Welcome to the Echo Chamber
I got into a discussion on Facebook today that doesn’t really end up looking like a discussion. A little background – someone posted something, I responded, my response was deleted, I responded on my own wall, a response was posted on mine, and the rest is history. Since we were not in the same physical space, this was as close as a discussion as was possible.
I love politics. I love discussion. I love hearing points of views.
But my greatest fears of our political system played out in this discussion between two people who probably agree on over 90% of issues. I call it the echo chamber. People flock to people of the same ideology and only want to hear points that verify what they already think. This is a left and right problem. Gun rights activists won’t ever hear that there may be a good reason for gun control. Universal health care proponents don’t want to hear that there may be people who don’t want health care. Conservatives listen to talk radio and watch Fox. Liberals listen to NPR and watch MSNBC.
A few years ago, I read a book by Cass Sunstein regarding extremism and noted that when people discuss anything, an extreme position is generally reached. He basically was arguing against the marketplace of ideas, but didn’t know how to relate that to how democracy works.
I do not believe that. I don’t live that. You put two people in a room and let them discuss something rationally and it will lead to understanding. Maybe both sides won’t agree to something, but something can be learned. But when you decide on your own that you know better based on things you read and things you heard and disregard anything to the contrary, you are not following a sound logic. It leads to faulty logic that it your political opponents used against you, you would decry it as heresy or just plain wrong.
And honestly, it is easier to just find similar thinkers and go with it, but I like to be challenged. I enjoy reading what Judge Richard Posner has to say on issues. I enjoy reading The National Review to get a sense of what my ideological opposites are worrying about. I will critique them and argue against them as much as anyone – look at anything I have said about Paul Ryan – but I will listen to them.
I could easily just read Ezra Klein, read The New Republic (I love the redesign and became a subscriber late last year), watch The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, and discuss this with only my liberal friends. But then my positions won’t grow. I become isolated in my ideology and become no better than any other ideologue.
Life and politics is complicated. There is generally not a right or a wrong. There are scales of both of those. There are lots of grays. There are no simple answers. There are only simplistic answers. If problems could be so easily solved, you’re fooling yourself if you think our leaders wouldn’t accomplish them.
But I ask you, next time you are thinking bout something, take the approach from To Kill A Mockingbird, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. You might come to the same conclusion, but you will at least thought about why the other person might not reach the same conclusion as you.