I’m publishing early this week because of the Election…
From my perspective, politics is a complicated subject. With the election and so much polarization/tension in the air I began thinking about what motivates us to vote for any particular person, party, or policy. It’s my belief that we generally think about what would most likely impact us directly and we try to extrapolate that out to broader society. A politician’s position on taxes, regulation of industry, education, healthcare etc. might seem like it makes sense for me and maybe do some good for the broader society. I don’t think we’re purely selfish either. I could be naive in believing this but, I think many of us are willing to vote to give up something if a policy seems to create a pathway for more people to flourish.
But it’s still a complex topic. I’m betting that even career politicians themselves are hit by a wall of unexpected hoops to jump through when they enter new realms of political hierarchy. Where does that leave the rest of us in terms of making rational voting decisions?
How often have you watched the local news in the last year? I haven’t watched much at all. I’ll speak in terms of Tacoma, WA because that’s where I spent the last 8 years of my life. I’m sad to say it but I never really took the time to try to understand the local politics of Tacoma. To be real, I probably checked out of politics pretty heavily when I joined the Military. I served with lots of good people but there was this profound allegiance to the Republican Party that I couldn’t understand. Ironically, it opened me up to criticize my own allegiance to the Democratic Party. “Why have I consistently voted Democrat? What’s my reasoning?”
As I began asking myself that question I became more sure that I didn’t really understand politics. When I was in the service, most of my time was occupied with training and deploying to combat. I didn’t feel like I had time to understand the complexities of our political system. In the time I lived in Tacoma, my head was occupied with trying to experiment with and build a business while trying to keep my bills paid. Again, I didn’t feel like I had time to understand local politics.
The occupation with the inter-workings of everyday life can be all consuming. If a person is working 40 hours a week, taking care of kids, trying to establish/maintain relationships, trying to stay healthy, and taking care of a house there’s not a whole lot of time left to understand public policy and politics. It’s not to say that people shouldn’t try but I think it does leave rhetoric and sound bites as the primary means by which people seek to get others attention on political issues.
My own growing interest in economics has helped me think more about the attention economy. Each one of us has a time and attention budget and we’re necessarily going to be stingy about what we give it to. It only makes sense. But what does get our attention?
Television, radio, and newspaper used to play a prominent role in information dissemination in my home growing up. Particularly Television and Newspaper. As a kid I tried to watch the news sometimes because I felt as though I were being irresponsible if I didn’t. It was all complicated then and I didn’t understand the incentives/pay structures that kept television stations and media outlets alive.
This is a gross oversimplification but advertising is a huge piece of how media companies thrive. Companies pay media outlets to get access to our attention. Therefore, whomever can get the most views on their media can command higher prices for access to advertising space. So, I imagine that the long battle of news outlets in the last 50 years has been, do we publish news that gets views, do we publish news that helps people understand, or can we do some form of both. When you throw social media into the mix, this becomes even more challenging. It’s becoming more common that what spreads on social media is that which is sensational or incendiary, even if it’s not real. Going back to the first point, who has time to verify what they see on Facebook?
In the documentary film, Social Dilemma, one of the concerns of people who have worked in the big tech space is the fact that the modern social media environment is beginning to erode our shared understanding of what’s true and what’s not. The journalistic commitment to fair and honest reporting in some ways seems to be undermined by the democratization of reporting. The modern internet allows all of us to share our thoughts and opinions with the world but not all of us will speak with a a cool headedness all the time. To include myself.
I was Wrong
Earlier this summer when the video of George Floyd’s arrest came out I watched and I was mortified. In a post I compared the incident to a lynching of a black man in the 1930’s. What I saw that was similar, was a deep disregard for human life. What is not known is whether or not racism is a motive in the Police Officers that arrested George Floyd. I am not qualified to say what exactly happened to George Floyd that day nor am I qualified to say what was going through the minds of those officers that day. It was leading to compare the incident to a lynching from the 1930’s because the implication is a racially motivated killing. I have no evidence of that and I apologize for making the comparison. I took the post down because I believe it’s incendiary and we just don’t need more incendiary content online right now.
Here’s what I do know: I allowed myself to get emotional. Ever since the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 there has been a continual conversation in the media about the killing of black men by white police officers. Race is pushed to the front of these stories as if racism is the only factor that plays a role in police shootings. At times I have allowed myself to become fearful for my life, playing into the narrative. Trayvon Martin was actually killed by a private citizen and, in my opinion, his death has been wrapped up into a separate issue which is police brutality. This has all been deemed an issue of systemic racism. I’ve always taken issue with this prognosis because it seems to reach a conclusion far too quickly. In the same time period, there have been police killings of white males that are just as heinous that have gotten no where near the attention. I presume because they don’t fit the narrative of racism being the dominant problem in our society.
Going back to me personally, I am an early riser and there were countless mornings in Tacoma where I left my home at 4 a.m., dressed in dark clothing, headed to the local coffee shop. I hate admitting this but there have been times where I’ve seen a white person walking in my direction and I’ve crossed to the other side of the street because I don’t want to be mistaken as a threat. In my head I would imagine the police being called and the exchange ending with me dead. Being afraid of police or white people has never been a persistent issue in my entire life. Only in recent years. I think that’s because I’ve allowed a persistent media narrative of ‘white police kill black man’ to invade my consciousness. Interestingly enough, before 2012, I had encountered my fair share of overtly racist white people and it never lingered in my mind. Growing up in the south as a black person, it’s something you are aware that you will run into at some point but there’s also an understanding that this shouldn’t dominate your existence. At least it wasn’t going to dominate my existence.
Should I be afraid of police or white people? No. I think the image of police officers gets damaged by the poor decisions of a few and I think the idea that being white makes you unconsciously racist is ridiculous. And yes, some of my closest friends are white and my girlfriend is white. What’s happening in those moments where I’m crossing the street is that I have allowed the flooding of headlines with a certain narrative to influence my behavior. I’m scarred because there’s been an over emphasis on one narrow aspect of the litany of tragic events in the world. And maybe almost no coverage of all of the things that are good in the world. Why? I suppose it’s because the things that draw the most visceral emotions online are the things that go viral (get views) and in the last 8 years, social media has played an increasing role in how we get information about the world.
After years of allowing underlying tension in myself to go on without examination, I almost immediately saw racism in the George Floyd video. Again, I have no idea what actually happened that day and it’s not fair to judge incidents in a vacuum when any of us would want our decisions and behavior to be judged in context. Was I wrong for crossing the street at times? I don’t know. How much of my concern is influenced by a biased media narrative? I would definitely say some of my concern is fanned by media. However, it’s my job to control my emotions and look for the truth. I didn’t do a good job of that when the news of George Floyd’s death came out and I’m sorry to the readers of this blog for making that mistake.
The Election 2020
America has never felt this divided in my lifetime. I believe we all have to take responsibility for the emotional reaction we have to what we see on any media platform: TV, Radio, News Paper, Magazines, and Especially Social Media and the Internet as a whole. I would be careful about leaping to any conclusion that can’t be verified with concrete evidence and I would embrace the unknown. There’s a lot going on, most of it is complex, and saying ‘I don’t know’ might be the most reasonable response to any question about the issues of the day.