Yellow Sweater

United States

(Formerly Zinniav)

I'm 17, interested in linguistics, mathematics, philosophy, theology, and history.

She/ Her | Bi | Disabled | Agnostic | Useless Intellectual | WA

I don't necessarily agree with my own assertions.

Message from Writer

I am primarily a poet, though I occasionally wade into prose and nearly always drown myself.

Listening to: Belle and Sebastian, Kings of Convenience, Jose Gonzales, Simon and Garfunkel, The Gentle Good

Reading: Albert Camus, Italo Calino, Robert Kaplan, Annie Dillard, Garcia Lorca, Hafiz, Ocean Vuong , Patrick Rothfuss, Teju Cole

Watching: Derry Girls, Madam Secretary, The Durells in Corfu, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

If you would like a review, just ask!

I am always looking for good new books to read. Suggestions are welcome!

Please, please, feel free to start up a conversation or debate in the comment section of any of my pieces. There is nothing I like more than intellectual discussion.

On American Values

March 16, 2021

One of my grandma's first memories is of huddling in 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 that 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, even funny, 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 example. Jingoism, a perversion of patriotism, led to the murder of millions of people. Though today nationalism is still a massive problem, perhaps a more relevant example of the danger of collective illusion, and, by extension, society, is global warming. Our blind, hedonistic denial of climate change could end up being our ultimate destruction. But while it’s still up for debate whether society is a good thing or not, books like Sapiens, by Yuval Harari, have clearly demonstrated that it's our incredible ability to believe in imagined realities that has allowed us to build civilizations. 

My political convictions have gone through several radical shifts over the last year. I went from thinking that the American bureaucracy was inherently corrupt and irredeemable to believing that, despite the atrocities haunting our past and the terrifying character of Trump's right-wing populism, our system was fundamentally a good one. But over the last couple of months, as our democracy has been literally under siege, 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 shouldn’t a country exist to promote interdependence?

When it comes to holding civilization together, trust is more practical than truth. A country is a construct built on faith. For it to function we have to be willing to surrender to a greater power, to occasionally let others carry our burdens, and do some of our thinking for us. Throughout history, people have willingly relinquished their personal rights during wartime. When their country is at war, citizens trust their leaders enough to literally put their lives in the hands of the government. Despite the inflammatory rhetoric used by extremists to corrode people's faith in their government, for the most part this trust implicitly extends to peacetime as well. 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. If we stopped believing in our institutions, they would stop benefiting us. 

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 an 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 being presented by the experts is the truth that works on a practical level. Newtonian physics, for 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 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 idolization of the quintessential American values of freedom and truth has made them dangerous. We have created a cult that worships individual perspectives, and this cult threatens society. A single person cannot 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 must trust that the millions of qualified people doing the research, working behind the scenes, have our best interest at heart.  

I am not saying that it isn’t important to think for yourself. Freedom of thought is a sacred right and one of the most wondrous forces of change this world has ever seen. Our government, even our scientists, are far from perfect, and it’s our job to hold them accountable. But like any job, it comes with responsibility. We have to understand and acknowledge that we are part of a greater whole. 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 collective faith on which civilization is built.
"E Pluribus Unum" Madam Secretary, CBS, Oct 7, 2018  (The idea that "nationalism is a perversion of patriotism" comes from the TV show Madam Secretary)

Harari, Yuval. Sapiens. Harper, 2014. 
 

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5 Comments
  • A. Penderwick

    Re: Thanks for letting me know! This piece is looking really good. Best of luck with the competition!


    about 2 months ago
  • amaryllis

    re: I'm going nuts waiting for the peer review. Wonder why they have this approval system anyway...


    about 2 months ago
  • anemoia (#words)

    Goodness, I really liked the revisions. The way you elaborated on that controversial line about trusting in govt and scientists sounds more powerful now.
    Hm, title... maybe just “American Values”? I liked “On American Values” also.


    about 2 months ago
  • writer_gal

    This is so incredibly powerful and really brings into question how much we have all been influenced by perception


    about 2 months ago
  • ✧♬TwinklingLights♬✧

    I have a question
    are these due BY tomorrow or can we submit them tomorrow?


    about 2 months ago