When I was 15 I had the amazing good fortune to go to work in a magic shop…a real magic shop. Though I was never really much of a performer, I did become a very serious student of magic and learned quickly that I could not trust my eyes. Not only could I not trust my eyes to be looking in the right place at the right time, I could not trust my eyes even when I saw what I saw and was certain I was looking at what I saw when I saw it. In fact, the degree to which we cannot trust our eyes is difficult to comprehend let alone admit. Magicians depend on our inability to admit or even understand how easily, and in how many different ways, our eyes can be fooled.
So it was fun to watch people scuffle over the color of the dress (BTW, I see white/gold and yes it might be because my eyesight is limited compared to those who see black and blue). But then it got a little depressing because clearly there are people on both sides of the eyeball cone count who will never let go of the idea that what they see is “right” and what the other people see is wrong. Even when they learn the reasons behind what, at first, seems so crazy making and weird, they still have a need to cast their perceptions as the right perceptions. In this case, it is over something silly.
In so many cases it’s not. The whole dress color thing reminded me of many political disagreements in which I feel I have framed an argument using objective rules of logic and reason and yet not only do I fail to persuade, the person I am debating ends up feeling even stronger in their views. And it becomes quite clear that they, too, believe they have framed an objective, logical and well reasoned argument. The conversation becomes something like two opposing magnets that just cannot come together for some invisible reason. This happens a lot in the world. We say we are at an impasse, or we just need to “agree to disagree.” The danger for me is I am so tempted to believe that I and those who share my point of view are actually right, when the truth is we are and we are not. The truth is usually like interlocking fingers that extend into both arguments and can only be seen as a whole thing from a distance that cannot be achieved in the context of trying to win an argument or an election or legislate.
But I’m talking about intellectual honesty here, which is a lovely thing when you encounter it, even in the context of opposing views. The thing that troubles me, the thing that really and truly keeps me awake worrying about the future for my kids, are the people who see a blue and black dress but say they see a white and gold dress because the white and gold dress manufacturers have bought them and paid them to say it.
Today was a good day because the FCC supported net neutrality. It was as if millions of Americans were crying out, “the dress is black and blue” and the FCC stood up and said, “we believe the dress is black and blue.” It’s a good thing. But don’t be surprised if, when all the dust settles and the money has had its say, the Koch brothers and their ilk have purchased their power, the only dresses you can find on the rack are all white and gold.