Sometimes I change my perceptions and political opinions based on reasoned argument. For example, I used to be very strongly opposed to the home schooling movement. I am still fairly uncomfortable with it for a variety of reasons, but an extended set of dialogs on this blog some years ago helped me see that my ideas about home schooling were incomplete and not well-founded.
Other times, my views change without me taking conscious note of either the process or the outcome of the shift until something brings it to my attention. I had the experience of being in the airport security line in Omaha behind a Catholic priest last summer. I found myself with a visceral dislike and distrust of the man simply based on his attire. (And yes, I am aware that he could have been Episcopalian or some other denomination that uses similar clerical attire.)
This baffled me, as I've always held a benignly positive view of the Catholic church. I mean, nuns, hospitals, parish schools, Catholic universities — regardless of one's denominational politics, they do a lot of good in the world. I realized my reaction was due to my persistent disgust with the church's generations-long gross mishandling of pedophile priests, an institutional corruption in the Catholic church that extends from the base all the way to the top and would likely draw racketeering and conspiracy charges against any secular organization that behaved so. Combine this with the U.S. Catholic bishop's current vile (and misleadingly baseless) anti-woman political activism with respect to healthcare reform, and somewhere along the line I'd come to see the Catholic church as force for evil in society.
I also realized that if I were traveling with
Is this an appropriate reaction of mine? Absolutely not. For one thing, the Church's institutional problems are not reflected in its individual members, be they parishioners or priests. For another thing, I appear to have wandered into the mental and emotional space of harboring a religious prejudice, something I have a horror of for both personal and philosophical reasons. It's very important to me to be fair minded in all things.
The important point here isn't that I have work to do in how I view the Catholic church and its people. The important point here is that persistent media messaging had changed my thinking without my even realizing it.
Likewise, yesterday morning Ace Jordyn and I were walking in downtown Portland when we came across Portland's Komen Race for the Cure. Until this past year, I'd always had a strongly positive view of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. I've supported friends who participated in the Race for the Cure with pledges. I mean, who can be against breast cancer research? Except this year the Komen Foundation politicized itself with a hard right wing turn to move against any perceived support for abortion through their screening activities with Planned Parenthood. So seeing all that pink just irritated me. Insofar as I was concerned, I was being immersed in right wing shills with a profound anti-woman bias.
Is this fair? Again, absolutely not. For one thing, the Komen foundation, albeit grudgingly, has moved to correct their overreach. For another thing, the Portland chapter almost certainly has nothing to do with the errors of the national organization. And certainly almost none of the thousands of women and men running in pink shirts and hats had the forced pregnancy movement on their minds. They were out there supporting friends and loved ones with breast cancer.
Again, the important point here isn't that I need to carefully consider my views of the Komen Foundation. The point is how much the media reporting of their misdeeds has influenced my thinking without me being especially conscious of it.
When I apply this realization to the wider world of American media, especially the constant drumbeat of liberals-are-traitors messaging coming from the right wing voices that dominate, is it any wonder so many of my fellow citizens profoundly misunderstand the liberal-progressive agenda? I'm pretty self-aware, and consider my opinions on a regular basis, and that doesn't save me from falling into the trap of media messaging, especially media messaging that addresses my confirmation biases. Can I expect more for others?
I should start by expecting more from myself.