By Rock Park
Often times, the Boulder community pokes fun at itself, using the ubiquitous term “Boulder Bubble”. While it probably started as a way to make light of the sheltered environment it has inculcated, it has taken on dangerous connotations of closed-mindedness and an aversion towards people and ideas that are different. It has taken on the toxicity that comes with marginalizing others, by taking people who are different and ostracizing their philosophies and beliefs. You’re probably thinking, “Not in our bubble!”, but isn’t it harmful when a particular society has shaped the frame of mind of almost its entire population? What if the tune of Boulder was no longer that of eating healthfully and doing ultra marathons, but to more sinister causes, like oppression of a minority group? So, I would like you to imagine this scenario with Boulder’s minority group: A person who openly identifies as Republican– or, better yet – is wearing a Trump hat, walks into the Whole Foods at Pearl and 29th. I can tell you that you will have never seen so many vegan activists enter into a brawl at one time. There are constant sources of information and fads that influence emotions, which therefore influence voting trends, consumer purchases, and the minutiae of life, all while remaining below the surface of consciousness. This is neither good nor bad news for the average person, but simply a neural shortcut that everyone’s brains use to navigate a world of billions of daily stimuli. The problem exists when society has allowed for conditions to arise that almost entirely shape the type of person that results. The problem occurs when the unconscious trends that influence major decisions are so ingrained into individuals that, to an outsider, it is unclear whether the individual is making the decision, or the society. When taken at face value, it seems ludicrous: Boulder is a liberal place that cares about fruits and veggies, for A Spiritually Significant Higher Power’s sake! Well, yes and no. Boulder’s cultural climate has lent itself to perpetuate the booming healthy foods industry that started in the 1970s, but the fact that there are places in the nation that have fostered racist ideals and allowed for the rise of the KKK proves that societies have the power to shape the people that come out of them. Although, it does depend on whether or not you believe that individuals shape their society, or the society shapes the individuals. I’ll leave you to decide which one I believe.
What this shows is that Boulder acts as a microcosm of any and every society: Human nature means that we tend to “otherize” people at a moment’s notice. This split-second decision would have been of help in prehistory, where being a part of a community was a life or death imperative, and banding together allowed for division of labor, and being a part of a “pack” would have aided in survival. Now, this primal instinct to choose “our people” often comes down to unconscious characteristics that often lead to us choosing our friend group, our mates, and our societies based on their compatibility and similarity to ourselves. Contrary to “opposites attract”, we are more likely to select others by how alike they are to ourselves.
So, back to the Republican in Boulder analogy. Think how you would act in that situation. While it seems entirely rational to inflict verbal and physical harm on someone who voted for a figure of bigotry, misogyny, oppression, and corruption, it represents the other side of the coin of bigotry. Is it different if someone is discriminated against on account of their religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or nationality, or if someone is discriminated against because they are discriminatory themselves? It is a prime example of the pot calling the kettle black. Yet this shows exactly what is wrong with our little Boulder Bubble of homogeneity.
This tendency towards isolating ourselves from those who have differing beliefs is entirely possible today. It is easy to block news sources that don’t affirm your values, to delete the phone number of your racist uncle, to protect your ideas behind a fortified and impenetrable castle of people who believe the same thing. The problem that exists in media currently is that anyone who holds an opinion on any issue can do this, resulting in little to no information that even supports the idea of common ground. It is ironic that the solution to our uncanny ability to “otherize” others is to find things that liken us to them, like finding similarities in aspects of life that may transcend immediately visable differences.
I hope this serves as a little food for thought, in terms of how you think about the things you think. Maybe this metacognition is like the Matrix, in so far as we may not know if the world we perceive is perceived that way because of the lens of society, or if we are autonomous in how we view our world. Whichever you believe, remember that we don’t operate in a vacuum. Our actions as a collective can positively or negatively determine the outcome of our world, and it is worthwhile to try as an individual to first, identify what your beliefs are regardless of the surrounding society, and second, to at least try and alter your surroundings for the better.
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