Our Choices of Sights and Sounds
How we open up or shut down ourselves to new Ideas
If ever there is a group of frustrated people at any given time, they are activists who genuinely believe in their cause but never taken seriously by the society they wish to change.
They believe that some vices are a result of ignorance, lack of education and knowledge on certain topics.
For instance, my friends in the disability rights movement often wonder at how even educated people hold onto their prejudices regarding disability.
- They are puzzled by how they take people with disabilities as perpetual minors, who cannot make decisions on their own.
- They wonder how they wonder at obvious accomplishments by someone with a disability in the 21st century.
- For example, using a smartphone is considered “magic” when done by a visually impaired person, as they are not supposed to know how to use it.
Isn’t it the age when we are all supposed to have been enlightened, civilised and not to continue to play to our cultural prejudices when it comes to people different from us?
But when you take a closer look at what really is going on, you cease to be amazed.
People choose what they want to see
So when it comes to any accomplishments by people with disabilities, especially how they take part in the mainstream educational programmes, and how people do not see it. This is because they do not care about it: they stick to their script that people with disabilities are perpetually shackled by their physical limitations.
But this is not the tale of disability activism. I often say this site is all about education and research: and why is this subject coming up?
Because it speaks to our vice of never opening up to new things. Rather, the post is about how prejudices persist throughout generations.
Checking current news on discrimination reveals the same old patterns of the past century. Each continent has got its own ills, for instance:
- Institutionalisation of racial discrimination in the United States;
- Anti-Semitism in Europe;
- Systematic discrimination and ritual killing of albinos in Africa.
The reason why we still have these issues at the beginning of the third decade in the 21st century, the very age defined by Information, has to do with what we wish to believe.
The notion of fellowship, group formations and affiliation is underscored by the need to associate with those who hold the same views as ourselves. We get a sense of belonging and of being accepted: at least here we feel at home and not condemned by the rest of the society. In fact, as William Davies notes in this article which appears in this Week’s Long Reads of the Guardian, technology has helped solidify group formations and provides a fertile ground for conspiracy theories.
This explains how education, or being techie, may sometimes help in perpetuating some prejudices. Anyone speaking against those may be considered as an alien, someone who is out of touch with how the world really works. They can even be branded as an agent of darkness for trying to change certain practices that were held dear by our forebears.
Thus it makes it difficult to change any society overnight. What may appear as a simple exercise of convincing a few people may turn to be the work of a whole generation.
The Role of Research in changing the society
Can education and research help?
Research is perhaps one of the greatest vehicle to changing a collective mindset, especially as it is based on empirical evidence. Still, the way that research suffers is how it is received by consumers, whether they be in the academia or not.
The debates about the quality of research generated by quantitative versus that generated by qualitative research sometimes creates two opposing camps where authenticity of one approach may be thrown into doubt.
Although the two approaches are complementary and help in advancing knowledge and human progress, yet some debates cause harm to the society. This is true when researchers are tagged as holding on to certain political ideologies and using their privileges as researchers to push them.
Anyway, this reminds us of the controversy around global warming: this is an example of a subject which reflects the positions that we want to hold to rather than choices guided by research.
The bottom line is that we want to believe in research that confirms our belief systems rather than one opposed to it.
Our choices of sounds and sights is strong and may represent our principles. We are not empty of beliefs as we read through academic papers, neither are we empty vessels as we receive new knowledge.
Bearing this in mind may help us understand why some causes may seem to be helpless when stacked against social prejudices. Thus, while other people may indeed be ignorant, but the level of ignorance in the whole society may reflect what that society wants to believe rather than what is presented before them.