Thursday, October 1, 2020

An open mind versus a closed mind

I think one of the saddest aspects of our current political, social and cultural polarization in these dis-United States is that most of us no longer listen to those with different opinions to our own.  We've retreated into our "comfort zones", and we tend to stay there.  Anyone who agrees with us is in that zone too;  anyone disagreeing with us is instantly classified as outside that zone, and is therefore automatically to be distrusted, even shunned.

I find support for this theory in the news and opinions we consult every day.  I grew up with parents who encouraged me to read widely about the news;  to expose myself to opinions from both the left and the right, and think about why they said what they said, and how they were trying to portray current events.  As I matured, and became a participant in some of the events thus described, I could see for myself how the bias of the journalists and editors concerned affected their reporting, and thereby judge whether their outlets were worthwhile or not.  Sadly, people today don't seem to want to do that at all.

Back in 2018, David Blankenhorn wrote an article titled "The Top 14 Causes of Political Polarization".  Two of those reasons he described as follows:

12. The spread of media ghettoes. The main features of the old analog media—including editing, fact-checking, professionalization, and the privileging of institutions over individuals—served as a credentialing system for American political expression. The distinguishing feature of the new digital media—the fact that anyone can publish anything that gains views and clicks—is replacing that old system with a non-system that is atomized and largely leaderless. One result made possible by this change is that Americans can now live in media ghettoes. If I wish, I can live all day every day encountering in my media travels only those views with which I already agree. Living in a media ghetto means less that my views are shaped and improved, much less challenged, than that they are hardened and made more extreme; what might’ve been analysis weakens into partisan talking points dispensed by identity-group leaders; moreover, because I’m exposed only to the most cartoonish, exaggerated versions of my opponents’ views, I come to believe that those views are so unhinged and irrational as to be dangerous. More broadly, the new media resemble and reinforce the new politics, such that the most reliable way to succeed in either domain is to be the most noisesome, outrageous, and polarizing.

13. The decline of journalistic responsibility. The dismantling of the old media has been accompanied by, and has probably helped cause, a decline in journalistic standards. These losses to society include journalists who’ll accept poor quality in pursuit of volume and repetition as well as the blurring and even erasure of boundaries between news and opinion, facts and non-facts, and journalism and entertainment. These losses feed polarization.

There's more at the link.

I'm not sure whether Mr. Blankenhorn's reasons are among the causes of political polarization, or among its results - or both.  An argument can be made either way.  Nevertheless, I think his concern about our failure to consult more and wider sources to obtain news, and the failure of many news media to report accurately and factually, instead of reporting opinions as facts and seeking to manipulate their audience, are both spot-on.

To use myself as an example, I consult several news resources each morning, choosing some from each side of the political and cultural spectrum so that I can view events from both perspectives.  On the right, I have the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and the New York Post.  On the left, I have the Drudge Report (which used to be on the right, but has changed radically over the past few years), the Washington Post and the Guardian's US edition.  For overseas news, I look to the BBC and some British and European newspapers, consulting them less frequently than US sources, but often enough to get a feel for how things are viewed from non-US perspectives.  I find this mix of sources gives me a reasonably balanced view of what's happening in the world, and what it might mean.

It doesn't take that long to skim through these news sources each morning;  I daresay I take less than half an hour each day to do so.  Nevertheless, it helps keep me balanced, aware of both sides of the story, and more able to see through partisan propaganda and judge opinions against facts.  I highly recommend the practice to all who have time to do likewise.  It helps us to stop seeing things from one side only, and seeing those who think differently from us as enemies rather than as fellow human beings.

Reading different opinions doesn't mean that I don't have any of my own, and it doesn't mean that I'm so unsure of myself that I'm at the mercy of the prevailing political, social or cultural winds.  It simply means that I want to view the world from as many perspectives as possible, to understand how others are seeing it differently to me.  It also challenges me to think about why I hold my opinions.

I've often used the analogy of white light being refracted through a prism.  The prism separates it into primary colors according to their wavelength, like this:

Someone standing in the beam of red light might exclaim, "Oh, what a lovely red!"  Someone standing in the blue beam might object, "It's not red - it's blue!  Look, I can see it with my own eyes!  I can't be wrong!"  Of course, they're both wrong about the light in its original form.  They're seeing it through their own "filters".  They can each see part of the truth, but not the whole of it.  If they both took the time and trouble to investigate, they'd acknowledge that the totality of the light - before refraction - was white, and that they were each viewing only one wavelength of it, and that neither of them understood the full picture.  However, they probably wouldn't bother to take the time or the trouble to do that.  Does that remind you of our current political, social and cultural polarization?  It sure does me!

Sadly, my efforts to retain a balanced perspective don't meet with the approval of some of my readers.  Interestingly, such opposition comes from both sides of the political fence.  I've been accused of being both liberal and reactionary;  of being a "fence-sitter", and an ideologue or extremist.  None of those accusations are correct.  I'm simply trying to be true to myself, and what I've learned to believe as the result of a life filled with many experiences that I'd rather not have had (as regular readers will understand).  I know extremism doesn't work, on either side of the political fence.  I know centrist perspectives risk being neither fish nor fowl, and run the risk of havering and equivocating and hesitating, rather than committing to action as a situation or event demands.  However, I also know (I've learned the hard way) that trying to understand both sides is required if we're to remain balanced.  No effort = no understanding = extremism.  Q.E.D.

That angers some people who've decided that balance is irrelevant.  For them, it's "their way or the highway".  Well, I can't change them, and they won't change me.  I'll continue to do what my pastor's heart tells me I must, and try to be "a city set on a hill" and "a light to the world".  It may be a rather battered city and a flawed light, and I may be wrong at times, but I still hope to offer a little shelter and provide a little illumination here and there.  Judging from the several thousand readers who return here each day, I must be doing something right!

Even if we still disagree (perhaps vehemently) with some other perspectives, we can at least try to understand them, and acknowledge that some of those holding them are as sincere in their beliefs as we are.  Given that, we can seek to work together in at least some areas, for the good of our communities, towns, cities, states and our nation as a whole.  That doesn't mean we have to surrender what we hold dear;  it means we hold fast to the core, and accept that others hold different core beliefs to our own, and do our best to work with them in areas that don't threaten our respective cores.

There are far too many extremists out there right now, trying to burn down this country and destroy our national unity.  Let's not add to their number.



Jonathan H said...

I find it hard to keep up across the spectrum. One tool that helps me find news articles from multiple points of view are the Real Clear group of sites - is their flagship site, but they also have Defense, History, Energy, Science, and many more that list articles from across the spectrum. Their original writing is very well done, as good as what the Wall Street Journal used to be...

Dragon Lady said...

While your experience may differ, I find that my friends/acquaintances on the right are more tolerant of differing points of view. The most glaring example of this is the sheer number of people who have posted some version of "If you believe 'X'/if you vote for 'Y'/if you don't support 'Z' unfriend me now!" I've seen quite a lot of this over the last 4 years, and the vast majority is on the left.


I read / listen to multiple viewpoints. Hashem bless my blood pressure I even listen to NPR on occasion.

The problem, as I see it, is that too many - some on the Right but mostly on the Left - have an emotional vesting in their views as supporting their self-perception of themselves as "good people". Thus, they actively search for and only listen to views and information confirming those views.

Shameless self-promotion of a topical piece on that:

FP said...

I'm reminded of a line from my childhood regarding wanting new toys. But why?

I've heard the cries of the Blankenhorns for decades now about the hyper partisanship of politics or the polarization of the electorate. Somehow its always the so called reactionaries who must give in or compromise.

"That angers some people who've decided that balance is irrelevant."

When the other side openly derides you for it, why bother with balance? After 30 years of trying to understand both sides, and at times knowing the other side better than they know themselves it still proves to be a pointless endeavor.

I've had my live and let live core beaten out of me. They won't leave me alone. Not until I'm either dead or in agreement with them. At least until they change their minds tomorrow.

Borepatch said...

Cathedra mea, regulae meae. Your blog, your rules.

The Lab Manager said...

Most leftist need to be rounded up into concentration camps and maybe a few of the prominent ones taken on a Pinochet Helicopter Tour.

I really don't give damn about transweirdos, I don't support child molesters, I'm for kicking out the illegal aliens and about zero legal immigration, I'm pro gun and for castrating anti-gun male politicians, I'm for extremely limited and low cost government as best possible.

Of course, Trump fails on a couple of these since he is more of a populist in many ways.

Leftist are more than happy to vote the country into slavery while their elite grow even more wealthy.

Bob Gibson said...

There's, 'I disagree with what you say, but I'll defend 'til death your right to say it.' Then there's, 'I disagree with what you say, and I'll hound you 'til death unless you stop saying it.'

I vote for the former.

Beaner49 said...

It takes two to hold a dialogue leading to a compromise.
Currently one side only wants it their way, or you die.
lots of folks are saying " well two can play that game."

ColoComment said...

How much "balance" is due an erstwhile well-reputed news outlet that opens itself up to legitimate criticism by publishing a demonstrably inaccurate item like the recent one on Trump's taxes?
...and a political "side" that then takes up and trumpets said inaccuracies in its follow-on articles and blogs and commentaries and tweets without question or limit?
So far as I can see, that "side" has completely surrendered its credibility to its partisan preferences, and thus has abjured any pretense of neutrality. To give the left's news outlets any time at all is a complete waste of my time, and all I derive from it is frustration and anger at its ignorance and bias.

To wit: read Ira Stoll's piece in the NY Sun:

ayetter2003 said...

An open mind is like a fortress with its gate unbarred and unguarded. I'm a conservative and Christian. I will not accept sin nor lunacy.

Will said...

I pretty much agree with the prior posters. I stopped my subscription to the local rag, "the Murky News", about 30 years ago. When I attempted to correct their columnists on gun issues I discovered that they knew they were lying, and intended to continue with that agenda. It was obvious over the succeeding years that their lunacy was only intensifying, as their mindset became more in your face on all Leftist issues.

I don't need to immerse myself in their daily drivel to understand what they want and where they want to take this nation, and the rest of Western Civilization. They are the Enemy, and declared themselves so a century ago. They are just more willing to be truthful, now.

(I still laugh when I think about the fact that the Leftist founders of Craigslist killed the newspaper industry by taking away their major advertising revenue, the classifieds listings.)

Mark said...

I absolutely agree with your sentiment Peter. A strong set of values, accompanied by an open, enquiring mind and a willingness to learn from others both inside and out of your country is one of the greatest strengths an individual can possess.
Whilst there are a few absolutes, life is more complex in this world. People of most persuasions have valuable contributions to help us navigate and contributing to us leading our way through these complexities.
Common traps that many fall into include, name calling, reading only those articles that reinforce our biases or an unwillingness to accept that others both within and external to our countries also have solutions that may prove worthwhile. Most of all, it's a failure to rise above the fight and take a "helicopter view" to see how things really are, rather than how our tribe have created their own construct.
The USA will only ever be great again when there is a larger proportion of its community with a shared belief in the future of the country, accepts inconvenient truths and determines that they need to be addressed, a willingness to sensibly debate issues and arrive at consensus solutions, a commitment to the common good rather than focusing solely on individualism and ensuring as many people as possible have equal opportunity for advancement.

McChuck said...

The Left wants to destroy America, and opposes everything good. That's all I need to know about them. I don't care why they do this. I just need them to stop doing it. And since they won't stop themselves, we of the Right need to stop them.

Our GIs didn't question the politics and motives of every enemy soldier they met on the battlefield. They just shot them.

Unknown said...

A card-carrying communist assassinated JFK.
The "balanced", "professional" media blamed it on Republicans.
Kent State saw weeks of escalating violence, but when some rioters finally (and rightly) got shot, the media universally demonized the National Guard.
Examples like this are thick on the ground.

The issue isn't "balance", it's false equivalence.
Howard Zinn was a lying communist whore. The truth is not in him, and there is no "balance" to be found between his fictions and historical accounts. You must choose a side.
It would be a wonderful thing if our opponents wanted roughly the same things, and were willing to pursue them within a mutually-agreed framework.
But that's not the world we live in.

I do not want to be engaged in a twilight struggle against the fall of our civilization.
But it does not appear that I'll have much choice in the matter.

lcfulton said...

When EVERYTHING coming out of the Left is a lie, intentional misleading or outright propaganda, it's a little hard for me to care much about being "balanced". I second the "false equivalence" sentiment it the post above.

DaveS said...

Balance IS important - as long as you're not dealing with an enemy. Once you're in a fight, and I've seen more than a few folks get hammered because they were still trying to talk their way out of a fight when the other guy was already committed to the fight, the time for balance and diplomacy is over.

So...where are we on the continuum? Has a political party already made clear their intentions? Are they poised within attack range? Are they positioning to attack? Because if so, the time for talking is over. Recognizing these things is critical, because if you don't, you might ruefully look back saying, "If I'd only realized what their actions were REALLY indicating."

I'm still trying to figure this all out, as, I imagine, many others are as well. But, when influential folks on the other side of things (e.g. former CEO of Twitter) are talking about wanting to see people be put against a wall and shot, or that they have the RIGHT to burn, loot and damage (BLM & Antifa), or to stop prosecuting theft and releasing convicted felons (take your pick of cities) it's best to take the threat seriously. The time for talk and balance may not be completely over, but as the old saying goes, "Watch their hands, because hands kill." What is happening is more important than what is being said.

Robin Datta said...

"There are far too many extremists out there right now, trying to burn down this country and destroy our national unity."

Yes indeed.

I would really appreciate if somxeone can name one conservative or extremist rightist group that has torched one US city.

Robin Datta said...

One of the big mistakes is "All men are created equal".

Genes can and do vary widely, and so do their end products: human beings have no special exemption. Culture and the physical environment (nutrition, disease, climate, etc.) are further influences; these also interact with the genes over evolutionary time.
Living in hierarchical societies domesticates humans, just as animal domestication occurs when they live in proximity to or captivity by humans. Among the features found in domesticates, both animal and human, are derceased anger and aggression, increased sociability and cooperation, including with strangers, and inceased compliance.

Humans derived from societies with civilizations tend to be more domesticated, as in Eurasia and South America. This self-domestication precludes the need for coercive, surveilling governments, as was the case in Scandinavia prior to the MENA influx.

Less domesticated humans expect and demand treats and feedings (=big government), are less likely to cooperate in a complex society for the common good (= economically "underprivileged"), and with less compliance, cooperation and sociability (higher crime rates), and greater anger and aggression (= more violence). This includes many of Anglo-European lineage: the migration of many to the US without duress may suggest wanderlust as a manifestation of less domestication.

Mark said...

@ Robin Datta You forcibly brought Africans to America as slaves, you emancipated them in 1863, you then subjugated them using Jim Crow Laws for a further 100 years and finally passed Civil Rights legislation in the 1860's. Too late, apart from a small percentage of successes, a large proportion of African-Americans were locked in a cycle of poor education, menial and low paying jobs, living in areas with decaying infrastructure, little access to good health facilities and negligible opportunities.
Yet skillfully, you've made it entirely their fault. Their lack of "domestication" as you call it, has apparently led to their violence, high crime rates and underprivilege.
Could it be that they are just "pissed off" with being on a treadmill that even with their best efforts, they have little chance of getting off?
I think this is much more likely to be the cause rather than some type of cobbled-up racist theory.

BladeRunner1066 said...

Perhaps a bigger problem is the rise of anonymous news sources, like whatfinger and the many like them. If you don't know who is providing your news/propaganda it's very hard to be objective about it.

Robin Datta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin Datta said...

My parents were commissioned officers in the Royal Indian Army in the Second World War at a time when officers' messes displayed signs saying "Dogs and Indians not allowed". South and East Asians today face discrimination in the US worse than Anglo-Europeans, as they as cohorts have higher IQs and domestication than Anglo-Europeans. I did not and do not make any reference to Africans in the US. Should they choose to identify themselves with any particular descriptor, their choice must be respected.

Peter said...

Folks, please be as polite as possible when you interact with each other. We may disagree, sometimes vehemently, but there's no reason why we can't be at least basically courteous when doing so.

I think some of you misunderstood my drift in this article. I was not advocating, and do not advocate, not holding any position strongly. I certainly do, particularly as regards my religious beliefs and the Constitution of the United States. Those points are non-negotiable, and I'll defend them no matter what. Even so, I have to understand and acknowledge that there are many who disagree on both points. Where possible (for example, in religious belief), I'll accommodate them by not imposing my views on them. I expect to be given the freedom to worship and live as I please, provided I recognize that I can't impose my beliefs on others and force them to live the same way. In such areas, mutual tolerance is workable.

As for constitutional principles, not so much. If someone objects to guns in principle, sorry - the Second Amendment recognizes my pre-existing right to keep and bear arms, and I will not negotiate that away. It's a line in the sand for me. We can discuss the regulation of that right (as the Supreme Court has pointed out, everything in the Bill of Rights can be regulated, as long as the regulations are not so onerous as to amount to an infringement or denial of the right[s] concerned). We see this in action every day, where the right of peaceful assembly is either flouted (by preventing peaceful assembly on spurious grounds) or by allowing non-peaceful (i.e. violent) assembly, both of which flout the First Amendment. The Second Amendment is often so rigorously regulated (e.g. in New York City or the state of New Jersey) that it's effectively neutered for everyone who doesn't have the time or money to jump through the legal obstacles erected to exercising the rights it confers. There are many more examples one could cite.

In areas like that, as far as I'm concerned, there can be no compromise. The right exists in law and is recognized in the constitution: therefore, nobody is entitled to take it away from me. Even if the constitution were to be amended (as it provides for itself), the pre-existing rights it recognizes would still exist, as the Founding Fathers made clear. I won't permit or tolerate the nullifying of those rights. However, I can discuss them with those opposed to them, to see whether there are any points where we can come to a point of mutual toleration, or where other, less controversial areas can be mutually agreed in exchange for the recognition and acceptance of the legal pre-eminence of constitutional rights.

One can't be a wimp, spineless, adopting a position according to the prevailing politically correct winds. As an anonymous saying so wisely points out, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything". Nevertheless, strongly held views and opinions should not preclude a willingness to dialog and discuss them. Once that's no longer possible, strife is the only likely outcome - and that's bad for everybody.

Robin Datta said...

If I have been discourteous, I apologise. If it is not discourteous to await information on even one conservative or extremist rightist group that has torched a US city in 2020, then I eagerly await such information.

Unknown said...

I think thinks started downhill when people started calling the political opposition the ENEMY.

Once you take the position that you are on the moral high-ground and everyone else is evil, discourse stops and persuasion goes out the door.

Unknown said...

You forcibly brought Africans to America as slaves, you emancipated them in 1863, you then subjugated them using Jim Crow Laws for a further 100 years and finally passed Civil Rights legislation in the 1960's.



As if anyone on this forum participated in any of that...

If we're going to start bearing the sins of our ancestors, welcome to tribal warfare. No cohort of ancestors is completely free of sin.

Those slaves from Africa were provided at auction by other Africans and Arabs.

So, where do you start and stop in the pursuit of "JUSTICE" for historic WRONGS.

How about we concentrate on what we can actually do now, like cracking down on human trafficking that is still happens. Or making sure all citizens of this country has access to a quality education. Or making sure all citizens can vote, their vote is counted, and people can only vote once.

I don't know what to do about historic injustices, except to be the best person I can be, treat every person I meet as an individual (and not part of some divisive class) and support policies that perpetuate the values of our country (life, liberty, equality of opportunity, and equality under the law.)

The fight we are in is authoritarianism versus individualism. People who want the state to have control versus people who want people to have control.

Sam L. said...

Wellllll, I gave up on TV news many years ago, and newspapers, too (they got thinnnnnnnnnnn). I do get two local weekly papers, from the grocery store.

Sam L. said...

Also, I don't KNOW if the media is/are a wholly=owned subsidiary of the Democrat Party, or if it's the other way round, but I DO KNOW they are in cahoots.

Will said...

"I think thinks started downhill when people started calling the political opposition the ENEMY.

Once you take the position that you are on the moral high-ground and everyone else is evil, discourse stops and persuasion goes out the door."

The Communists/Democrats have stated that they are at war with the Right. Always smart to listen to the other side. The other side in a violent conflict is properly termed "the enemy".
One doesn't have to label defense of self and nation as being moral. That's probably a given. They are attacking us. They started it, and it would be logical to make efforts to stop their actions. So far, it would appear that they have no interest in stopping.

R. Douglas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R. Douglas said...

You" is an emotionally charged word when used in reference to past deeds that don't survive transplant into a modern culture.
I am sure you (used intentionally as a singular pronoun in reference to the person I am speaking to) did not mean to deliberately accuse Robin of personally enslaving or spending 100 years persecuting anyone, because the first is highly unlikely and the second is physically impossible.
A reasoned argument stating those same points without an I am sure unintentionally accusatory tone may sway opinions.
Angry replies help no one, and offend anyone who doesn't already agree with your argument, which is exactly the point this article is trying to make.
This being the internet, unless you personally know them it is difficult or impossible to determine who posted what...for all we know, Robin could be descended from involuntary immigrants, or perhaps a recent immigrants to the US from someplace like Germany.
Of course if your intent was to insult and incite, by all means, "Lay on, MacDuff!"