One of the most important human advancements throughout our history was the foundation of a governing body. The presence of this governing body brought about the rule of law, but was largely controlled and maintained by a select few. The recent presence of democracy in the last 2 centuries has brought politics to the common person, allowing them to make decisions that will render the state of their society, at least at a superficial level. Thus the ability to understand how the government functions, the basic political parties, and being able to comprehend current events are vitally important skills necessary for voters to make informed decisions, or political literacy. In this essay, I will be exploring how I acquired my political literacy, how it has shaped who I am today, and possible skills that I have gained from acquiring this knowledge.
Unquestionably the moment that thrust me into the complex world of political literacy would be a simple uninformed conversation with a peer during Middle School. From our conversation, it was clear that both of us were completely uninformed regarding our political opinions, with no substance to back either of them up. This lack of knowledge, and lack of ability to muster a counter argument or defence in favor of my viewpoint left me feeling extremely frustrated and anxious. Ultimately, it made me crave to know more about the complex set of principles that somehow make up the foundation of our world. So the moment I went home I searched up literary terms like “socialist” and “fascist” to ensure that I had the knowledge required to make valuable political opinions. And over time, I began to learn more about politics and the literary terms that surrounded it. Largely family jargon surrounding politics also fostered my adept knowledge of political literacy. Daily discussions about the 2016 elections helped to mold my political views and solidify the knowledge I was acquiring both inside of school and via the internet. But perhaps the most interesting literacy sponsor who drastically influenced my political literacy would be my older brother Sebastian. While I don’t exactly remember when he became a Marxist-Leninist, I do remember sitting down with him after the choir concert and discussing Marxist theory. During this conversation, he outlined many of the contradictions and externalities that capitalism provides. In particular, he spoke about the Parable of Labor, which I happened to find extremely logical and interesting. In fact, this basic prompent of Marxist theory is one that I utilize almost everyday when I do manage to argue about the externalities of capitalism and the growing wealth divide. Interestingly enough, all these events horizoned on the calamity of the 2016 election–which, besides from being an extremely interesting election, was also the first election that I ever followed. It also happened to be a hot topic in my U.S. history class, where our teacher Mr. Ruhl, consistently proclaimed that the goal of his class was to increase civic participation and to create informed voters.
Under his guidance, or more specifically my objections to his political philosophy (he would always, inform us on his viewpoints), my political literacy greatly skyrocketed, along with my knack for political discussions and debates. Now almost everyday I find myself in some conversation regarding politics. In fact, I’ve even gotten into an argument with a customer at work over immigration policy! Essentially, politics has been normalized and molded into my everyday life and identity, to the point where it’s constantly on the back of my mind and is a primary driver in my daily activities. Almost everyday, you can find me conversing with my coworkers at the deli in Apple Valley about the political woes of the 2020 presidential election or political policies. I also tend find myself watching and enjoying loads of political entertainment, from youtube videos to social media pages, politics has become an inescapable aspect of my daily life, cornerstoned on the strong foundation of my political literacy skills. Through all the debates, discussions, and political media that I’ve delved on, I’ve experienced and learned more about the complex building blocks of our government, culture, and economic structure. This in turn, has broadened my world view and knowledge, enabling me to create informed opinions regarding the state of our society. As Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, “One of the biggest problems with the world today is that we have large groups of people who will accept whatever they hear on the grapevine, just because it suits their worldview, not because it is actually true or because they have evidence to support it.”And because I have that broadened worldview based on the understanding of political literacy, I have learned not to take information at face value, but rather to understand the opinions of others and where they are derived from.
Understanding others opinions is an incredibly useful skill that one can obtain from the broadening of their own political literacy. Before I invested heavily in politics and my political literacy skills, I assumed that opinions were spontaneous–but I learned it is not so. Almost everyone’s opinion is based around some concern, issue, or narrative that one has from the jumble of their prior and present knowledge. So if you can understand that issue, and where they are deriving their ideas from, then you can empathise with them and craft more meticulous responses that cater to their understanding. For example, I was arguing with a friend regarding immigration policies. Through this discussion I was able to understand what he wants immigration policy to accomplish, through this understanding I was able to tell him that I have the same goals, but that my approach solves these problems (arguably) in a more effective and humane way. This is important because approaching a mutual understanding with another individual can help lead to the creation of a compromise. In our two party political system, compromises are a fundamental cornerstone of crafting pieces of legislation. And in political discussions, compromising with individuals means sharing and accepting one’s beliefs regardless of how different they may be. For instance, my brother Sebastian and I have completely different approaches when it comes to the sinking boat of capitalism. He (as a Marxist-Leninist) believes in completely rebuilding the boat by overhauling our government and economic structure, whilst I believe in plugging the hole through economic reform aimed at addressing key issues to help build a better society for all, while still maintaining some traditional capitalistic roots. This mutual understanding has allowed us to come to terms with each others beliefs and invest in political policy that can help craft a better society for all people.
Although compromising and reaching that mutual understanding also requires the underlying skill of critical thinking. Critical thinking is the quintessential skill that one obtains as they ponder over the complex economic and governmental systems that govern society. I can’t stress enough how when a new idea is introduced or when I develop one on my own how much time it takes to thoroughly think about that policy and develop an opinion. Take my theoretical policy decision regarding the pharmaceutical industry: now try to think about the effects that policy would have on the economy, the government, and our society. As you can see, evaluating political policies regardless of your political accordance and opinion takes a tremendous amount of critical thinking and analysis, which is specifically why there is such a rigorous academic field with many diverse political opinions. As for myself, I find myself utilizing this skill daily, especially when I do get into discussions and debates with other individuals. A particular instance of this would be when I was talking to one of my friends about the problems in Latin America relating to the imperialism of the United States. His policy response was that the United States should take complete control of Latin America. This idea (which I have never heard before in my life) flabbergasted my mind with all the possible implications it could have on the world from geopolitical relations to an economic, structural level.
Essentially, when one engages in a political dialogue, or in any type of dialogue (even writing), one will encounter new information that needs to be deconstructed through the use of critical thinking to fully comprehend and understand its effect. One must also utilize critical thinking to reorganize and restructure ideas so that in discussions, points can be conveyed and understood. Interestingly, all of these skills, become apparent and extremely useful when relating to writing. In writing, one must constantly utilize critical thinking to craft meticulous sentences that explain diverse situations. One must then analyze their sentences, thinking about structure, flow, and meaning, to make changes, reorganize, and rewrite to fit their style. I’ve utilized this form of critical thinking constantly throughout the process of writing this paper, not to mention how writing this paper in itself is an entire introduction to a whole new complex concept!
Through the analysis of our writing, we can begin to compromise on what our text is comprised of to meet the understood requirements and personal meanings that we wish for our text to obtain. Essentially, while political literacy may sound synonymous with politics, the skills utilized are most certainly not. In fact, I use my political skills almost daily, and to be honest, it’s going to be extremely interesting to see how they continue to develop over the next couple of years, and where it will take me… Although, I’m sure that as you begin to contemplate the complex governmental, economical, and cultural essence of the United States, you too will find yourself broadening your world-view, knowledge, and versatile skill set. More importantly, as an (aspiring) democratic nation, or as a nation in which we the people should have a say in how our society is run, I implore you (the reader), to begin investing in your political literacy skills to make decisions about political policy and formulate your own opinions.
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