A Culture of Socially Open Information pt. 1

“The fantastic economic succes of the United States owes everything to a culture of open information.”

Sunstein, 2003, p.211

Toddler looking over border wall by French artist JR

We don’t live near those who are different from us, and this is offensively horrible. After all, this would mean we wouldn’t know what those “others” eat or drink or talk about. We wouldn’t know what festivals they celebrate or what thinkings they have on careers and money. We don’t know what they look like when they are being honest or being deceitful. We are “closed” off from them.

Why is this horrible? Because this would mean the inability to empathize. That is, we wouldn’t be able to fully humanize the others. Whenever there is cause for hostility or competition, empathy is the last bulwark against discrimination and demonization. When someone is subjectively telling you that those “others” are “evil” (i.e. stealing your jobs, ruining your future, etc) the only thing preventing you from buying those arguments is whether you can see things from the perspective of those “others.” Being able to put yourself in your competitor’s shoes makes things more nuanced. More gray-ish, and less black and white. When was the last time that for a person trying to humanize and empathize their others had led them to committ injustice? Most likely, never.

Why is this offensive? Because it impedes our committment to “the pursuit of happiness” of everyone. We all become competitors of each other eventually as we disagree and argue and fight. But if this process was started with us unable to humanize the opponent, we would demonize them instead. We would see them as unworthy. Yes, unworthy of “happiness,” which belongs more to us “humans.” In modern wording, this translates to “intolerant for diversity.” Those folks who are different from us, who live way over there in the “other ethnic or whatever” neighborhood? Would we still be respecting and promoting their “pursuit of happiness” if we can’t empathize with them? Maybe, but probably not when there is some sort of competition or hostility in the situation.

Nevertheless, this pathway from 1. closed off from one another to 2. inability to empathize to 3. demonization has been our way of life for thousands of years. The inability to see things from the other’s perspective has led to subjective (read: unjust) fights among couples and groups and nations, probably for all of time. Black and white sensemaking was even featured in the Bible, with the Tree of Knowledge bearing the fruits of Good and Evil!

But what about the fruit of “Nuance?” What would lead to us seeing each others not in black and white, but gray, and what would be the effects? What does it look like when we know the circumstances and are able to empathize with those we disagree with?


Works Referenced:

Sunstein, C. R. (2003). Why Societies need Dissent. Harvard University Press.

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