Yellow Sweater

United States

Zinnia | she/her | bi | agnostic | 18 | WA

2021-2022 Seattle Youth Poet Laureate

Elitist Atlantic Subscriber (jk, but I do think the Atlantic does some awsome journalism)

I don't necessarily agree with my own assertions

Message to Readers

Well, yikes, this is literally the 15th version.

And yet, I am still sure I have a thesis.

Help me please!!!

I know this is a controversial perspective. And I am not even sure i agree with myself. But I welcome debate!

On American Values

March 18, 2021

One of my grandma's first memories is of huddling under a bomb shelter in London during the Blitz. Surprisingly, it wasn't a traumatic experience. Being an innocent, bright-eyed, three-year-old caught up in the horrors of humanity’s mechanized abstractions, she garnered a lot of sympathy. When the loud noises started, the adults would give her candy, sing her songs, tell her stories. It’s amazing how under the right circumstances bombs can become associated with bon-bons.

I don’t mean to trivialize the Second World War. It’s true my grandma was very fortunate, leaving England on one of the last boats to arrive in America unscathed. But this story has stuck with me. I've always found it sweet, funny even, but recently I've realized that it hints at something deeper: reality is malleable. By prioritizing beauty, joy, community, or even just a collective illusion over the impossible ideals of absolute truth and freedom, we are able to preserve our humanity in even the most inhumane of circumstances. Of course, collective illusions are not always a good thing. They are easily corrupted. Take World War II for an example. Nationalism, a perversion of patriotism, led to the murder of millions of people. And our blind, hedonistic denial of climate change could end up being our ultimate destruction. But it's our incredible ability to believe in subjective, rather than just objective reality, that has allowed us to build mythologies and civilizations.

My political convictions have gone through several radical shifts over the last year. I went from thinking that America was inherently corrupt and irredeemable to believing that, despite the horrors haunting our past and the revolting face of Trump's right-wing populism, our system was fundamentally a good one. But recently I have started to wonder if our founding ideology is actually flawed. Influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment, our country worships freedom, truth, and individuality. We have romanticized the flamboyant ideologues of the past: Rousseau, Paine, Jefferson… People who sought to minimize the constraints of the social contract. We declared our independence, but doesn’t a country exist to promote interdependence, to shelter our children from harsh realities?

I have come to believe that when it comes to holding a civilization together trust is more important than truth. A country is a construct built on faith. For it to function we have to be willing to surrender, to occasionally let others carry our burdens and do some of our thinking for us. If we questioned everything, we would live in constant fear of bombs (both literal and metaphorical). We might even build the bombs ourselves. But trust allows us to enjoy our candy. It gives us the freedom to build a beautiful life, rather than the freedom to just be free.

The epidemic of fake news and conspiracy theories isn’t plaguing our country because we are too trusting, but rather because we are trusting the wrong sources. In effort to delineate ourselves, to free ourselves from tyranny, to create our own version of a perfect utopia, to pursue the American Dream, we gravitate towards fringe perspectives. We fracture ourselves. But It’s a country's job, a democracy’s job, through both well researched facts and imaginary constructs—religion, money, morality— ,to provide a unifying perspective.  We have to trust that the truth that is being presented by the experts is the truth that works on a practical level. Newtonian physics for an example, is not a complete representation of the laws of our universe, but it works. It has allowed us to literally touch the moon. (unless of course you believe that was also a hoax)    

The internet has made it startlingly clear how easy it is to manipulate the facts. Conspiracies that have been able to gain a ridiculous amount of influence online, such as Q-Anon, anti-vaccination, and climate change denial, have serious, real-world consequences. In an age where we have access to absurd amounts of information, the idolized American values of freedom, truth, and individuality have become dangerous. They threaten society. A single person can not be expected to sort through all the false information, all the possible consequences of an action or idea, and come to a responsible conclusion. There is just so much we don’t know. Therefore, we have to delegate, we have to trust that the millions of qualified people doing the research, working behind the scenes, have our best interest at heart. And if occasionally they lie, stretch the truth for the greater good, is that really all that bad? I am not saying that it isn’t important to think for yourself. Our government, and even our scientists, are far from perfect. But there are some instances when, because truth is dependent on trust, trust must transcend truth. If you are dogmatic about your disbelief, you harm not only the truth you are so ardently in pursuit of, but you also threaten to destroy the social contract, the collective faith, on which civilization, reality even, is built.
The idea that "nationalism is a perversion of patriotism" Comes from the TV show Madam Secretary. 

The idea that imagined realities, like religion, money, morality... are what have allowed us to build civilizations comes from the book Sapiens, by Yuval Harari.  

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  • Abigail Faith

    I have a confession and an apology to make.
    After writing that comment, my conscience started eating me alive... I felt so awful.
    I apologize for my rude (to say the least) comment. And I hope you can forgive me.

    And now for what I should have said...
    Congrats on being a finalist!!
    Have a great evening,
    and God bless!! <3

    6 months ago
  • Starlitskies

    Re: Thank you and you're welcome. :)

    6 months ago
  • Writing4Life

    Amazing! Congrats on being a finalist!

    6 months ago
  • Eremurus

    Congrats on being one of the finalists!!! You are no doubt my favorite writer on WTW, I love reading your pieces <3

    6 months ago
  • don't you see the starlight (#TS)

    CONGRATS! i still deeply admire this work!

    6 months ago
  • Starlitskies

    Congratulations! This is a remarkable piece. Your intellect is admirable and you've written this beautifully. Amazing diction and very easy to follow. Once again, congratulations on being a finalist! You definitely deserve it!

    6 months ago
  • SunV

    Eep! Congratulations on being a finalist! I read an earlier version of this, and you deserve the recognition :)

    6 months ago
  • Mpm#1

    I disagree with you on multiple things... But I respect your ideas and your writing! This was very well put together!

    6 months ago
  • amaryllis

    Submitted the review! Hopefully it gets to you soon, and is helpful in some way :)

    6 months ago
  • AscheKeegan

    Wow!!! While I do disagree with your overarching conclusion, I ADORE the way you presented your arguments! Your diction, imagery, and examples are spot on, turning a topic that can so easily become dull or mired in logistics into a beautiful, coherent, and concise essay. I easily understood the reasoning and logic behind your compelling argument, and the hook at the beginning is perfect. Amazing job!

    6 months ago
  • writerwithadream

    This is such a beautiful take on what it means to trust and believe. You have wonderful tone, and I greatly admire your use of adjectives- they make the piece so colorful and vivid. It takes a great writer to create such profound emotions within a reader with only words on a paper. You have such a gift!

    6 months ago