It’s been a while, hasn’t it? It’s still pretty cold out here, but we are solidly in Spring now. I have to get on a bus to NYC tomorrow morning at 7, but I’m going to try to write a quick post on a substantial subject that probably deserves more talk. Let’s see how this goes.
I like my glasses. They’re not flashy, but they match my personality and I think they frame my face well. I look through them to see the world a bit clearer, which is important for class, but also for my writing, my lab work, and life in general. However, I rarely spend time looking at them. The frames look black in certain lights, but they’re actually a dark blue. The arms have swirls of white running through the blue, and the top part of the lens holder is slightly wider than the bottom part.
Then there are the lenses. They are thick and asymmetric, indications of my extreme myopia and slight astigmatism. They’re the most important part of the object, the part that justifies its existence.
This is an important time to look at our lenses. Many of our most contentious conversations – about abortion, religion, LGBTQ rights, racism, sexism, socioeconomic class differences – start with people describing the world as they see it, without taking the time to realize the lens through which they are viewing the issue. I’ve been thinking more about lenses recently because its a term often used in literary criticism. The theoretical lens by which the critic views the text guides everything else they have to say about it. And it’s much the same when it comes to thorny issues.
People often like to speak through a single lens, like a historical lens, a philosophical lens, a scientific lens, a religious lens, and often claim that these other lenses can be explained through the one they prefer. As an example, a historical lens centered on gendered oppression can dismiss the other lenses by claiming that they are each irremediably tainted by patriarchal history. And each of the other ones can make a similar claim to being the “fundamental, true method of seeing the world.” A philosophical lens might argue that we must first address the assumptions we make about epistemology and ontology before using the other lenses, a scientific lens could ground the other lenses in a type of determinism based on physical laws, and a religious lens makes a metaphysical relationship with the spiritual world or God the root of our knowledge.
Getting back to the gendered oppression example, it is true that the other lenses have been warped by their patriarchal history. However, this should not be an argument for dismissing them as invalid perspectives, or for making a historical lens our fundamental perspective. I don’t have an answer for how to prioritize or create a hierarchy of all of our lenses, but a good first step would be to acknowledge their existence and the usefulness of each. It is often expedient to elide this discussion in certain contexts, for the sake of talking about how a certain policy or action affects the normal, day-to-day world. However, I think we too often use expediency as an excuse for a lack of rigor in our thinking, and that taking some time to think about the different ways we frame our observations would be a productive path towards better conversations.