Yesterday, I came across an interesting little PSA on my Facebook feed, put out by some generic, anodyne party sorted by the platform’s algorithm.
It had a picture of a turkey leg, and the following caption: “Throw Out Your Thanksgiving Leftovers!”
It also cited the U.S. government’s food safety web site, backed by whatever agency provides guidance there, maybe the CDC or the USDA.
Hmm… I thought. What a nice little PSA helping people not to get sick.
Then I read the comments section.
And I realized something.
“Throw out good food?” posted one commenter. “Hell no! I’m gonna keep eating this stuff! It’s still good! You work hours to make it, and then you throw it away? How crazy is that?”
Other posts were more supportive of the notion that after 4 or 5 days in the refrigerator, the turkey really isn’t safe to eat anymore. But some of the posters seemed really worked up about the issue, even throwing in some of the same language you see on threads about climate change, or immigration, or the ACA. That’s “Obamacare” for you non-policy wonks.
This, plus a few other conversations I’ve had with friends in this wild, wooly post-electoral holiday season, have suggested that in the end, facts don’t matter much anymore. It’s a values thing.
Either you’re going to proudly support the food safety standards put forth by the scientists who were hired to create them, or you’re going to loudly deride their services. The CDC? What the hell do they know?
You can’t prove this turkey’s going to make me sick.
You can’t prove that a Muslim won’t injure me on the subway.
You can’t prove that a Mexican won’t take a job that could have been filled by some hard-working fourth-generation guy of largely European ancestry who’s down on his luck, in that stagnant wage environment that has bred so much of this anger and misguided electoral bomb-throwing in the first place.
You can’t prove a whole lot of things.
You can choose to accept the scientific facts that are handed to you, or not. There’s a whole lot of distrust out there. You might think there’s too much corporate money in science. Or you might just think you know better than some guy in a lab coat.
Now that’s something you can count on.
One important litmus test of your values is how you view the generational relationship between parents and kids.
I read a piece last year about the difference between right and left values when it comes to children: the author suggested, quite astutely I thought, that in simplifying the difference in values, it came down to two different polar values. On the left, the value is that the child is supported and feels confident and capable of realizing his or her potential. On the right, it’s the value that a child will have respect for authority.
Not respect for other people, necessarily. That’s not how this author put it. Respect for authority.
A concrete result of this value: children should say “yes sir” or “yes ma’am” to adults. This value is an age-old one, revolving around respect for elders. It’s not something I disagree with, but it’s something that can have a corrosive effect, to me, if it is placed before certain other values.
To those who are on the other side of the divide, my prioritizing of the confidence and self-esteem value can be dangerous. What if children abuse these supports or freedoms?
To me, it’s a “fact” that many of the same people so loudly advocating for more corporal punishment in schools are also very concerned about getting the border closed and vetting immigrants. That’s where all of this starts to come together.
It’s not necessarily that we have opposing values. We have overlapping values. It’s that in the prioritization of those values, we are creating opposing belief systems.
To those who hold the polar view opposite mine, my leniency on the principle of respect for authority and respect for one’s elders erodes key components on the social fabric that they want. But to me, their leniency on values like universal protections for women and children cuts the other way, pretty deeply, to the point that most of what they are saying starts to sound like garbage to me. I’m going to be honest about that.
But this kind of polarization can start with anything. It can start with thanksgiving leftovers. Complain to me loudly enough that people tell you not to eat old meat, and I’ll start to tune you out. I’ll start citing “facts” about food safety. We can argue about the number of days, we can argue about who works at the CDC.
But I digress. The problem, I guess, comes when we build opposing political parties, news networks and other infrastructure to further define these opposing belief systems, instead of trying to bring them together and preserve some parts of them in a compromise.
There you have big goals: rebuild a coherent moderate national press. Bring independent politicians into the mainstream so that people of those two different worlds can maybe agree on a candidate once in a while.
Can it happen? Who knows.