicious about things they don't
believe in.  When so many people live under dysfunctional federal,
state, and municipal governments...  And when an entire political
subculture is dedicated to the idea that government is inherently
dangerous, it makes sense that people would retreat into the known and
would build hedges against everything else.

I'm not entirely sure what the solution to this is, particularly when
we are talking about the iDC.  To bring this down to current election
cycle, I think that Obama's approach is a good one: Get people out
working in the community.  Get people organized.  Build face-to-face
relationships.  And then on that interpersonal foundation, build a
political movement.  At the end of the day, one way or another, it
comes down to creating "authentic" relationships, whatever that means
(but it means something, because people do value a relationship with,
say, someone in their church or workplace far above the relationships
that "robocalls" or broadcast ads attempt to create.)


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