The Color of Perception
Liguorian published an article on voting in September titled “The Faithful Vote: Taking a well-informed con-science to the polls.” In the past couple of months, this article generated more letters, emails, and voicemails than all our content from the past two years combined—the equivalent of about 120 columns and eighty feature articles. I was shocked. Many readers believe the article had a political agenda. Which end of the spectrum did we allegedly lean toward and “impose” on our audience? That depends on the reader’s interpretation. We received: emails with kudos—“This is an article all voters of good conscience should be exposed to”; voicemails condemning us—“This liberal magazine is sending Catholics to hell”; and letters accusing us of printing fake news and leading readers to vote for a particular candidate. As an editor, that last point was especially troublesome, so I reread the article at least a half-dozen times. I confirmed there is no reference to a candidate or a political party. This reminds me of the “Dress Debate” of 2015, where an image of a dress caused an internet sensation and an international debate when people couldn’t agree on its color. (Search “Dress Debate/CNN” for more information.) Was it white and gold or blue and black? CNN, USA Today, the Washington Post and other outlets covered this harmless matter. Wikipedia even created a page about the issue.
The designer confirmed that the garment was blue and black, but people still argue about its colors, and explanations of why people see different colors continue to circulate. The general consensus is that “people’s perceived color is also informed by their perception of light-ing” and the idea that when the brain faces uncertainty, “it confidently fills in the gaps of knowledge by making assumptions—usually based on what it has most frequently encountered in the past,” says the website slate.com. “Most people,” another article says, “assume everyone sees the world…the same way (they do).” The “Dress Debate” may help explain why readers responded so viscerally to our article. Politics is the most controversial topic in the land. People are fervent and firm in their beliefs. When disagreements arise, both sides of the argument often suggest or state outright that the other side is ignorant, malicious, crazy, or has an agenda. It can get very ugly. I want to be clear. We don’t see Liguorian as a political vehicle. Our intent was not to downplay or disregard the gravity of abortion. And our ultimate goal was not to incite or influence one’s decision—only to inform, which is why much of the content includes quotes from bishops or the pope. And we had no political agenda in publish-ing that article. The piece is a pastoral resource intended to help Catholics make faith-filled decisions at the polls. One final point: to my mind’s eye, the dress has al-ways been, and still is, gold and white.