The New Frontiers
Every week on his HBO comedy show, Bill Maher does a segment called “Dispatches From the Bubble.” Poking fun at conservatives for their ignorance and ideological rigidity, he argues that Fox News and talk-radio create an echo chamber that reality cannot penetrate, creating a disconnect between what the average Republican thinks and what is actually true.
That’s fair enough. But what about the liberal bubble? I didn’t always believe it existed, but four years at Stuyvesant has taught me otherwise. When I was a freshman, the warning signs were all there. One of my classmates referred to Queens as “that third-world country”; another person confided to me that she had only been to Brooklyn three times in her life.
Manhattan, it seemed to me, was a world unto itself, a place that no one ever need leave. That island, however, cut off its inhabitants from the rest of the city and country, and created a lack of cultural understanding.
Recently, this fact was brought home to me on a couple of occasions. Last month, in my Comparative Government class, the issue of gun control came up. Everyone was prattling on about how firearms should be completely banned, how the Second Amendment had been misinterpreted by the Supreme Court, how no one needed a weapon in our time. I am a good liberal, and I certainly don’t hew to the N.R.A. line. I know guns lead to violence in poor, minority communities, that assault weapons, cop-killer bullets, and high-ammunition clips should be banned, and that felons and mentally ill persons should be prevented from purchasing firearms. Nonetheless, I also realize that there is a deeply-rooted hunting culture in America and that in many rural hamlets the police are not a 911 phone call away.
I made that opinion known, and my classmates glared at me as if I were a heretic.
The second episode occurred when I was visiting Harvard on Admitted Students Weekend. I have become semi-famous at Stuyvesant for my political incorrectness, most notably my stories of commuting on the A Train, shot through as they are with off-color humor and bad impersonations. Sometimes this has led to unfortunate accusations of racism from my 1 Train-riding peers, many of whom have rarely encountered a minority person out of some service-related context.
Now, a group of 10 Stuy kids was hanging out in the dorm room of a girl who had graduated from our school last year, and the A Train tales were brought up by someone. This time, though, I had an unlikely defender, a Latino peer who regularly used the A to his home in Ozone Park.
“That train,” my Latino friend boomed, “is so ghetto.” “Honestly,” he continued, “if I were a white person, I’d be afraid to go on the A.” What I had described as a fact of life was thought of by Manhattanites as bigotry; what I believed was a common sense approach to a culturally sensitive issue was seen as off the wall.
This is exactly why such a great number of people hate liberalism. Progressives are perceived as elites who thumb their noses at the average citizen, who pass judgments on commoners from their urban redoubts, who haughtily laugh at anyone who didn’t attend an Ivy League school. Of course, the vast majority of liberals don’t fit this category, but a large enough minority does for it to be a problem.
What is to be done? First, we all need to broaden our cultural bubbles. The Manhattan residents should get out of that borough, take the train out to Queens or to the Bronx or Brooklyn. They need to explore, maybe drive through Middle America instead of flying over it. Second, our policy prescriptions have to change to be more in tune with the feelings of Joe Sixpack.
The Democratic Party has fallen out of touch with him. Else, a progressive golden age will continue to elude us, and liberals will be left with nothing to do; nothing save reinforce the walls of the Manhattan cultural bubble.