“Smart people are a dime a dozen. What matters is the ability to think different, to think outside the box” – Professor Walter Isaacson
We have a poor habit in this modern world. The more complicated our society becomes, the more we try to place people, things, and ideas into convenient little boxes in order to make sense of our world. With the exponentially increasing complexity and the proliferation of information, it seems almost natural, a type of defense mechanism against self-imposed ignorance. But it is that resultant ignorance that such boxes capitalize upon, removing a level of responsibility from the individual to do the harder work and dig down below the surface of an issue. Few venues understand this dynamic better than the political arena.
We all recall boxes we have been placed into. When we were young we were “cool”, or “jocks” or “nerds”. As adults, the number and types of boxes become more variegated, but the principle is the same. It is easy to weaponize boxes in the political sense. The current trend of identity politics is a fine example, seeking to create division and consolidate power based on certain stereotypes based on ethnicity, gender or social orientation. Yet, an individual rarely fits into a convenient box. We are complex creatures on many levels. But this does not stop political hacks from using such labeled boxes to gain an advantage. Classification without sufficient evidence and analysis may be misleading. Using invectives to delegitimize another person or group of people is amoral.
As a person who ultimately voted for Donald Trump in 2016, I resent the idea of being stuffed in a racist, misogynist, or islamophobe box. None of those boxes look familiar to me. As a supporter of Mitt Romney, I further resent being told I support a “Carpetbagger” or “Washington Insider”. Both of these individuals are far more complicated than these epithets suggest. And as an individual, I feel nothing like a “deplorable” simply because my outlook is more conservative than Hillary Clinton’s.
Calling Mike Lee, Mia Love, or Orrin Hatch “establishment” is another type of box that simply does not fit. Each of our elected officials is determined and have formed views based on a wide range of experience. I am welcome to agree or disagree at will, but I hesitate to validate any such moniker for them. Their positions require far more analysis than shrugging them off as conformist.
A lot of ugly boxes have been thrown around lately. Referring to the Kavanaugh appointment as the advent of a possible “Third Reich” is but one sad example. All conservatives are now allowed into the Nazi/Fascist/Hitlerian box if they support Trump’s agenda according to some Media Wags. That is a noticeably darker box that the sort of tribalism engendered by previously utilized boxes.
We live in an ever more multifaceted time, even in politics. The numerous factions vying for power, both within and without our electorate, are more diverse than at any time in history. To be an informed voter requires us to look beyond the boxes we are given. Even if those boxes come wrapped in convincing rhetoric. The truth of individuals and the truth of our great nation exists beyond stereotypes or platitudes. We need to observe deeds more than words. There simply are not adequate boxes to encompass such problematical sociological and political subtleties.
It is unfortunate that appeals to the lazier, baser nature of the individual remain so effective in an age where information is so plentiful. Politicians know this, and the more insidious among them will capitalize on this fact, every time. The next time you feel like you are placed into, or see another person or group of people placed into, a convenient box take a step back. Ponder the what and why of such associations. Chances are there is an agenda at work you may not ultimately agree with.