COLUMN: The political profundity of bananas
Published: Monday, January 20, 2014
Updated: Monday, January 20, 2014 19:01
Every time I walk through the library, feeling so terribly clever after a neat study session, I inevitably pass row after row of books that are completely beyond my field of expertise. It’s at once thrilling to think how much knowledge is out there –– and totally depressing to realize how pathetically little I actually know.
In the absence of next-gen technology that allows us to dump knowledge wholesale into our brains, we have to use shortcuts to negotiate all the stuff that we don’t know. In politics, this happens a lot. Only a few select nutjobs choose to major in political science and study the intricacies of political issues; the rest of you smart, socially adjusted folks with actual career prospects spend most of your time elsewhere.
Let’s be honest: The opportunity cost of becoming informed about political issues is high.
The time you’d spend reading up on health care policy or immigration reform is time you could be spending napping or screaming your lungs out at an Aggie basketball game. Tough decisions are at stake here.
To negotiate things that fall outside of our range of expertise, we often use the shortcut of attaching a simple “label” in order to categorize it in our minds. Without knowing much about gun policy, for instance, you might attach a positive label to the proposal that teachers carry concealed weapons in the classroom in hopes of preventing school shootings. That issue, like most, is a lot more complicated than it seems at face value.
Sometimes you affix labels based on what other people say. For example, if you've never been to Tandoori Oven — perish the thought — your uninformed opinion of the restaurant will probably be based on the label you’ve heard other people — justly — give it: Cache Valley’s best Indian cuisine. Other times, you might affix labels based on your own snap judgments. Your labels might be casual or they might be set in stone, like my conviction about bananas.
I believe bananas with brown spots are morally reprehensible. The bananas heaven intended for human consumption are firm, spotless, crisp-yet-not-crunchy fruits with a yellow-to-green ratio of about 2:1. Judge me how you will.
Here’s the problem with my rigid banana dichotomy: Not every banana can be adequately judged by its peel. My “label” is an insufficient judge of a banana’s true character. Some greenish-yellow bananas look delightfully promising but taste bland or even sour. I suppose in rare circumstances, some of those spotted, overripe monstrosities may be employed in creating a great smoothie. One of my roommates even tells me that placing an underripe banana in the fridge overnight will result in a spotty peel, but a fruit matured to crispy perfection.
When our conversation is limited to bananas, my savage snap judgments based on peel appearance aren’t all that problematic. But take this scenario out of the world of fruit and into the world of politics, and we have a different story.
Good political ideas come in a lot of different peels. A real problem arises when people –– members of Congress and ordinary voters alike –– know too little about the intricacies of issues and instead just attach labels based on appearance. All too often, a “morally reprehensible” label is attached to an idea simply because it came from the “other side.”
You can be part of the solution: Next time you’re tempted to attach a label to a political issue you don’t understand well, take a little time to become informed and really discover what is and isn’t a good idea. You might be surprised at how your labels change.