Search This Blog

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How can I see past the talking points?

            A few nights ago, as I was lying in bed watching two talking heads blather back and forth on CNN, an analogy occurred to me that would doom me to several restless hours.  The human mind is an incredible contraption, capable of contemplating the cosmos from the confines of a couch or measuring the tiniest particle.  In fact, only one thing is complex and baffling enough to confound the intellect of the homo sapiens sapiens.  I speak, of course, of the Magic-Eye.
This one's a... um, let's say fish...
            I’m sure you’re familiar with them.  These seemingly random assortments of computer-produced dots are technically called “stereograms”.  The concept is that as you relax your eyes and look beyond the page, a three dimensional image appears out of the chaos.  Or so I’m told.
            I make this admission candidly because I’ve lied about my Magic-Eye deficiencies for decades.  Never one to admit that there was something I couldn’t do, I hid this handicap deep in the closet. Even now my parents might be shocked to learn of it.  As a child, I would look at the images and relax my eyes until they nearly touched my feet, but still, I saw only the dots.
            “Do you see it?” my father would ask.
            “Cool,” I would remark in feigned amazement.
            “It’s a sailboat,” he would say.
            “That’s awesome,” I would lie.
            I must have been awfully convincing because for years afterwards he would send me the stereograms from the hometown newspaper and buy me Magic-Eye calendars for Christmas.  Before I hung them, I would cheat and look at the back page, carefully memorizing what each splotch was supposed to be in case a friend saw it.
            “It’s a racecar,” I would say as they stared at my dorm room wall.
            “Oh, I see,” they would respond with a nod of appreciation.  And I would wonder.
            All of this occurred to me as I watched a cable-news debate over the financial crisis.  The sound was on, but I could just as well have filled in the debate with the voices muted.  The republican was recognizable by his gray hair and a sports coat stretched over just enough gut to evoke the empathy of the “average guy”.  The democratic pundit was identifiable by being both female and not Sarah Palin.  Anderson Cooper moderated as they took turns blaming one another for the crisis in the housing market.
            “It’s the fault of the Democrats,” insisted the conservative, “The liberal housing programs enacted by Clinton armed a ticking time-bomb that set the stage for an inevitable collapse.”
            He was right, I realized.  I remember those high-minded speeches about lifting oneself out of poverty through home ownership.  I remember the push to make mortgages available to those with low-incomes.  It seemed so logical and benevolent in a time of economic expansion, but I saw instantly how this could lay the groundwork for catastrophe.
            “It’s the fault of the Republicans,” insisted the liberal, “The era of deregulation under the Bush administration left banking laws so lax that there was no culpability for making bad loans.”
            She was right, I realized.  I remember those high-minded (if occasionally mispronounced) speeches about lifting the economy from the burdensome weight of big government.  I remember the push to make loans easier to acquire for small businesses and individuals.  It seemed so logical in a time of skyrocketing stock values, but I saw instantly how this could ignite the powder keg.
            A few more revelations followed, swinging the pendulum from Anne Coulter to Michael Moore and back again.  Both of them sounded so right and they both used such brilliantly cherry-picked facts and such carefully worded ambiguity.  For an instant I was so confused that I thought I was oscillating between two parallel universes of responsibility but the sound of my wife tilling her digital fields anchored me to reality.
            And that’s when I thought of the Magic-Eye.  I realized that perhaps all I was seeing were the dots.
   I relaxed my eyes.
            As I did, the three-dimensional object slowly started to come into focus.  The liberal talking points and the conservative ones started to coalesce and for a moment it seemed like somewhere beyond the dots there was a world where there were no Republicans or Democrats.  In their place was an infinite array of individuals who fell across the scale from liberal to conservative in the same way people fell across the scale from tall to short.  Meanwhile, the talking heads had moved on to blaming one another for the federal deficit and the dots started to fill in once again.
            As this elusive epiphany faded I found myself once more pondering the mind, though this time I thought more of its limits than its expanses.  After all, a single mind could be thwarted by something as innocuous as a stereogram or a UFO video on You-Tube.  However, as I reckon it, there is only one thing potent enough to thwart the collective minds of all of humankind.  That would be, of course, the collective minds of all of humankind.
            Such an opposition could scarcely be imagined.  The only way it could be achieved would be by creating such a brazenly nonsensical dichotomy that people would be left unable to believe in climate change because of their position on gay marriage.  People would be forced to say things like “To hell with repealing estate taxes, I’m a vegetarian” or “I can’t carry a Nalgene bottle… I’m a Republican.”
            And again I thought of the Magic Eye.
            We are all right eyed or left eyed in the same way that we are right or left handed.  Nobody seems to know why some people can’t see the three dimensional object, but for no reason but the congruity of my analogy, I like to believe that it’s because people like myself are just not ambi-ocular enough to see beyond the points.  If you see out of only your left eye, you see only the points on the left side.
Here, Bill is seen being fair and balanced.
            The fear, of course, is that we all risk blinding one eye by spending too much time in the echo chambers of Oberman and O’Reily.  Whether it’s listening to Keith interview people that could not agree with him more or Bill shouting over someone that couldn’t be less qualified to articulate the opposition, we risk cultivating a world where everyone sees the dots and nobody sees the picture.  When a drilling platform explodes and untold environmental devastation results, our nation risks foregoing a realistic dialogue about the causes and methods of preventing similar disasters in the future.  Instead, the pundits find a way to press these facts into their established talking points and line up like pawns on a chessboard to have the same tired, futile debates.
            I bring all of this up because I have no intention of writing a politically biased blog.  There are enough of those in the world and I am not informed enough to add much to the ubiquitous rancor.  Despite that, it would be unrealistic to think that one could opine on the events around them without delving into topics that might serve as political firebrands.  In the present political climate, one can’t say that they disagree with the suspension of habeas corpus without earning some accusations of partisanship.  My hope is that as I touch on these subjects, I can do so in such a way as not to scare away the people who stand on the opposite political sideline.
            But I can only promise that I will relax my eyes.  I will try to look beyond the party rhetoric, though I make no promises that I will succeed.  When I see the talking points, I will strain to find the truth they hide, but I do so knowing that I am restricted by my shortcomings: I have still never seen the sailboat.

No comments:

Post a Comment