How to see the government when culture demands you look away
Do you have examples of situations where people noticeably avoided talking or learning about the foundations of their government? I think the apparent anti-meme could instead be overspecialization among people who do work or advocacy related to government and politics (as a special case of increased specialization in many fields), and people responding negatively to criticism or the implication that they don’t know something important.
I think I’ve seen that people doing advocacy work frequently are knowledgeable about laws, bills, and agencies that they think/are told are relevant to their interests, across several levels and types of government. In NYC housing, this might include ULURP, zoning codes, the state FAR cap, NYCHA, and the Faircloth amendment. And when I tell people about the Foundations of New York (I typically talk about the class at a high level and tell them about the map of the city government and Board of Estimate v Morris), I get the sense that they find it intriguing and think civics education is in general important, but think it’s a bit basic or unhelpful for them.
Analogously, as a professional software engineer, I haven’t really learned about the principles of software engineering in an organized way; I think many software engineers take software engineering classes, but it’s not the norm. My assumption is that my computer science education plus experience writing software has given me the majority of the knowledge and skills that study of software engineering specifically would provide, and if there’s something basic I don’t know (I don’t know where the datacenters are that run the code I write, or how they operate), I either don’t really need to know it or when I do need to, I can figure it out. I know that I could benefit from studying software engineering, but it feels like too much of a chore for a payoff that is small or unclear. I wonder if people treat learning the basics of government the same way. Reading the constitution could be seen as similar to reading John Locke – it has some value, it’s something students are told to do, it’s accepted as virtuous, but it’s also a bit boring and probably won’t help you with the thing you’re trying to do this month.
Thanks so much for sharing, Daniel! I think the concept of the Overton Window is very interesting and especially makes me think about how the presence of anti-memes influences the boundaries of acceptable discourse within the context of government and politics.
Are there particular domains or aspects of government that seem to be more susceptible to anti-memes?
Can you also share any stories where individuals successfully overcame anti-memes related to government, leading to positive changes in their actions?