Friday, May 6, 2016

Pushing an agenda?

Recently I had one of those smile making experiences that are unexpected and rare...and greatly appreciated. They're like gifts and I've learned to take them as such and just enjoy them.

I was reading someone's post over on a site called Medium. I have been poking around there recently and have happened onto a number of writings that were thought provoking...and sometimes more than that.

While reading that particular essay...not too attentively I have to admit because the topic just didn't grab me, I ran across the phrase "pushing an agenda" and bang...I've seen that phrase numerous times elsewhere but…for some reason this time when I read it an ‘aha' moment occurred with me. After savoring my 'aha" a little I gave thanks to the author.
For the first time, I wholly grasped that whatever is thrown out as “normal” or usual or natural is “pushing an agenda” too…it just doesn't make it clear that it is doing so. This notion that something is “just normal” often invisiblizes the agenda being pushed (and thereby enhances its influence by insulating itself against objection). Pretty sneaky.

I say realized for the first time...it isn't that I didn't have all the elements of grasping this nor that I had never understood this previously...it is, though, that for the first time I fully comprehended the insidious misdirection involved in anything being presented as "normal" that is socially constructed. "Normal" or "just natural" or "that's the way it is"  is "pushing an agenda" too but without acknowledging that's what it's doing.

Look at the image below...notice the unwritten message that indicates a "pro-gun agenda" is the norm (a socially constructed one) and that it isn't being "pushed". It just is...or it's just "common sense" or it's just...well...normal and anything that resists it is "pushing an agenda". Often the most effective messages are the unspoken or unwritten ones...the ones we fill in with our minds and because they are created, by us virtually out of our conscious awareness, they thereby often escape being interrogated or examined by our critical thinking.  

Socially constructed? What's that, you ask? Here's a brief definition taken from the wikipedia entry about social constructionism:
A social construct or construction concerns the meaning, notion, or connotation placed on an object or event by a society, and adopted by the inhabitants of that society with respect to how they view or deal with the object or event. In that respect, a social construct as an idea would be widely accepted as natural by the society, but may or may not represent a reality shared by those outside the society, and would be an "invention or artifice of that society".

You can read the wikipedia article, or you can read something even more verbose here or you can read a fairly accessible article by Ta-Nehisi Coates about this sort of thing regarding race here. There's also a very easily digested bit of writing...with helpful images...about the social construction of race here.

You can think about it this way...if the meaning of something is socially constructed...then it is stuff that people make up. Things that are socially constructed as "normal" generally are notions that are made up by and serve the interests or the agenda of the dominant group(s) in a society.

Or...as Mr. Coates might put it...stuff people make up as "normal" only requires folks with guns needing a reason (often unspoken or unwritten) for how they think or act. In other words..."normal" is mostly defined by the group with power...that "normal" is structured to serve the interests of that group and if you have little power...tough noogies for you. Saying we live in a capitalistic, patriarchal, white supremacist society means that wealthy white men have most of the power and generally define what is considered to be "normal" for the rest of us. (note too that power, ultimately, in a white supremacist structure usually is enforced by violence)

It may be that the “just normal” conceptualization of something is in place because of unconscious or out of awareness factors (socialization) but that doesn't mean that some agenda isn't being pushed…it just means (or suggests) that if someone didn't consciously know the origin of why they were saying or doing something, or the impact of it, then somehow they aren't responsible for it and/or subject to being called out about it. It's sort of that intent vs. impact thingee.

In essence…when someone or something gets characterized as objectionable or invalid because of “pushing an agenda”…it's usually because what is being said or written isn't hiding behind the cloak of invisibility. It isn't pretending to be "just normal" and therefore viewpoint and/or agenda free and it's usually countering the dominant group's agenda.

Objecting to obliviousness that's in place because of out of awareness socialization often elicits the “pushing an agenda” attempt at squelching it.
So...anytime you want to engage your thinker...and not be an unwitting supporter of the status quo (i.e., the interests of the dominant group) then whenever you hear or see written some accusation that someone or some group is "pushing an agenda"...make sure you take a look at who's making the accusation and examine just what their agenda is...because they will undoubtedly have one. But...they'll often not be openly and clearly admitting that they do so especially if they're invoking the "normal" trope. And...sadly...they may be oblivious to it themselves. (see the white guy in the image above)

Alarm bells should automatically ring for you whenever you hear the phrase "pushing an agenda". It's almost invariably a notification that someone is trying to negatively paint a narrative (think of narrative as a story) because it is in opposition to some other narrative (that first story or narrative is usually what is known as the 'master' narrative).

There's a powerful proverb attributed to various peoples in Africa that beautifully sums up much about the theme of this post.

One version of the African proverb goes something like this: "Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter."

"Pushing an agenda" is a signal that there are at least two stories (narratives) being told and those narratives (stories) differ from one another. "Pushing an agenda" is an excellent indicator that it is time to figure out what each of those stories are because you can't evaluate them until you know them.

Don't be suckered into automatically dismissing some narrative that is described as "pushing an agenda". Instead realize that it is time to do some work toward comprehending and understanding what the first story is and then clarify the story that is disputing or differing from that first story.

It could be that the "pushing an agenda" phrase is a manifestation of what is called the Semmelweis reflex. Ignatz Semmelweis was a fellow that I accidentally learned about years ago and the tragedy of his life stuck with me.

It is amazing to me that…for some reason...these perspectives regarding "pushing an agenda" hadn't snapped into clarity before. It just goes to show that the phrase "live and learn" often references truth. I'm still churning all this around so any thoughts would be welcome.

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