Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Doors without Walls: On a Cultured Blindness

I have a favored weapon of cultural criticism.

When causally discussing cultural problems, say corporal punishment, privilege masquerading as meritocracy, or the socio-economic effects of otherness (race, ethnicity, gender, social status, etc.), I have noted a common blindness. Structural and institutional effects.  So many problems come from how an institution or culture is organized and not from any intentional decision. In so many discussions, I find myself talking about the institutional issues because--except among intellectuals--people overlook structural causes. Even in cases of intergenerational poverty, in which structural problems are the white elephant in the room, "people are lazy" or "people just want free money from the government" are common sayings.

We live in a building in which we see the doors but not the walls. We see "choices," but not the structures that support (not not) those choices.

This blindness pervades many social, cultural, political, and economic issues, and I think it is one of the reasons why they remain issues. We Americans tend to reduce everything to intentions, free will, and self-determination--just like our action movies.

One last point. I made an exception for intellectuals, because they generally are aware of these issues. However, awareness of and insight into structural effects--especially when they are part of the fabric of one's own life--can be very difficult to spot. On that topic, and in those discussions, I find myself talking about practical wisdom and not structural organization.

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