It has been more than a year since Donald Trump was elected and I know I’m not alone in being positively furious, but in a way that my fury has further impassioned me to change the world.
One thing that I’ve brought into conversation, seldom with disagreement, is the fact that ever since that fateful night, I’ve been seeking to cut the toxic influences of American culture than enabled Donald Trump to happen (that is to say, sensationalism, the idea that money is life’s report card, conformity, extreme divisions within our society with not a lot of dialogue, being directed by mass media to be angry for the sake of being angry and not in a productive manner, among many other things).
After all, saying “Fuck you, Donald Trump” is easy. Looking at your life choices and realizing what sort of choices you can make to create a culture less likely to choose and promote someone of that sort takes effort and sacrifice.
All the while I see that America continues to be a land in which the dream that brought my ancestors here continues to be more and more elusive. Behind it all is a military-industrial complex, op-eds that seek to confuse, emotionally manipulate and gaslight the public, and a mass media culture so great that resisting it completely requires the self-discipline of a spiritual giant.
Granted, there are many aspects that I really like about American culture, and I have no doubt that my hyperpolyglotism came about in part because of the many intercultural conversations and intersections that only the United States can provide. But that’s for another time, although I realize that in order to criticize a society you need to affirm yourself as a friend of said society. And all things considered, I truly do love the United States, given as I may have not been given the opportunity to live had it never existed (given my Jewish roots).
One thing that I thoroughly dislike about it is the fact that I hear a lot of people say extremely predictable things, over and over again. This is in part because many people in this country read the exact same newspapers, watch the exact same television shows and consume many of the same contemporary popular songs. (People often ask me how on earth I can manage to learn so many languages to fluency and I tell them consistently that it requires you taking in entertainment in other languages and downsizing your entertainment intake in your native language. Guess how many people I’ve spoken to [outside of polyglot communities, that is] who have actually followed through on that plan after I told them what to do.)
Often I hear almost headache-inducing ideas of “you’re good with languages” or “I heard that it’s no use learning a language” or “I tried learning a language for a decade and I can’t speak any of it”. I know why I hear these same things continuously
And it’s primarily by design.
Look, if the ruling class in the United States truly wanted it, the secrets of Language Hackers and my friends at the polyglot conference would be known to 4 out of every 5 citizens living in this country. The knowledge is available freely on blogs in English. My advice is free and I’m glad to share any of my stories and the uglier sides of my struggles to fluency.
But instead, the same old myths persist.
Because a corporate dominated society doesn’t want a broad citizenry of open-minded languages learners.
Here’s why not:
- Income inequality is very much based on pitting people (or groups of people) against each other. Language Learners build bridges.
“The Arabs”, “The Russians”, “The Jews”, “The Iranians”, “The Europeans” … I’ve heard all of these referenced very frequently in dismissive tones in conversation from people in many different political arenas.
Truth be told, division is essential as a distraction tactic. This fear of the other also drives the military-industrial complex which is probably the one thing that has endangered the biosphere most severely in human history.
I’ve met language learners from all continents, from all over the globe. They’re certainly not perfect people, but they’re bridge-builders and peacemakers. They view people different from them as potential friends and hobbies, not something to spark fear. Many of them see themselves and doing “divine work” (even if they don’t believe in a higher power), and rightly so.
They learn about cultures that the corporate state boils down into stereotypes. They realize that problems are more readily solved with dialogue, understanding and respect than with force and violence.
They are the very antithesis of a system that keeps people divided and distrustful of one another.
- A lot of sensationalized news stories (many of their owners and writers also seeking to prop up income inequality and perpetuate it) strategically make people afraid of other places. Language learners recognize all countries of people with ordinary dreams.
I’ve met people from the majority of countries on this planet, thanks to my time in New York City. Believe me when I say that people are remarkably the same everywhere in terms of many things, although social conditioning is one aspect in which there is a lot of difference.
If you take away a lot of the mythologies that our various national and/or religious agendas have instilled into us, we are pretty much all the same.
And yes, there are hateful and destructive people on every corner of the globe, but they exist by virtue of the fact that, in some respect, they’ve been derived of something, whether it be economic opportunity or a caring support system, or even taken in by a system of “us vs. them” that is almost entirely promoted by self-serving politicians and people who want to keep the system in place in which the rich keep getting richer. And I haven’t even touched on limiting beliefs yet, the almighty slayer of dreams.
Our governments divide us but at our language exchange events and in our online forums, we’re bringing the world together. There’s difficulty in having such tasks come about, but almost all of us strive for it. And in a world in which any culture in the WORLD can be yours to explore within a few mouse clicks, YOU can be on the right side of history!
- Neoliberalism frames countries as their governments and economies foremost, rather than their cultural stories. Language learners get to the heart of places’ cultural stories that are often hidden.
“China’s gonna take over the world!”, “Saudi Arabia is an evil country!”, “Israel is a cancer!”, “Russia hates everything about the west”, and on and on and on.
Again, division at work. And yes, there are a lot of political problems present throughout the world, but seldom if ever do people investigate the cultural roots of conflicts and even more seldom do they try to administer dialogue and healing.
With language learning you can delve into the cultural story of anywhere you’d like, complete with its flaws and darkest chapters. Usually a lot of the “issues” that have come about in which people are afraid of other countries are present for reasons that are not visible on the surface. The path of least resistance is to be angry and call names. That’s what the system depends on, meaningless rage and emotional manipulation in which people are tricked into thinking that they’re helping when they’re actually not.
True peace doesn’t come about with divisions like this, it comes about through realizing that we have shared cultures and dreams that all humans understand. These commonalities are far stronger than our differences, however big a world of income inequality would like these differences to be.
- If enough people explore other places, even virtually, the entire framework of fear which serves as a distraction from the problems of capitalism will fall apart completely.
After so many emotional headlines and frantic googling when I had Lyme Disease (believe me, you don’t want Lyme Disease) and again in the months leading up to Trump’s election as well as after it, it occurred to me that there was just a lot of … fearmongering…and not a lot of productive dialogue.
No doubt there is productive dialogue (that I have particularly found among independent journalists), but usually it’s just click-farming, dumbing down and making people more scared.
Right now at this very moment I remember when I met the Chief Rabbi of Norway, Rabbi Michael Melchior. He told me boldly the following statement (and I PROMISE I’m not making this up!): “I’ve spoken to the most extreme Jihadist in the West Bank, and when I was done talking with him, he agreed that a Two-State Solution was the best possible outcome” (!!!)
In 2013, I couldn’t believe it. In 2017, I can. After having encountered tons of people throughout the world, I realize that if we just strip away our fears one by one, we’d lead fulfilled live of peace and harmony as a species from then on out.
But instead, our current system depends on fear. Fear to distract from the genuine problems of capitalism that threaten the future of our species. A good deal of that fear depends on misunderstanding other people.
I don’t misunderstand other people and other cultures, I only seek to explore. And I can’t even begin to tell you how many people have sneered at me telling me that I was fraternizing with “countries that hate Jews and Israel” (exact words).
Surprisingly, I’ve come to the conclusion that anyone’s xenophobia, however microscopic it may be, can be whittled away to nothing with choosing to explore other cultures and languages. I’ve seen it happen. And close-minded people are created by being made to be fearful of others first and foremost. Being in other countries, I realized my fears about other places were largely just imagined.
Some of my acquaintances haven’t been as lucky to achieve this path to open-mindedness as I and my polyglot friends have, but it’s always available and we’d love to have you.
The world depends on your being an explorer.
So go explore!
If you don’t explore, this might as well be you. But it doesn’t have to be that way!