Locked in Ivory Towers

The other day I was reading a rather good interview with a university professor – before it careened off course into la-la land. That was good for a smirk or two over his view from the ivory tower. But his sincerity stuck with me. He honestly believed that he had a good handle on what’s going on in America. Apparently, in his world, the economy is out of recession; things are going well in the US, and the country is headed in the right direction. He can honestly see no reason to oppose policies of the current administration and therefore, to him, such opposition must be racist in nature.

Meanwhile, here in flyover country, there are no new jobs, no economic improvement. People are deeply concerned over the direction of our country, on issues ranging from civil liberties to expansion of Federal power. If our nation’s capitol was in Denver, we’d wonder if the government was downwind of the world’s biggest head shop. Not only are people unhappy with the current administration, they are also unhappy with Congress; unhappy with the Judicial Branch; and, after looking at the current crop of candidates, increasingly despondent about the future. It’s a completely different world than the one the university professor lives in. Most telling, we cannot understand how anyone could think otherwise. When we encounter something like the interview with that professor, our first response is that it’s a political hack job. In other words, propaganda.

That view is just as much from an ivory tower as the professor’s. Most likely everything’s well for the people he knows, and most agree with his views. In ours, things aren’t so hot for everyone we know, and their views mostly agree with our own. And what we see is, to us, so pervasive that it’s hard to consider that things might not be the same all over.

This comes up all the time, such as the journalist who thought everyone had a bookstore nearby. I’m convinced that one reason e-books are priced beyond reason is that the price seems low to those who set such things. I doubt they realize that most American’s aren’t that well heeled. Then there’s the unconfirmed story of an author who ran afoul of a publishing editor who interpreted something in his first chapter from a political viewpoint, and made a comment that he could lose half his readers. Most likely, in that editor’s world, everyone shared the same view, and considered that view the norm.

Meanwhile, those of us outside that little world have grown weary of having our views continually challenged, to the point that many drop fiction as soon as they get out of lit classes. Because our point of view is just as restricted, we take this as propaganda shoved down our throats, when it reflects what the New York publishing world thinks readers want – because that’s what they want to read.

We’re both locked within our own ivory towers, and don’t realize it.

Other than stepping completely out of our corners of the world, I don’t know any way to escape a limited point of view. Even then, we’d have to actually live in that other world and not pass through like tourists. At a certain point that breaks down. While we might can come to imagine how another really sees the world, and not how we think they see it, we will still have different backgrounds and experience. We can only understand up to a point.

Once, before I started school, I was following my father and trying to walk in his footprints. I looked up at him, a few paces ahead, and realized I could never see things as he did. I could imagine how he saw things, how things looked from that height and how I thought a father looked at things, but I could never see things exactly as he did. That was such a shock that I still clearly remember that moment. In the same way, we can never see things exactly as that university professor, and he can never see things exactly as we. We can try to understand those outside our world, who’s experiences are alien to our own, but never exactly know what it’s like to walk in their footprints. We are all locked inside our own ivory towers.

The important thing is to realize it that, and try to climb down every once and a while.