When he first told me about it a week or so ago, I scoffed. “Why would you want to watch that?” I wondered if it was meant to persuade me of what counters something I know is already true.
Behind the Curve
And I was wrong, so, so wrong. It is truly amazing. Truly one of the more amazing experiences I’ve had watching a documentary. It brought me to a place I’m ashamed to say I had been closed off to. And I didn’t know that I didn’t know it. Something new got disclosed through articulating something I had forgotten: real compassion that empowers us to risk being in dialogue, the kind of dialogue that grants the “other” existence and value. By “real” I mean a discovery of, an experience of, meeting another where they are, the point of view they are projecting from, which for the most part, I had consigned to oblivion.
I saw my own hubris: that if I am indeed one of the “enlightened ones,” then any failure in my attempt to create a way to connect with anyone so “benighted” as these “flat earthers”—that failure is with me. Who “they” are is simply an audience role I have been heretofore unwilling to adapt myself to address, to speak into their way of listening, of seeing the world, and bring them bit by bit to see something they had been unwilling to see, and at the same time discover what I had been unwilling to see. While I saw these people affirm--so audaciously--this near ridiculous perspective, I also saw my ridiculous perspective, one that left me unwilling to regard these people as human beings. I had no respect for these others. I had “othered” them; in the mirror of this documentary I saw that I had othered these people and it surprised me. It shamed me. It moved me. I turned and told my son how wrong I had been: “You were right. This is one of the most awesome documentaries I’ve seen!”
What this documentary granted me was an experience I call, following Nietzsche, “going under,” and following Kenneth Burke, “a conversion downward.” It is the moment when my horizon closes up inside the light of another controlling value, a moment I did not see coming. That is, it is always that controlling value that I have kept furthest away, fully justified in making it wrong and fully dismissible. As I have met my own dismissibility, I have undergone “paradiastole”: there’s a whole new way to see the same old thing.
Another way to see this experience, I think, is like a conversation. Like the moment we enter into a conversation, we stay in it till the end, moment by moment, as long as we keep saying yes after each moment of truth. A “moment of truth” is the moment of decision present in every encounter with a textual phenomenon, whether visual or audible. And as we grow accustomed to the role the conversation gives us to play, we undergo the movement of the conversation, of the discourse, of the language, and we follow its movement until it leaves us being so immersed in the conversation, so deeply dwelling in it, that we relinquish a little our familiar lens even as we repeat it, as we emulate it, as we critically examine it, and hopefully as we innovate from what our original view always and already excludes from our orbit of valued knowledge.