Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Discomforts (and absence) of Perspective-Diversity

I've written here before (several times) about the difficulty of listening to perspectives that differ from my  own. Like that little boy, I just want to cover my ears and make a bad face. A recent article in the New York Times made me think about this again. The subject was social scientists, and one presenter at a meeting of said scientists was John Haidt.
[He] polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.
“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.
This seems important to me. And others must also find it so, as this article is currently numero uno on the Times website list of "most popular." This is also a topic that blogger D. G. Myers has brought up several times in the months that I have been reading his blog. Here's one of them. I found out about D. G. Myers because he discussed my novel on his blog, and Google Alerts alerted me to same. And although not everything he said about my novel was complimentary, he also honored it, and this seems to be a pretty good thing in the world of reviewing. He's a tough critic (and an incisive writer), and the fact that he took my book so seriously was pleasing to me. One thing he said in a follow up to his review was that he liked my book because he couldn't tell what my politics were. Some books/novelists wear their politics on their sleeve, as (Myers says) Franzen does in Freedom (I haven't yet read his novel).
         But that wasn't really what I wanted to talk about (politics in novels). The subject was general lack of exposure to and interaction with diverse perspectives and the impact of this lack. You probably can guess that I think this lack is not such a good thing but that I'm pretty much in the same boat as those social scientists.
     And here's the thing I like most about blog posts. No need to wrap it up or come to some conclusion or final point. Some of my favorite blog posts meander and then leave it in the hands of the reader.   


Jim Poznak said...

One of the best parts of Grand River is how Harry opens himself up to diverse the perspectives of Curtis and Alvin. A lesson for us all. Bravo!

Susan Messer said...

I suppose you're right. Not so easy to do. Thanks, luv.

Margaret P. said...

I really like this post because moving to Virginia exposed me to diversity of opinion I never before encountered, and it has been a real eye-opening experience about the way I think and process information.

My first clue was the dentist I started seeing because his office was just at the end of my block. He wanted to know my politics right away and announced he was a right-winger. The routine is that he waits until he has his hands in my mouth and then he comes out with some zinger, such as, "Can you believe Obama is going to make BP pay for the oil spill?" I think I may have told you this story before. I make myself go to this dentist, partly because I'm fed up trying to find a decent dentist in this town, but also because I feel like this experience is the ultimate in making oneself vulnerable to hearing a diversity of opinion and having to come up with some kind of response (short of biting someone's fingers off).

And then there is my State Farm agent who also happens to be a leader of a Tea Party group in Virginia.

But every now and then I do run into someone who can get through to me. My boyfriend and I were invited to dinner at some friends he knows. A few years ago the wife became part owner of a defense contractor business when the original owners were convicted of defrauding the government (they offered to sell the business to their senior executives, and they pretty much had to buy it or be out of a job). She talked about how much she has learned from the experience, and she also said, "When I hear people say 'Look at all the money on the balance sheets of those businesses. Why aren't they spending that money and creating jobs?' I want to say back 'You have no idea how scary it is not to have a decent financial cushion to keep the business going in hard times.'" I saw her point, and believe it or not just months ago I had actually used that accusation against businesses in an argument with my dentist. I might have to take it back at my next appointment.

Susan Messer said...

Yeah, if the dentist takes his fingers out of your mouth long enough to let you make a point. I love this image of the dentist, the verbal assault on the voiceless patient. Maybe no one else will listen to him. In a zen sense, I guess it's a good exercise in tolerance??? And thanks to for that story about the dinner host. Interesting to think about how/why certain people can get through . . . .

Thanks so much for this. A lot to think about.