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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Exile of hyperawareness

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I admit that there are more moments than not that induce me to curl into a ball. It was the case when I came back from work one afternoon this summer to follow up on the news. It was the day after the church massacre at Charleston. Headline after headline, and its updates that were spread – with commentary – on social media showed the convergence of so many issues that tear at us today. A human disaster, brought upon by ourselves.

In some religions, the concept of exile forms a basis for the natural state of humanity; for example, our state is exile from deities and good graces. We are thus doomed to live out our lives, left to our own devices without direct guidance. I’d argue this (partially) stems from a greater sense of being stranded with the issues and problems that we share together in, and suffer from, since time immemorial. And most of them are self-inflicted, consciously or not. Our sense of despondent distance, universally speaking, would then be one where we feel apart from the world after being aware of its ills, and doomed to live within it.

What seemed to aggravate my despondent distance that June day was the fact that I was living in a town in rural northern Minnesota, where I worked this summer; a place socially remote (as well as physically) from what happened in Charleston, let alone much of the country. The town was one among many places in the country where frankly, a simple mindset and outlook on our world was likely to be found. Conversation sample: my neighbor opined a few days after the massacre on the news as I had coffee with her one morning. She said, “You know, about all those shootings lately, people need to calm down about them. We can’t keep getting worked up about everything.”

Now, being a transient in the community, I was not inclined to object and debate her. But these slights of comment betrayed what you may find to be an incomplete understanding of a situation, of its complexity. I could write a list of what may seem “incomplete”: a lack of empathy towards understanding why people are concerned and angry; inadequate understanding of race relations; detachment – all understandable.

So why would we prefer a more complex view? I could exhaust explanation here, but in the interest of our time (and space), I will say this much: we refuse to accept a simple world. Not because we desire complexity. We sometimes find what is simple aesthetically pleasing, or psychologically more appealing. However, if we are to navigate and truly understand situations, issues, and ideas, we ought to have complete information and perspectives: a complete picture. One does not solve problem sets without all the relevant initial conditions and factors, nor does one set out to do serious historical surveys with few sources. Likewise, one cannot live with an incomplete picture, lest they may make misguided conclusions and decisions.

The boon of our information age is our greater capability to be hyper-aware. We can now know much more about a single event or person than before. We can be mentally on our toes on everything that affects everyone, and make the connections that make understanding possible. And yet, there is pain in being immersed in hyperawareness. For some of us, there are old, socialized habits to unlearn, and a greater learning curve of new ideas to feel. We may feel powerless as we realize what we don’t know, and what we seem to be unable to do. (If someone may find these overtures as “whining”, I will say that this also admits a narrow view, without complete perspective.)

As we are left to our own devices, we are also left to decide for ourselves whether we want to inhabit a simple, easier world that may not be equipped to address its problems, or a more complex one that, though more difficult and stressful, has the greater chance of moving all of us forward. What world would you choose, and are you willing to live in it, for better or for worse?

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