In the present time we are experiencing an increase in the intensity of opinion particularly throughout the western world. Politics, religion, education, identity, class, racism and the like have risen to the forefront of people’s minds, causing them to lash out against anyone of a differing opinion or ideology. Collective thinking has encouraged and nurtured the current climate of collective meaning and purpose, which has placed people on different sides. These sides are no longer subjective but objective, at least in the eyes of many. If you are not of one opinion then you must believe in the other, as is the nature of a binary argument. As this emotional intensity grows, the resulting expression starts to emerge in the form of anger, violence, misinformation, segregation of sorts and exclusion. The result of the collectivist approach is to deliberately develop a social hierarchy and to diminish any sense of the individual and individual merit. Labels have now become the principal means of determining who is who and defining what is good, who is good and what is not. Within the current state of collectivism are individuals who have aligned to a group of their choosing based on what? Well of course based on many different factors, one being Positional Perspective.
One of the amazing abilities we have as human beings is the ability to step outside of our own thoughts, circumstances and position in life and into the perspective of another person with a different set of thoughts and circumstances. To achieve this with any degree of accuracy it requires life experience and emotional intelligence. In some cases it may require very specific experience, as is the nature of some circumstances. This is a remarkable skill to have as it allows us to feel and have empathy for other people, to better understand who they are, what makes them tick and to also not judge them harshly based on our own understanding of things.
The question is- when do our individual circumstances and position in life lead to a bias sense of perspective?
Before I delve further into this area it is important to understand my motivation for illuminating this particular subject. Over the past few years, in the era of Trump, I have witnessed a clear political divide between left and right. The foundations of this divide are based on differences of opinion in several key areas. Some of these areas include, racism, abortion, lgbtq rights, welfare, education, health care and a few more. The intensity of the disagreement on these subject areas between opposing groups has gone beyond normal. We have now reached the point where friends and even family are disconnecting and rejecting each other, simply because they cannot reach a compromise where they agree to disagree. Instead of understanding our differing points of view and the reasons behind them, we simply reject each other and assume that the opposing side is stupid or ignorant. This is precisely why it is important to understand just how we form our opinions and more specifically how our position in life may influence our opinion and possibly create a blind spots.
There is a scene from the movie Platoon that illustrates the premise and idea I am attempting to convey. In this scene, a new recruit explains how he ended up in Vietnam fighting in the war. The other soldiers cannot believe it when he explains to them they he actually volunteered. He says that it didn’t seem right that poor kids have to go to war while the rich kids didn’t. One of the other soldiers then says to him- YOU GOTTA BE RICH IN THE FIRST PLACE TO THINK LIKE THAT. This one line demonstrates precisely how position perspective forms and is projected outward. (Continued below)
Excerpt from Movie Platoon
King: Hey, Taylor, how in the f*** you get here anyway? You look educated.
Chris Taylor: I volunteered for it.
King: You did what?
Chris Taylor: I volunteered. I dropped out of college, told 'em I wanted the infantry, combat, Vietnam.
Crawford: You volunteered for this shit, man?
Chris Taylor: Believe that?
King: You's a crazy f***er, giving up college?
Chris Taylor: Didn't make much sense, I wasn't learning anything. I figured why should just the poor kids go off to war and the rich kids always get away with it.
King: Oh, I see, what we got here is a crusader.
Crawford: Sounds like it.
King: Shiiit, you gotta be rich in the first place to think like that. Ever'body know, the poor are always being f***ed over by the rich. Always have, always will.
Link to movie scene
What this scene demonstrates is the fact that for every individual there is an order of priorities in their life that determine the manner in which they express their values and morals, but also how much energy and focus they are able to direct towards a particular ideal. Using the example from the movie Platoon. When King says ‘you gotta be rich in the first place to think like that’, what he is saying is that Chris Taylor has the privilege of being able to have an act on such an opinion, when many other people may not. Taylors mind and set of circumstances freed him from having to focus on priorities of survival such as shelter, food and water; he didn’t even seem to be concerned with buying clothes, paying bills or anything else of that nature. He was free to form an opinion based on the level of concern he had for certain priorities in his life. If Taylor happened to be from a poor family he would not be able to develop his opinion in this way, firstly because he wouldn’t fit the demographic he was referring to, but secondly due to the fact that having food on the table and a roof over his head would consume his focus and attention, diverting it away from more virtuous ideas, thoughts, actions and opinions.
Using the previous examples of racism, abortion, lgbtq rights, welfare, education, health care and a few more, lets try to hone this concept in even further. It may seem virtuous to suggest that a number of things could be better, should be fixed and are the fault of a certain group, but if you happen to be in a difficult position in life where you are struggling to make ends meet, then having the luxury to focus on social justice may not be a possibility. Do you ever hear homeless people talking much about social justice? In most cases they don’t because it is irrelevant to their immediate circumstances. What is relevant is finding food, shelter and hopefully getting off the street. For the wealthy a marginal increase in tax may be insignificant and irrelevant, but to lower middle income family, devastating. A family desperately trying to keep their heads above water are always looking for incremental advantages and opportunities to get ahead, so minor changes to the social and economic structure based on virtuous ideals and opinions can have a highly detrimental effect. Again, this highlights the need for people to take the time to contrast their set of circumstances against the circumstances of others prior to forming strong opinions or passing judgment in any particular area.
Ask yourself this question- Would you think, act, behave, vote, judge, believe, promote and assume as you currently do, if you existed in a consistent state of struggle and suffering?
The easiest way to understand positional perspective is to think of it like this- When an individual exists in a state of comfort, relative wealth and abundance, they have the luxury of forming opinions and promoting ideas that would not alter their particular set of circumstances, but would almost certainly be detrimental in effect to others in less fortunate situations. They also reside high up on the order of life priorities having far more than the bare minimum, which affords them the ability to focus on virtuous ideals because having food on the table is simply a given.
So when you decide to express a strong opinion or promote a certain idea, rather than thinking that those who oppose your opinion are stupid and ignorant, maybe take a moment to look at your own set of circumstances. If you happen to be driving a luxury car, eating out often, going on trips overseas every year and sending your kids to private schools, then maybe your opinion exists because the result of enacting such an opinion would not alter your circumstances. The same could not be said of a person who is heavily burdened under the weight of financial stress while they are trying to provide for their family. If someone disagrees with you, maybe instead of assuming they are horrible consider the order of priorities in their life. Maybe they do care about racism and would love things to improve in that area, but they don’t have the luxury to focus on that area in an obvious manner because they are struggling to pay bills and keep a roof over their head.
Positional Perspective can be a blind spot and point of ignorance for those espousing virtuous ideas and ideals.
Reserve judgment, seek to understand and always take the time to look a little deeper.