Lately, I have been reading the book Look: How to Pay Attention in a Distracted World by Christian Madsbjerg. As in his other books, the underlying concept is that we need to pay attention to more than the things and events that make up the day-to-day life of whom we’re studying. We must immerse ourselves in it and notice not just what’s shouting, but who is silent. To do this, he argues that we must start our observation without preconceived notions of what we’re about to see.
This is difficult to do. Madsbjerg surfaces an example from a class he taught at The New School. The students entered looking through the lenses of a variety of frameworks. His first task was to exhibit that these notions only allowed them to think in a certain direction. Madsbjerg says of the students, “It is not their fault, really—today’s students have been taught not to think (look and listen) but to opine” (2023, p. 93).
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article throwing in sharp relief this opining and how this type of looking changes preconceived ideas. The article discusses privilege and social class, but probably not in a way you may have thought about before. As is often the case, we don’t see our own culture until we inhabit another one. The author, Rob Henderson, noticed a change in how upper social classes broadcast their status. Traditionally, luxury items and activities separated the classes, but Henderson argues that these have been replaced by ideas.
Looking at the differences between ideologies held by wealthier people and those by those comparatively less well-off, the author finds surprising differences in subjects ranging from attitudes towards marriage to defunding the police. Like Sam Ladner’s handbags, these beliefs are displayed to indicate the qualities that they long to possess or to serve as a PR firm to create an image of who we want to be.
This article is worth reading and is a taste of Henderson’s book that releases in a couple of weeks.