This is part 3 in Why Things Seem So Bad Right Now. [Read part 1 and part 2 here]
One obvious effect of our communities living in closer proximity and having more access to a greater number of cultures and subcultures – even if that is only only on social media -is that you can not assume anything anymore.
One big change in our culture in the past 70 years is the loss of an homogeneous majority and thus an assumed ‘normal’. When you had a homogeneous majority, there were certain expectations and assumptions that one could make. Anything different was suspected as a deviation at worst or a variation at best.
You can no longer assumed that there is a ‘normal’. This can be disorienting to those who were formerly at the ‘center’ and enjoyed the privilege of not exerting energy on navigating issues of difference.
You can no longer assume that we are all beginning with the same frameworks or that we are all working toward the same ends. This must be negotiated and mediated. It can no longer be taken for granted as a neutral starting point.
There Is No Neutral Anymore.
I have written before about how important it is to realize that truth does not materialize out of thin air – what we call truth is constructed socially (or communally if you prefer).
Even if there was such a thing as ‘universal truth’, our human access to that truth is:
- and perspectival
These confessions come with some pretty profound implications.
Meaning, then, is correspondingly understood to be:
Meaning is mediated because our understanding comes to us through inherited language, cultural behaviors, social expectations, and mental frameworks (paradigms).
Meaning is located because the same event or data may look very different or be interpreted differently be a different person in another place or time.
Meaning is contested because in a partial/perspectival understanding, no one interpretation gets a free ride or an automatic pass. Everything is up for review.
In the past, some have thought that meaning is obvious (not mediated), that it was accross-the-board the same for everyone (not located), and that the only negotiation required was at what level you wanted to conform to the truth.
This realization that meaning is contested and must be negotiated communally (or socially) can lead to disorientation and even result in agitation. However, once it is embraced, it can actually be comforting as ones expectations come into alignment with the world as it really is. Homogeneous majority is a mental fiction that had problems all along but never as pronounced as they are now.
There is no neutral (or exempt) position anymore. One does not simply get to sit back and poo-poo other’s perspective without providing an alternative. It is not sufficient to take shots at or poke holes in opinions that you disagree with. We live in the age of the cynic but it is unsatisfying personally and unhelpful to the common good.
Because our culture is so fractured … one has to make the claim or justify one’s position in the arena of ideas or the court of public discourse. Nothing gets off scot-free, no idea gets a free ride, and no position is exempt from examination.
There is no neutral anymore.
This is true in issues of economy, politics, military, ecology, morals, religion, civility, marriage, gender, sexuality, occupations and trades are just a few examples of categories that display this loss of fixed and stable assumptions.
The sooner we embrace this new way to conceptualize our participation in culture and society, the better we will be at developing new tools for navigating and practices for flourishing together.