Tuesday, November 4, 2014

To Lessen Ignorance

Today is election day, and I missed the deadline for absentee mail-in voting and couldn't get to a voting station in my county. Which is stupid and unworthy of me, and whenever I do something stupid and unworthy it is my responsibility to figure out how it doesn't happen again.

The fundamental problem here is that I know nothing about politics--nothing about the candidates, nothing about the key issues (well, almost nothing). Most of politics that I've seen is fairly frustrating, and I may even have said the words "I don't pay attention to politics" with a note of pride. Which explains why the election was not on my radar.

But I live in a republic, and I am a citizen with a vote, and it is my civic responsibility to lessen my ignorance as much as possible. This is on top of my general responsibility as a human being to try, as much as I am able, to be aware of important issues in the world so that I don't do stupid things. Like not vote in the first election for which I am eligible.

*kicks self* Should have read this California voter guide.


General Informedness

Why should I want to be more informed in general? It sounds silly put that way--what, you want to be ignorant?--but I haven't done anything to become more informed in previous years so it must be a question for which my default answer is not sufficient.

One good reason mentioned above: I'm a citizen with a vote. My opinions can now have an impact on the course of the country--even if that impact is negligible--and with power (however small) comes responsibility. This should be a sufficient reason, shouldn't it? "You have power so you have to learn to use it well."

Some more reasons: there's the selfish reason that I don't want to feel stupid all the time. Sometimes I wonder if everyone else got a handbook on "things you should know because you live in a society" and I didn't, and then I realize it's my fault for being entirely too wrapped up in my own world. About what am I knowledgeable? The life of Augustus Caesar; how to slog through writing fantasy books; how to survive high school; my own psychology. Not a knowledge base that will get me through life.

In the past I may have avoided the news, especially political news, because it didn't fit in with my sense of identity. That piece of cognitive dissonance is now irrelevant, because getting informed about current events seems a natural extension of my program in becoming a real person.

Having covered the "why," the next logical step is "how?" I present to you Alina Utrata's guide to how to read the news. She offers a lot of links and advice, and you will see her influence on the list of sources I have compiled below:

Sources of news:

As she puts it, "Beginning to read the news is like starting a novel from the middle. Most articles talk about issues that have been going on for quite some time, so sometimes it’s a little hard to catch up or find articles." Thus, as I get better at keeping up with the news regularly, I'll probably have more to add here.


Reading on specific issues

So much for general informedness; what about gaining a deeper knowledge of specific topics or issues? The impetus for this section comes from my IntroSem, because during discussions of policy for different energy sources I always realize that I don't have any hard numbers from which to construct my arguments. Given the importance of quantitative data in deciding what kinds of energy to promote, what to tax or subsidize, etc., being without numbers is unsettling and feels kind of like trying to play along to a song when you have no sheet music: "oh my goodness, I'm a fraud, I don't know anything, what is going on."

Then, too, it's hard to find new angles from which to consider ideas when all you have is a two-dimensional sketch of a topic. I haven't done a lot of in-depth research on a topic outside of class, but I'm really getting into my research on the grid and I hope to export the process to other topics. Some links below; by no means comprehensive.

Sources of information

Also, a note from my professor: "There's all sorts of manufactured misinformation out there. Go directly to the scientific reports and the raw data if you want to get the real picture."

Sometimes we get far too meta in that class, which can lead to an epistemological crisis: how do you know what is true? If knowledge isn't a popularity contest, how can you tell who the best practitioners or the most credible experts are? This is another contributing factor to my traditional apathy toward becoming more informed: when is not having an opinion better than having a wrong opinion?

But that's not a productive mindset, so I'm going to go ahead and read.



Then there's another type of "informedness" at which I am somewhat less awful, which is being informed in the sense of being exposed to interesting ideas. These kinds of idea-based articles are easier, for me, to consume than news articles, because these are mostly self-contained and require less critical thinking.

For example, if someone writes an article about their experiences while traveling in  Yemen, then I can read it and enjoy an insightful narrative instead of asking "is the information in this news article accurate? What aspects of the issue am I missing?" It might be good to ask these questions of the former article, but it is less necessary to put it into a broader context and timeline.

These articles tend to be more abstract, less involved in the particulars of which group is opposing which in which government. I'm generally more interested in the big picture than in the details, so that explains why I gravitate toward these. I'm not planning to decrease my reading of these; but I do think it will help me be more functional if I increase the proportion of the more event- or topic-specific reading that I do.

Sources of ideas to consider


One cannot transform from an utter ignoramus to a learned, aware participant in the world overnight. I'm approaching this in a scattershot way, as you can see, with a smattering of sites that I haven't fully explored. But at least I'm starting, right? I'll try to refine my process through using it.

And next time, I will make sure I vote.

//Also I should probably make a tag for posts like this and for my musings on gender/race that are relevant to existing in the world outside of my brain.

1 comment:

  1. My polling location was at a theology school near the heroin rehab center across from campus that sends its residents to us for hep counseling. I dropped off my mail-in ballot and got a sticker and ended up taking a Red Vine from the room next to the polling booths. However, I felt sort of contrite for stealing candy from a religion school so I didn't retrace my steps and ended up stranded on a balcony. I re-entered the building by going through some offices which was when a dude in a robe (lots of dudes in robes at this establishment) stopped me and asked me my purpose for snooping around. I told him the truth and we laughed about it and I found the stairs, went home, and made lunch.