Do you remember that first time you listened to The Doors or Pink Floyd or Velvet Underground or whatever, and you just thought "Whoa! Where the hell did that come from?" I'm not talking about just hearing a tune on the radio. I'm talking about hearing the full-on album and having it all make perfect sense. And you wondered how you had lived your life so long without having heard that before, and it all seemed wonderful and new.
Years later, you might still enjoy that album, and you've long since gotten the rest of their albums, but it's kind of lost that edge. It's become somewhat cliche. The tunes still feel right, but the magic isn't quite there. You might get drunk late one night and try out Morrison Hotel or The White Album, and it hits all the right notes, but it's no longer special or new. It no longer has that same charm. But it isn't the music that's changed. It's you. The music is still special, but you've just become immune to it. Spoiled. You've incorporated it into your being, and it's no longer separate from you. It's part of what defines you, but you don't even notice it much anymore. You take it for granted, and just assume that everyone else already knows all about it and takes it for granted too. You assume that they've heard the music, but just prefer to listen to something else. You just kind of assume that everyone else is kind of like you.
But at one time it was new to you, and you forget that it might be new to other people. You forget that some people have never heard of the Velvet Underground or Stereolab. You forget that some people haven't heard Electric Ladyland or Atom Heart Mother. Hell, there are billions of people who have never heard those albums. Or Dave Brubeck. Or Chet Baker. Or Billie Holiday. You forget that some people have never experienced that. Some people have no idea that it even exists, or what they might be missing. They may have heard a few tunes, but they didn't understand them. It was just background noise. Pleasant background noise. And there are millions upon millions of Americans who wouldn't know what I was talking about. And if you tried to play it for them, they'd just hear noise and confusion and would shut-out the possibility of understanding that music.
And you forget about that. You forget that some people haven't read the philosophers you've read. You forget that some people have never experienced your wonderful poli-sci professor, or that history teacher who made it all make sense. Some people have never read about Watergate. Or never heard of Iran-Contra, or understood what happened. And who never took a sophisticated economics class. Or understood statistics. And you forget how many people lack a fundamental understanding of these things. Who fail to grasp these things on even the most basic level.
And they don't understand what you're talking about. Millions of people whose History teacher is Rush, with Economics from Hannity. Where Bill O'Reilly really is an independent, who shows you behind the spin. And Brit Hume is your trusted anchor who has never led you astray. Or even those who truly enjoy the White Women stories that CNN tosses at us, and who are glad the Jackson Trial replaced those boring political stories. They may have chuckled when Paula Zahn accused Scott Ritter of drinking Saddam's Kool-aid, and love the faux fighting on Crossfire. Some people were made for mass media, and they drink in everything they see.
They are empty vessels waiting to be filled, and they trust their sources far more than they could trust you. These people are their instructors. These people tell them what to think and why. And they may not have heard of the Velvet Underground, or listened to a Patsy Cline album, or understand Keynesian Economics, or grasped the intricacies of international diplomacy; but they know what they like. And it's exactly what they're supposed to like, and they think you're a fool for not knowing any better.
There are millions of people who fit this description. Millions. And it isn't their fault. They're not necessarily stupid. And they're not necessarily mean. They just haven't been exposed to what you've been exposed to, and you can't blame them for that. You can't. Once upon a time, you didn't know this stuff either. And Hendrix might have scared you. And Lou Reed might have offended you. And you would have been confused and angry and untrustful and resentful. And you would have blindly repeated what you had been told, and you would have assumed that your opponent is just foolish or ignorant for not understanding the basic things you had been taught. Nobody wants to be stupid. It just kind of happens.
And that's what you have to remember when you're talking to these people and trying to understand their problems. I'm not saying they're dumber than us, or that our culture is better than theirs, or that we're necessarily better than them (though honestly, we really are). I'm just saying that many of the things that we take for granted are foreign to these people. They believe what they hear about liberals because they haven't experienced enough of the real thing. Ignorance is a root cause of all bigotry. And they're already so guarded and so offensive that it's hard for us to restrain ourselves. It's hard for us not to lash back. We just want to shake them and say "What the hell's wrong with you, jackass! Why can't you understand!"
Be we should refrain. We must. They think it's customary to fling vitriol and confusion at the other side, and we make the mistake of returning fire. And we should remember that they haven't seen what we've seen. And they don't know what they're missing. They only know what they're told, and they believe it. They have their information sources and they're sticking to them. If Rush didn't say it, it probably didn't happen. And they think we're the exact same way.
But we can't blame them for that. Someone who's lived in a cave their whole life can't be blamed for living in a cave. That's all they know. And we need to understand that. Not to belittle them, and not to "win". But to bring them in on the truth. To show them why we believe these things. To make them understand us. It's not enough to assume they understand. They don't. And it's your responsibility to show them. To let them understand.
And to do that, you need to listen. Listen to them, to understand what it is that they're confused about. To understand where they've been led astray. That is the only way you can get through to them. They've been inoculated against attacks on Gitmo and Abu Ghraib or any criticisms of Bush. You need to learn how to get through that. To penetrate the wall that the Limbaugh's and O'Reilly's build-on each day. To break on through that, so that they will want to tear it down themselves. So that they'll want to see what else is out there. To experience the world. To see the good, bad, and ugly. And really begin to put the pieces together, and understand how everything works. That's all anyone wants. We just need to show them why that's not happening. That's all they want. Billie Holiday is not background music, and they need to understand why.