We may be drowning in information, but we always seem to lack the key to unlock it.
My smartphone went off again this morning with another Amber alert. You know the routine. You are startled with alarm as your phone starts to scream at you that it has some fresh new hell for you to absorb. You read the alert and discover that yet another child has been “abducted”. This alert is fine, I guess, at least on the surface. But what I always notice about these alerts is that they provide lots of information without providing much meaningful context. I always know the child’s sex and very often the sex of the “abductor”. I often know what the child was wearing, and surprisingly often I know the kind of car and license plate number of the “abductor’s” vehicle. What’s usually missing, though, is any information regarding how it came to be that the child was “abducted”, and whether the child has a pre-existing relationship with his/her “abductor”.
Maybe you have noticed that I keep putting the word “abductor” in quotes. That’s because, without any context, it’s impossible to know whether the “abductor” is really an abductor in any sense with which people normally understand the meaning of that word. (i.e. someone unknown to the child who really intends to do harm). If a child has been really and truly “abducted”, anyone within a reasonable distance should, of course, go to DEFCON 1. However, I do receive many alerts of “abductions” from hundreds of miles away. Am I supposed to drive the highways on the lookout for distant vehicles which might have now arrived in my area? Can I at least wait to go looking until they have had time to drive to my part of the state? How long must I keep up this vigil?
I confess I am harassed by the suspicion that a lot (most?) of these alerts amount to dragooning the entire community of Amber alert recipients into helping litigate some unfortunate family’s child custody dispute. As it happens, conscripting free-born citizens into providing free labor has developed into something of a raison d’etre for a surprising number of state and local governments. (cf. “recycling”) And if a continuous stream of context-free alerts creates the impression that we are living in a state of constant crisis? Well, so much the better for those power-mad bureaucrats who need everyone to feel — deeply — how important they are and how much we need them.
Anyway, it is this inclination of the authorities to deny alert recipients any context that has been bugging me for a while now. I’ll observe that it is not unlike the behavior of various authorities during Covid: release some information but not quite enough for anyone to assess the actual risk. There’s an entire blog post somewhere inside that phenomenon, but it’s not what I’m writing about here. Context-free alarms of doom often create a false impression for the recipient about the actual state of play. The creation of false impressions is, as it happens, impossible to differentiate from the effects of propaganda.
Context always provides an interpretational lens through which understanding emerges. Lacking context means that we are left entirely to our own imaginations, and our conclusions can be wildly at odds with the actual circumstances. (e.g. “Hands up don’t shoot”)
I sometimes wonder if it is the issue of context that has conservatives and liberals often talking past each other. I’ve been thinking about this especially as it relates to recent kerfuffles over children’s education. Several government and education authorities have lately embraced the view that parents shouldn’t have a say over their children’s education. This understandably has conservative parents up in arms. And there is apparently no shortage of groomer and psycho hangers-on in the educational establishment who seem always eager to nudge parents to the side. But it may not be just the weirdies behind this idea. I wonder if what’s happening is that education administrators and parents are viewing things through entirely different lenses.
If you are a parent in a functioning home, the idea that you should have less say over educating your children seems like madness. But what if educators are not primarily engaged with parents from functioning homes? What if their vantage point is that there are more crazy parents than functioning ones? And worse, what if their impression is actually right? What if we’re at a cultural tipping point in which American families are, in the main, in such chaos that the craziness is the context through which public educators see their clients? What if the damage done to families by our cultural pathologies is so widespread that more children than not (in public schools at least) have “crazy” parents? If that’s the case, then when these policy makers say “parents shouldn’t have a say over their children’s education” they may be picturing a very different “parent” than the one that inhabits the imagination of conservatives.
I have a friend who is a counselor in an elementary school in an economically depressed part of town. And the stories she tells make every day sound like a veritable exploration in psychopathy. Her experience of “school” is nothing like the way any parent of a functioning family imagines “school” to be. Indeed, her experience of “parents” is, I suspect, wildly at odds with anything a Ricochet reader would consider remotely normal. Her encounters with parents are not, of course, uniformly insane. But they are insane in sufficient quantity so as to craft an interpretational lens for her that is perverse when applied to parental normies. Nevertheless, the lack of normal parents in her experience makes her reluctant to take much advice from the crazies who inhabit her world. It’s a simple matter of intuition and probabilities.
During Covid. one of the unexpected (to me) phenomenon that occurred was when people started lining up in long lines outside public schools to pick up their “free” lunches. There was much pearl clutching and couch fainting over the plight of these children who would, we were led to believe, go without food in their own homes if they couldn’t come to school. That may have been the moment I began to realize that the educational system has been acting as a gigantic anesthetic against society really feeling the extent of our cultural disintegration.
But there is a contextual gap between those who live in normal-world and those who have their noses rubbed in our social pathologies as they really are. And I wonder if some of the inability of the left and right to communicate is due, at least to some extent, to the very different contextual lenses through which we observe the world. I feel certain that this doesn’t explain every differing perception, but I fear it may explain more than I would prefer. At least, perhaps, for that continually shrinking community on the left who haven’t themselves already become part of the crazies.