Poverty of Perspective
When I was a teenager, my family moved to an area of immense wealth to an area of immense poverty. Quite simply, my life and perspective changed forever.
Originally, I was actually going to write a post about the cycle of poverty, and how so many dismiss this cycle when it comes to issues in our society. I wanted to incorporate my true experiences in the post, in hopes of enlightening someone on the topic.
But, then, it hit me. Thousands upon thousands of papers have been written about this topic, right? Everybody “knows” that there are tremendous psychological impacts on those who are in poverty, and everybody “knows” escaping from poverty is not as easy as Hollywood shows us. Right?
I stopped writing the post about poverty (though I still have it, if you are interested), and then I realized that most of are in a state of poverty: ignorance. Ignorance is the lack of knowledge or information, according to google. In other words, ignorance can take the form of a lack of perspective.
I mean, we are inundated with information today – so how can anyone truly be ignorant? But that is what scares me. Right now, I can pull up thousands upon thousands of articles on the cycle of poverty, and I can try to give you perspective on this issue. Unfortunately, though, most cannot, or will not be bothered. And even with all this information, it means nothing if it is not utilized.
Today, the conspiracy is that we are living in a world where there is an illusion of true perspective, knowledge, and wisdom, but in reality, our perspectives are severely limited, and without true perspective, we lose our sense of humanity.
“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” ― Carl Sagan
Not everyone reading this can simply go out and have a “life-changing” experience, like my moving experience, at any moment. Not everyone reading this can spend thousands of dollars and go traveling the world for a week. Nobody can “pay” for true, life-changing experience…except maybe one way (and it is pretty inexpensive or virtually free). Reading takes us places we could never go otherwise.
Sadly, people are not reading anymore, or more fairly, there is a long, steady decline of literary reading:
We all remember those novels in high school we had to read, and many of us thought they were useless. I mean, what exactly was the ultimate point of me reading the “Odyssey” in the 10th grade? However, I now believe that it is never a waste to read a book, even one that is “bad” or that I “dislike.” Why? Because every time we read a novel, we take away a unique perspective – even perspectives we disagree with, and that is the beauty of it. Reading gives us perspective, and even when the story lines are fiction, the thematic elements are rooted in reality. How many of us have changed after reading a book? Mostly everyone reading this post could mention at least one book that has changed their lives, and ultimately, their perspective.
Even, worse, though, is kids are barely reading, and that’s because their parents aren’t, and now we have a sort of cycle of “illteracy”:
Knowing how to read is not enough – children need to learn to read analytically, and they need to read a variety of literature with a variety of perspectives. Reading, for example, can help kids learn empathy:
Reading allows us to explore worlds and perspectives virtually for free, so why aren’t people reading anymore?
Fear of Boredom
Reading can be boring sometimes. Not every book starts off with an exciting exposition, yet we are training children that those are the only books worth reading at all.
In this article (I like the title), “Boredom is not a problem to be solved. It is the last privelege of a free mind”, the author explains,
“Confessing to boredom is confessing to a character-flaw. Popular culture is littered with advice on how to shake it off: find like-minded people, take up a hobby, find a cause and work for it, take up an instrument, read a book, clean your house And certainly don’t let your kids be bored: enroll them in swimming, soccer, dance, church groups – anything to keep them from assuaging their boredom by gravitating toward sex and drugs. To do otherwise is to admit that we’re not engaging with the world around us. Or that your cellphone has died.”
We now associate boredom with a flaw in character, when in reality, boredom can actually encourage people to participate in more meaningful behavior in the long-run:
Unfortunately, today, many of us, especially our children, have shorter attenetion spans than a goldfish:
Books are hard to read, and sometimes they require a little bit or boredom – and we need to show kids that this is okay. Not everything has to be action-packed or entertaining.
Unfortunately, the modern education system (and society itself) teaches kids that if something is not “entertaining” it is not worth pursuing. Kids associate books and education with boredom, and that is not a “good” association. Sadly, we are amusing ourselves to death:
(From Amusing Ourselves to Death) “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”
― Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
We have the entire world at our fingertips. We can learn anything we want to, really, for free. We can learn nearly any language. We can communicate with people all over the world. The opportunities of the internet are endless, yet most use the internet to stare at cute pictures of animals or watch 1,000 cat videos. Look, I enjoy the cute cat videos as much as the next person, but take a look at the majority of internet usage today. Most of it is for entertainment.
Leisure time, at least in the past, had a more social component to it, which meant more opportunity for developing perspective:
Today, leisure time is more individualized, and there are two things people likely will do with their online leisure time:
1) Entertain themselves
2) Spend time on things to reinforce what they already believe
People are not looking up “opposing viewpoints” to everything they believe – rather, many of their viewpoints are reinforced in internet echo chambers. People are not meeting people with different perspectives; rather, they are meeting people who think and believe the same things they do:
So, even if people are reading online, they are likely reading things that reinforce what they already believe or think. Despite the endless opportunities on the internet, our perspectives are still limited through echo chambers and our own paradigms.
It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity. –Albert Einstein
Another issue is that people are spending less time leaving their homes. Kids are playing outside less, about half the amount of time their parents did:
People are spending more time inside, and they are even traveling less:
Look, we know going out is expensive, and there are a lot of reasons many prefer to sit at home on the weekends then have to go out and deal with (sigh) people. Quite simply, though, the less we go outside and experience life, the less…we have…unique experiences. (I find it shocking I am writing this sentence because it seems obvious, doesn’t it?)
Our virtual realities are not a substitute for real life experiences. No matter how much I watch those “amazing waterslide” videos on YouTube, it will never substitue for the actual waterslide experience.
Perhaps this section is obvious, and we cannot fault people for staying home to save money or energy. Still, our society is now set up in such a way where we will have to leave our homes as little as possible, and maybe in the future, never again. We are creating our own prisons, or at least, we are letting the prisons to be built around us as we stare at our screens. Are you excited for the furture prison cities? I mean, as long as we have wifi, we should be okay.
“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.” ― Henry Louis Gates Jr
“When truth is replaced by silence,the silence is a lie.” ― Yevgeny Yevtushenko
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” ― Salman Rushdie
Even with all of this information that we think we have access to, censorship is a real issue that so many lightly dismiss. No longer can students read the actual version of “Huckleberry Finn” because of the use of some outdated and racist language. Instead of examining “perspective” and using this novel to teach students about the good and bad of history, it is better to just “santize” it:
Even look at all the controversy with Alex Jones. Whatever you think about the guy (controlled op., nutcase, truth seeker, etc.), instead of teaching people to critically evaluate all information, it is better to just hide it, right?
Sidenote: Also, the common argument I saw on Reddit about the situation was that a company or corporation has a right to censor information. The problem is, though, what happens when corporations own EVERYTHING, including information? Where do we get access to free information that is not owned or controlled anymore? It blows my mind that I am now living in a time where people are defending the right to this type of censorship.
But anyway, there is this illusion that we have unlimited and free access to information, but we all know that even search engines like Google censor things through certain algorithms:
The point is that information is powerful when it is free because it opens up our worldview and perspectives, and it breaks our paradigms.
We are now living in a time where censorship is adamentally defended.
“Big Brother is Watching You.” ― George Orwell, 1984
We use paradigms as a lens to understand reality. Paradigms are necessary for existence and survival, to an extent:
“Once a paradigm (or model) is established or accepted, an interesting thing happens – it shapes how we interpret facts…Or listen to a talk show where the host is politically quite liberal or quite conservative. Virtually every event that occurs in the world is interpreted through a liberal or conservative lens. Typically new data points (facts) that appear to contradict the host’s paradigm are twisted to fit the existing (preferred) model. If you’re conservative you can see this in liberal thinking, and if you’re liberal you can see this in conservative thinking. But it’s hard to take off our own lenses and see the world “as it really is.” I put that in quotes because as soon as we enter the world of language and ideas and human communication, we must take on some paradigm, some perspective. And whether we’re looking at a house, a mountain, or an issue, the perspective we take frames what we see. ”
In some ways, our paradigms can entrap or enslave us. The problem is that we (everyone reading this) somehow think we are the exception to the rule – that we are not enslaved by our own beliefs.
Again, we likely need paradigms to function and survive, but the problem is when we start viewing everything through a stagnant lens. For example, remember earlier I mentioned writing that post about poverty. There are generally two paradigms associated with the debate:
1) People can escape poverty if they just work hard enough.
2) People are victims of society and do not have any individual responsibility.
Of course, the situation is far more complex than that, with doctoral theses written on the subject. Yet, we try to simplify our world through paradigms, and perhaps it is a coping mechanism for the information overload we experience.
The point is that one of the best ways to break paradigms is through perspective. The more we read, travel, meet people, socialize, etc., the more we are likely to come in to contact with conflicting views that promote paradigm shifts. So, maybe I used to believe “If you just work hard enough, you can break poverty.” But then, after living a decade in an impoverished area, there was conflicting data that required a paradigm shift.
In other words, we need to be able to see perspectives that conflict with our own perspectives at times. The problem is, do people want to do that anymore? How can people do that if we they are experiencing nothing new?
Sure, we hear jokes about “safe spaces”, but safe spaces are the reality of the internet. If you think about it, every subreddit is a safe space to some extent.
A safe space, to me, is a place where we can stay stuck in a paradigm. We grow comfortable in our paradigms. Our paradigms help us cope with the world around us, but we do not want our paradigms to become safe spaces.
Poverty of Perspective
The word “poverty” indicates lack of something. I think, today, we are lacking perspective more than anything. I am not saying seeking alternative perspectives will save the world, but I certainly think it will make it a better place.
How can we empathize if we have no perspective? How can we create something new if we rely on the same perspectives? How can science change if there are no paradigm shifts? How can we truly understand perspective if controversial information is controlled or censored? How can we understand perspective if our language is lacking or we struggle to read? How can we grow or change without perspective? How can we examine or determine truth with limited perspective?
I am not saying this post I have written is anything revolutionary, and perhaps it has all been said before. However, I am troubled by the amount of people who have stopped talking to others. I am troubled by the amount of people who do not read. I am troubled by the safe spaces and echo chambers. I am troubled by the defense of censorship.
I think we should start off our days with the phrase, “I could be wrong…” because I feel people, today, are afraid to be wrong. Why? Being wrong is uncomfortable. Being wrong means we might have to change. Being wrong, for some, can mean their entire lives are lies. No wonder people want to protect their paradigms.
Comfort in these paradigms leads to poverty of perspective and experience.
How can we even be human without experience or perspective?